BootsnAll Travel Network

h) On parenting

We’re busy raising eight children….it’s a topic close to our hearts. We’ll be seeing what we can learn from others along the way……


People have children everywhere! This mother and son live in a bamboo stilt village suspended over the sea in Penang, Malaysia:

This family lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

This mother and child live in the hills of Thailand:


Bulgarian children are given whatever they want.

Asian children as old as five or six years may (and we saw this often) have a maid or mother crawling around the floor, following them in their play with bowl and chopsticks at the ready, coaxing them to eat.

The concept of children having a bedtime among the places we went seemed to be limited to England. Italian children, in particular, seem to stay up the latest – it was not uncommon for us to see them *arriving* at a restaurant at 11pm.

Lao children can do no wrong.
One day one of our young boys taunted an animal and we sent him to sit quietly on a step for ten minutes to think about his actions. This caused both great consternation (“He’s only a child, he doesn’t know”) and enormous hilarity. Every day up our alley they could be heard calling out “Lboy7 sit down ten minute” and guffawing loudly.

In Thailand and Laos babies are carried constantly in a piece of cloth, accompanying their mothers (or grandmothers) in whatever task is at hand.

Throughout all of Asia crying children are placated with oranges and sweets (at least, that was our experience – and come to think of it, they did not need to be crying – just cute!) In Laos in particular our young girls were always given oranges, and in a banana-growing region of China we were all loaded with bananas – over a hundred on one walk!!!!!

In Germany I watched an older lady frowning and ssh-ing a baby, who could only have been six or seven months old, and was squeaking a bit before being fed. On occasion I was aware of our own smaller ones making too much noise and receiving the same kind of disapproving looks (actually, I am not talking about excessive noise – we do place great value on considering the needs of others around us, and perhaps go overboard in keeping them quiet, being aware that a large group makes noise by virtue of its size alone – but these German encounters were as impressionable as the Asian gift-giving ones).

Some places (like in the hill country of Thailand/Laos/VietNam) people can get married very young. This girl was a mother of twins by the time she was 14:

As seen in the above picture, the concept of “childhood” is much shorter in many poorer countries. It is also different to richer places, in that to be a child does not mean to be free of responsibilities or work (of course it does not always mean that in the west, but we have frequently had people inform us that the amount of work our children do is robbing them of their childhood)

Children working as out boat pulled up – Mekong River, Laos

Boy selling coconut drink in Cambodia.

Even a small child can keep the flies at bay in the market!
I wonder if she was with Daddy when he caught the birds or bats.

We found this boy and his sister playing outside the town’s wood-fired bakery in Kampot, Cambodia. We presumed the couple working inside were the parents.

In some places parents prefer to send their children away to live in an orphanage than to raise them themselves. The educational opportunities this provides is vlued over “family life”. The folowing children are from an orphanage in Cambodia (some are true orphans, some have other brothers and sisters at home in a village).

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7 responses to “h) On parenting”

  1. Tara J says:

    What a fabulous and interesting post! 14 year olds having babies – wow – they think Mary may have been around that age when she had Jesus don’t they? Quite strange to ponder. As for keeping children quiet – I have two children and do not seem to have mastered at all how to keep either quiet – especially our boy. He roars and sqeakes and is loud at all the inappropriate times.

  2. Rose says:

    I am curious about this. How can a culture teach that a child can do whatever s/he wants but also expect that child to work? It seems like such a contradiction to me. Do the children only work because they choose to do so? Can they wander off if they get bored?

  3. rayres says:

    Rose I don’t know. I think there’s a difference between a culture letting a child do whatever they want and thinking they do not know when they are doing wrong.

    That said, it seems to me that there’s a rich-poor distinction with regards to the work issue. It’s the poor kids who have to work – and having food in your tummy at the end of the day is probably a very big motivator.

    Also, there’s a lot more “hang around with parents as they go about their work” than you see in NZ. The equivalent there would be having toddlers sitting with the cashiers at the supermarket. And remember, they would not have matchbox cars or barbies to play with. For safety reasons, these children would not be allowed to wander off.

    As for bigger kids – I just don’t know. I don’t know when they are considered adult. I don’t know if they are forced to work. I’m not even sure if the “kids can do their own thing” cultures are the ones that require child labour.

    Must be said we saw lots of kids playing – swimming naked in the Mekong, kicking rattan balls or coconuts around, chasing each other….they don’t seem to work all day long.

    That didn’t help, did it?!

  4. Rose says:

    Well I guess I was asking you to sum up the parenting attitudes of an entire continent! And it is difficult to understand how children feel about their lives, their work, etc, just by observing from the outside.

    It fascinates me because I don’t feel that the western model (very anti-child-labour) is necessarily the healthiest, although obviously it was put in place with the best of intentions and seems to have been very necessary to prevent terrible exploitation. But then I don’t want to romanticise the lives of the poor and desperate. It seems to me there is a happy medium.

    Then there is the weird contradiction in western society between “give them lots of toys and don’t even make them clear the table” and “frown at them if they make the slightest noise in a public place”. It seems to me a lot of westerners are very confused about whether they love children or detest them – maybe it depends on whose children they are!

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