When I picked up How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm in the middle of a Chicago winter, I was particularly interested in learning how Eskimos, do, in fact keep their babies warm. Even with the mild winter we’ve been having, I’m feel like I’m struggling to keep Ruby warm. It turns out Mei-Ling Hopgood doesn’t actually address Eskimos in this book — but she does offer many other insights about how parents around the world are raising their kids. Since my personal parenting theory is something along the lines of “If people in many cultures have been doing it for many centuries, then it’s worth doing,” I was eager to hear what Hopgood had to say.
Each chapter highlights one culture and one of their parenting techniques. Some of my favorites were “How Buenos Aires Children Go to Bed Late,” “How the French Teach Their Children To Love Healthy Food,” and “How Lebanese Americans Keep Their Families Close.” After Hopgood outlines the other culture (that usually differs from “conventional wisdom” in the US), she shares some personal tidbits on how she tried to learn from it, and also shares research about the particular topic.
The chapters I enjoyed the most were often the ones that challenged me to think about my priorities differently. Of course I want my children to eat healthy food, to eat a variety of food, to try new things. My husband and I both like to cook, too, so this should be easy, right? But Hopgood reminds us how in France, food culture is different. Families take a significant part of their evening to sit around the table and enjoy a meal together. They eat slowly, rather than rushing off to the next activity. Though I think of myself as someone who enjoys good food, as I read, I was struck by how often I rush through meals to get on to the next thing. It made me stop and think again about what our family’s priorities are and what they should be.
The only parts of the book I found a bit tiresome (and these bits were only a few pages long!) were those that seemed to be citing study after study analyzing different parenting attitudes or outcomes. Some of the studies Hopgood cites were quite interesting — but I felt the strength of the book was in the narrative descriptions of the other cultures.
One of the blurbs on the cover of the book says “A best bet for new parents.” I would agree — not because this book tells you how to parent, but because it doesn’t! As a new parent, I find it most encouraging to hear countless stories that there is not One Right Way to do things, and in fact parents around the world approach many issues — eating, sleeping, potty training — very differently. Instead of one more book that is prescriptive and tells you the Best Way, it is refreshing to read one that is instead descriptive of different perspectives.