Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Annual Argument

Mr. Rant and I have our annual argument today. It comes about at some kind of family lunch or event. It is always centered on our children and it is fully due to cultural differences.

I don't know why I let it get to me still. It really is just the culmination of a bunch of tiny little things over a lunch or a family weekend that seem to push me over the edge.

Take today for instance. My Mother-in-law was kind enough to take it upon herself to make my boys' plates at lunch. I have no idea why it rubbed me the wrong way because what she was doing was her being helpful. But I have just never warmed to the idea of my children equally belonging to everyone in the family. It annoyed me to see her automatically determining what they would eat and not at all consulting me. At the same time, we live here. She is with the boys all the time. It's not like their habits are a mystery to her. Just the same, I felt that burning annoyed feeling when she cut up pork on Chatterbox's plate, the exact meat I had just finished saying that I do not think is good to eat. Side note, I think pork (minus sausage because there's no real meat in it anyway) is a dirty meat. I do not purchase or serve it to my family.

So that was the first annoyance, and I'll admit that it was something I should be over by now as it has been the story of my life here. No one died. Chatterbox was happy eating it. Not a biggie...

Then the Menace decided he wanted to roam around the restaurant. I'm not too anal about this but I do expect my kid to finish eating before they start running amok. But today there was a little girl sitting behind us and the family thought it was adorable that the Menace wanted to talk to her. I was thoroughly annoyed because we are working on exactly this with the Menace, sitting down to eat and then getting up. I'm being a hardass as he has been being a pain in the ass.

Was this respected? Nope. And since I was already cranky I did actually put my foot down. I told them no, the Menace got a talking to, and he actually cried. I thought I was going to get stoned right there in the restaurant. Holy crap I held my almost 3 yr old accountable and he did not like it. How dare I! I obviously should have been like the woman with the 4 yr old girl who had to keep calling her back to the table to spoon a mouthful in before she ran off again.

The Menace and the family ended up winning that one as it had jumped into the impossible battle.
But I informed him, if you don't sit to eat you don't get ice cream afterward. He accepted that, played with the girl, and ran back to grab bits of food off his plate occasionally.

And it is just this that I find so frustrating. I know we are at a restaurant with the family but why because we are with them do I lose rule over my own children?! How is that? Of course I am the only one bothered by it as the Grandparents take control and my kids obviously choose the way which means they get to do whatever the hell they want.

Anyway, we finally left the restaurant and headed out for ice cream. The in-laws didn't think that I was going to stick with the rules. They actually called the Menace over to get ice cream. I didn't let it happen and the Menace accepted it. He saw Chatterbox with his and when he asked for some I asked him "Did we sit and eat our lunch?" He smiled, said no, and went on with his life.

That is just the thing, culturally Brazilians are not as rigid with their kids as some of us Americans are. Sleep routines, bedtimes, consequences, or standard rules are not part of the day. Just like the rest of life, in Rio de Janeiro at least, they just go with the flow. You know what, it works for them. I see parents spoon feeding  7 yr olds at restaurants or small children out until midnight during the week and everyone seems ok with it. I have Moms tell me that their children will only eat sausage and thus that is what they feed them, everyday. Fair enough. To each their own. They obviously didn't grow up in my home where I quickly learned what "putting your foot down" means.

But as someone who is so not like that, it drives me insane. I can be pretty damn flexible with my kids but I draw the line at running after them to eat. I can not stand listening to people trying to convince kids to please do something. No, you do it or you don't get to do this. If you are fine with that then great. If not, do what you are supposed to. There is room for discussion but not everything is a discussion. I'm sorry but I just don't have the time nor the energy for it.

And it drives me insane to feel like someone is undermining my parenting because they feel that they can handle it better, as if they are coming in to save the children and smooth things over. Back off dude. I am the Mother.

At the same time, it is never going to change. In Brazil the Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, close friends etc have a certain amount of authority with your kids. In some ways it is great, in others it is extremely annoying. The key though, it is not done maliciously. No one is trying to actually undermine me or anything like that. In their way they are helping. They are being involved as all good Brazilian family members are. I can totally appreciate the positive and helpful place it comes from. I know my in-laws and the rest of the family adore me and my kids. We are their family. Though sometimes the American in me wants to throw a stinking fit and cry.

Oh wait, I did that this afternoon. I guess you can check that off the to do list. ;)

Freaking cultural differences! Which ones have you experienced? 


  1. Omg, play-for-play, this IS my life here, seriously, you could have just switched lives with me, it's exactly the same thing, to the T! And when I try to enforce the "no ice cream because you didn't listen to Mommy" (or actually challenged Mommy kind-of-thing which young kids will always do)I, I am the bad guy, I am criticized and made to feel like I'm doing something wrong, how mean I am to treat my son like that! it happens all of the time. Drives me insane. Even my husband backs me up on this, it's just wrong. The balance of family relationships here...it's exhausting. Rachel, you're right, you're the Mom, it's your job 24/7 and your rules are the right ones and the ones that should be followed. I'm all for the grandparents spoiling the grandkids, but this type of thing crosses that line, and is far too common. Stay strong girl! It's for these things that my relations with my inlaws aren't the best.

  2. I am not so sure it is purely a cultural difference, I experienced the same thing raising my children in the US.

    As a parent of two kids, now in college thank goodness, I have to agree with you on having established boundaries and known consequences. That was my parenting style. Grandparents don't have to deal with the fallout, they only get the fun part. And asking a child 2, 3, 4 times to do something? Never. Ask once, then act. Never with anger, but always decisively.

    Children, in my experience, are contrarians. They seek attention by doing the opposite of what they think you want them to do. I told my son he HAD to watch 1 hour of MTV every day. Guess what? He never watched MTV. That was 25 years ago, now I suppose it would be video games. Tell a child they have to do something, and they will find a way not to do it. So, use reverse psychology.

    I try never to get mad, just get even. You will get your chance, once you have grandchildren!

  3. I remember once, when my son was 3, we had just parked the car but didn't yet turn it off and he jumped in the front seat and started to try to play with the cigarette lighter in the car. I screamed, "NO!!" "Don't do that!" and my mil said to me, "nao grita com ele, que vergonha"...really???? So I should let him get burned? urgh

  4. And need to add, though forgot to, my in-laws and my husband's family here, are the first to compliment me on my son, how well behaved and great, smart and wonderful he is. SO...it's frustrating! You hear and live with criticism non-stop, but then you get wonderful compliments and love pouring. It's crazy.

  5. When we are with my sister in law and my husband and I bicker over something silly, they ALWAYS have to intervene and "brief" me about some cultural detail that I must have missed, or some aspect of my husband's personality that I must have misunderstood. It drives me nuts. It is not them taking his side, it is their patronizing way and their belief that no matter what, they know best because they are his sisters. He is my husband!

  6. This is honestly, truthfully something I know will be a struggle for me when we have children. I see how all of the cousins are with their kids (i.e. bribing them to come back to the table) and I know how I was raised and how I interact with my students/younger siblings (I have two MUCH younger siblings as in could be my own kids)/ little cousins... I am like you -- Here is your choice, make it and stick with the consequences. I on a totally different side note, I feel the same way about pork. I eat sausage and bacon once in awhile, but ham and whatnot, nope. I thought I was the only one.

  7. LOL, well your problem is that you think that they still are YOUR kids... In Brazil you have to get used to the idea that the kids are family property now.

    Brazilians, or more specifically Cariocas, don't seem to put much (any?) effort into discipline or boundaries in child rearing. This constantly causes bickering between myself and my wife with many a dirty looks from her family toward me. I have now accepted that "chato" is my new nickname.

    If you really want to be seen as the apostate anti-christ, chastise or discipline your kids within view of your Brazilian relatives.

    I think that a lot of the social problems in Rio can be traced to this lack of structure in upbringing.

  8. Get the same kid that eat whenever he wanted, did whatever he wanted in a restaurant, pretty much set his own curfew after age 12 and then tell him, when he turns 18, that he can't double park, that he isn't allowed to smoke pot on campus and so on. Also try telling him that just because a certain policy isn't to his liking this doesn't allow him to destroy property or cause other disruptions until he gets what he wants. He will have a fit, the same fit he's been having since early childhood. And why shouldn't he if it has always worked?

    Because of this I would always enforce rules with my kids and being labeled Chato for doing so would not bother me the least bit. After all defining boundries and stipulating consequences for infractions is often defined as chato or antipático, even reacionário, in all Latin based societies, to me though these words just translate to Adult.

  9. Very interesting to hear a different culture take on the brazilian family structure. I don't want to aggravate the situation so I will jus skip the whole us vs you raising of children thing...

    I'm not sure where we got the notion of collective up-bringing of children, I do not know Portuguese society enough to know if they do the same, but I do know that "indios" (Brazilian Natives) do consider children up-bringing to be a tribe thing, guess we got this from them.

    This types of difference (material differences that could lead to constant conflicts) makes me wonder if inter-cultural couples think about these major differences before getting together? It's obvious that you are in a happy and stable relationship and your marriage will survive your extended Brazilian family and these "annual argument" but these types of cultural differences could become "too much" for less well adjusted couples...

    IMHO Rules are good for children, discipline is everything.

  10. I still have a hard time eating pork in Brazil and it stems from some really horrific stories I heard while living in the favela, so you are perfectly justified in staying away. And if you want to disgust your MIL, I'll share them in all their gory detail so she'll never want her grandkids touching the stuff either! (Though the chances that restaurant pork is raised outside of a factory farm is slim...)

    Just spent some time with disciplined children the other day and have to say, it is a beautiful thing. Permissive parenting rarely raises kids anyone else wants to be around...as kids or adults, IMO. Keep up the fight!

  11. But I love pork!

    I can totally co-sign the "children are a group thing" idea here in Brazil. I love that. But I cannot know your struggle as a mother. Keep breathing!

  12. Every time I read a post like this it reminds me how much easier (dare I say that?) that I don't have a MIL. I mean, I feel terrible that my husband doesn't have parents nor his grandmother who raised him, but this way it's just the two of us (and my non-interfering family).

  13. meredith I am jealous! And usually Rachel is calm collective one, giving us all the advice. I hope I get where she is one day. I have already labeled as a pain, boring and the stick up the ass woman. But then people are always like, oh your sooo nice, your so calm and happy. You treat everyone so well and have such manners.

    Yeah when you work hard, keep your life managed and stick to a balance with boundaries, you tend to have a comfortable relaxing life.

    So I don't think it's about kids alone.

    It's like our friends they want to party and party, they loaf working. Ricardo and I work six days a week (not every, most). Not that we are always going to, but for right now yes. We are planning for the future.

    God save me, I know everyone is going to tell me everything about how to raise a baby. I am only pregnant and it has started!

  14. Man all this pig bigotry is getting me down. How can people pass up ribs? I mean just research and get your pork from hygienically reliable sources.
    I think life without pork, in the end, is just a boar (see what I did there..?)

  15. Wow, this would, as we English say, do my head in (drive me nuts). And I have a feeling that I have something like this lying in store for me one day in the future!

    Although we don't have kids, we sometimes have to look after the sogra's dog. And it drives me nuts that time after time I'm informed "Oh no, he doesn't like that" or "He has to sleep in our room because he gets lonely".

    The dog makes the rules! Because he was allowed to from the start and no one ever said 'no'. Some clear, unconfusing rules/guidelines at the beginning makes everyone's life more enjoyable I think. And when someone starts messing with that it must be infuriating.

  16. Gritty - I've got to agree with you. "Chato" is one of those special words that has two meanings. To Cariocas - "chato" means annoying, no-fun, pain-in-the-ass. To gringoes, we would define "chato" as responsible, mature and pragmatic...LOL.

  17. I like to think I make Chato cool... then I wake up ;)

  18. Tom, about Brasilians and their dogs, that is a whole separate post and then some! I have never heard a dog bark, non-stop, for 24 hours until I moved out here just beyond Niteroi. Neighbors seem to compete, not just who can have the most dogs, but whose dogs can bark the loudest and for the longest time without interruption. I started sticking my head out the window and barking back, trying to express my feelings in dogtalk and the fact I work at home and need some peace and quiet, but my darling Brasilian wife though I was being rude. Me? Hello?

    If Brasilian child rearing is anything like their dog keeping, well, now I fully understand the problem!

  19. I was a nanny for 10 years and was in the fair but firm camp. I have to say, however, I am a big fan of community parenting. I watched our Brazilian friends in the US enjoy parties, pass the baby around having them only returned when it was time to breast feed, let the Avos do the work, throw firm house rules to the wind, and she was never preoccupied, never stressed, and happier. Whereas my American friends seem like neurotic, detached from adult life nutters who have to follow their kids around b/c the other adults would not lift a finger to protect the kid from harm.

  20. I totally agree w Jennifer!!
    Community parenting is better than indifferent family / friends.

  21. I think Marcio raised an interesting question regarding inter-cultural couples: how many of them realize the pontential for future conflicts as the realationship intensifies and grows?