Prior to the birth of our daughter in the Philippines, there were not really many cultural differences in the way pregnancy was dealt with. Once our baby was born, though, there were some clear differences from my own previous experiences with two children in England.
A Separate Baby Room
As soon as we got our baby home, then a major difference in baby culture was obvious to all; Saffron had a crib already set up in a separate room. The Philippines tradition is to have the newborn in the parents bedroom, but often that can last for many years, and the parents of three children, for example, can end up with three dependent children sleeping in their room.
Once my wife had got used to the idea of a separate bedroom, she was understanding of why I was adamant about it. We wanted a strong and independent child, and undisturbed nights once the night feeding had finished. Our decision to have a separate room caused quite a stir, and one of our first visitors once the baby was home quickly spread the news: “Saffron has her own room already.” So, what would be a non event in England was a point of shock, fascination and even pity here in the Philippines.
As Saffron grew, though, everyone soon started to appreciate her independence, will power and character. She also benefited from 12 hours of sleep every night from a very young age, undisturbed by parents, and came to love her room and her crib.
At 18 months we had a birthday party for my wife, and one of the guests was an army captain with three children, aged about 4 to 10 years. As he watched a very lively, confident and independent Saffron, having a great time in the garden with the other children, he told me it had always been his ambition to have his children in separate rooms, but upon each birth, they had succumbed to the tradition, and still had three children sleeping in their room every night. His clingy youngest daughter was a complete contrast to our daughter, and he rued the day they first gave in to the idea of having the first baby in their own bedroom.
A Degree of Over Protection
It is true that Filipinos make an enormous fuss of babies, and all girls in particularly like to hold a baby and rock her to sleep. This can mean that the poor baby, who may be desperate to get back to her crib to sleep in a peaceful room, can be kept awake unnecessarily. That happens to a degree in England, but here it must be overwhelming sometimes for the baby; mothers are often glad to have the baby passed around endlessly to be cared for.
Generally speaking, though, by comparison to England, Filipinos can be a bit overprotective in some ways. A good example was once Saffron started to want to lift her head. As her neck became a bit stronger, I encouraged my wife, when holding her, to allow Saffron to try and hold her head up, but always be ready to support the neck.
The baby was old enough by then to hold her head up comfortably for a couple of minutes, then suddenly it would drop down. By allowing that, Saffron got plenty of neck muscle building exercise with no risk. However, if someone else saw her head drop, they would be horrified, rush over, and show my wife the way it “should” be done; in other words do not allow the baby to move her head, but support it firmly and hold it in place.
A few weeks’ later, Saffron was able to support her head with no problems and everyone was amazed at how much she looked around the room observing objects and people. According to my wife, Filipino children never reach that stage at that age, which I would think is down to the extended over protection of the neck. A baby does need support of the neck, once she starts to move her head, but that need not go on so long it inhibits her progress. Careful observation while she is trying to move her head, and readiness to provide support once needed, should be sufficient to allow for safe development of her neck muscles.
Differences in Discipline
Babies are testing the boundaries of what they can and cannot do from earlier than you may think. Early on, they cry when they need feeding or changing, or if they are uncomfortable in any way. Parents and family respond to that crying, and rightly so, to attend the baby’s needs. It is later on it becomes less straightforward.
As the months pass, the baby becomes more aware of her surroundings, and she will learn how to use crying for attention at times she wants attention rather than needs it. That can be a difficult period for parents and others who may have responsibility for the baby’s care. You want the child to be happy, and you want to care for her properly, but being too responsive on every single occasion, as the baby becomes a young child, can lead to discipline problems later on, as she uses crying to get her own way. That crying soon becomes shouting and tantrums, and provides the first real disciplinary tests for the parents.
The Filipino way tends to always respond with love and affection, and attend to the demanding child immediately, without giving a thought as to whether the baby has a genuine reason for crying.
In some ways that is not such a potential problem with a docile Filipino baby, as they tend not to be strongly independent, assertive and demanding, while a half English Filipino does have such tendencies. Had we allowed our baby to grab our sympathy and surrender every time she cried, she would be totally out of control by now, at the age of little more than two.
As a baby becomes active, they need to be taught what they can do, where they can go, and what they can touch, amongst many other things. We taught Saffron as I would have done in England, simply by saying “no” to something she should not go near or touch, and encouraging her to explore those things she was allowed to.
Yet when my wife stopped her touching something in a neighbour’s house, the owner, a 75 year old baby veteran, criticised her for saying “no” and was insistent she should never do so. As a Filipina, my wife respects her elders, but nonetheless, we persisted with our Anglicised discipline. As a result we have a very bright, and happy child who has steadily learnt what she can and should not do. Without that early discipline, gentle as it was, I am sure she would be rampant by now.
Safety for a baby and a young child is obviously something that is topmost in most parents’ minds. Given the love that Filipinos so openly show for babies, I would have expected the safety of the baby would be a strong driving force. Here we have something of a character conflict, for while a Filipina may be concerned about supporting a baby’s neck longer than is necessary, when it comes to more extreme dangers they can be less conscientious.
In an example close to home, I am insistent that, since our two year old is very inquisitive, intelligent, and adventurous, our front gate is always locked. We have a very busy road outside, and a 2 year old getting outside that gate will almost surely lead to great danger, and possibly death within a few seconds of getting beyond the gate. Yet we have great difficulty in making regular visitors understand; despite telling them many times that the gate has to be locked after them, they still forget.
Such lack of concern over the dangers of traffic is also reflected in the way children from a young age can be transported. It is not unusual to see a newborn baby being carried by a relative on the back of a motorcycle, or an older child of tiny proportions riding pillion on a motorcycle and clinging on to the driver. That is something you would never see in England.
There are, as you would expect, many subtle and sometimes obvious differences between the English and Filipino cultures in caring for a baby, and those mentioned above are some of those that have been most obvious to me as an English resident of the Philippines.