Friday, January 16, 2009

On raising kids in Costa Rica

The other day I was speaking with a friend of mine, who's pregnant and has by now left to go back to the States. She mentioned that she didn't want to raise her child in Costa Rica, because a lot of Costa Rican kids are brats. And, I had to agree with her that it's true: there are a lot of bratty kids here. But then again, there are a lot of bratty kids everywhere.

I think my kid is pretty good. He certainly has his bratty moments and days; he's not perfect. Who is? But as parents, we try to do the best we can to raise a child who is thoughtful of animals and other people, who is polite, who is self-directed without being self-centered. We give him a lot of leeway to do what he wants to do, as long as he isn't hurting anyone or anything. Some parents, and not just Costa Rican parents, hover over their children so much that they tend to get this "I can't do anything right" complex. I see this happening at times with my MIL, at which point I tell esposo to tell her to just leave him alone.

I also think some of it does have to do with culture. I love my son; heck, I adore my son, but I want him to grow up to be an independent person, to be able to think independently as well as to be able to do things for himself. So I don't pick up the dirty clothes or dishes he leaves around, but point out that they are not necessarily where they should be, and let him clean up after himself. Too many Costa Rican mothers -- I hate to say it, but it's true -- worship their sons and can't imagine letting them do much of anything for themselves. (And speaking on behalf of their future spouses, thanks. Thanks a lot. You are doing neither your sons nor us any favors.)

This is another reason I won't have a maid (besides the fact that the last one stole, among other things, my wedding ring). I don't think it's healthy for kids to think they can leave their crap everywhere and someone will come along and clean up after them. It's true, I hate to clean. Hate it. You should see the top of my desk! I admit to being a messy person, but I'm not a disgusting person. I wouldn't leave dirty dishes lying around, nor dirty clothes, and I've even been known to sweep the floor on occasion! But at least my son knows that no one around here is going to clean up after him. Surely not me! He is learning self-reliance, and that can only be a good thing.

I think the whole idea of doing things for children that they can perfectly well do for themselves engenders this sense of "the world revolves around me." Costa Ricans, in large part, are a very self-centered people. They don't tend to care much about the greater community, or their country, by and large, unless it has something directly to do with them personally. Sometimes them and their families, but that's about as far as it goes. Look at all the trash by the side of the road if you think I'm exaggerating. How many people have you seen throw crap out of a bus window? That's because they don't care, haven't learned to care about something other than themselves, and figure someone will come along and clean up after them. (I don't think I need to mention that I don't believe all Costa Ricans are self-centered people, but I am, so that you don't send me hate mail. I know that my readers are certainly not self-centered people. Also? My Tico esposo agrees with me on this point.)

Back to bratty kids. Yes, there are bratty kids here. There are bratty kids everywhere. Ever watched Supernanny? Those are not Costa Rican kids, but there are certainly Costa Rican kids that could be on that show. And Gringo kids living in Costa Rica. Some of the worst kids I've ever met were kids of Gringos living here. Brattiness can be traced squarely back to the parents. Those kids throwing their trash out of the bus window may never have learned why it's not right to do so. Kids that throw rocks at street dogs see their parents and grandparents doing exactly the same. How do you drive when the kids are in the car, taking in everything you say and do from the back seat? It's up to parents, and if they don't lead by example, well... así es. Don't blame it on their teachers or their friends. You can raise great kids anywhere, just as you can raise horrible, self-centered kids. I'm working on the former.

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