Traditional Caribbean upbringing….should we return to this?

(this blogpost has been written on July 9, 2013) Next month I will become a dad and over the last couple of months I have been pondering on how to raise our child. Therefore the inspiration for this blog.

My Wife is from the Dominican Republic and I am from Aruba, so both of us have a Caribbean background and upbringing. However, we have been living for some years now in Europe and have adapted a bit to this lifestyle and culture. The children in Europe are brought up quite free and modern, and I am not sure I agree with it all the time. So lets revisit our own childhood and reminisce about the values we have been taught by our parents and family. I will limit this to the age of 5 to 10 years old because I think that that is the most important period where your parents had the most influence on you as a growing little person. For me this period ranged from the mid 1981 to 1986.

For us children of that period the most important people teaching us values and providing guidance and behavior corrections were: Father, Mother, Grandparents, Aunts, uncles, older cousins (older than 18, which in the Caribbean is normal, because our grandparents had up to 10 children so your the age difference between your parents and  your oldest uncle/aunt could be up to 10 years).

Outside of the family sphere, teachers also had a big influence and enjoyed a great deal of respect by both you and your parents.

One of the most important things we were taught was that you always respect your elders. This included never talking back. I remember the phrase: when the big coins speak, the small change shuts up (typical Aruban saying: ora placa grandi papia, placa chikito ta keda keto)

And when we did want to say or ask something we had to address them with either their family title followed by their name. For example: Aunti Judith, may I…. And when it was not family you used Sir or Miss/Mrs. followed by their name. These rules were also applied in school when communicating with teachers.

Also elder family members of your friends were spoken to in this way (when you were in their yard, playing, ripping out their plants and drinking water directly from their garden hose or water tap sticking out of the ground at the back of their house).

And if memory serves me well…..even the village drunks and hobo’s were treated with a certain respect…(whenever you got caught by them after yelling crazy things at them while hiding in the bushes).

Having covered the basics on how to speak to people when allowed to speak to them, we get to the language you are allowed to use. In these days I agree that it is difficult for parents to monitor and try to get their children not to use profanity. It is all around us and seems to have become standard lingo. But back in the day…..I remember our school teachers washing our mouths with soap (for real). and at home the ol’ belt, rubber flip-flop or flat of a hand came into the equation. Sometimes it as enough to just show us these props and we would know what to do….shut up and apologize (and run away outside and play….far away).

There are many other things that you might have experienced or miss in this short blog about these values we were given by our peers. There is however, one, which I have struggled with as a child and still struggle a bit with as an adult. And I am not sure how I will tackle this with the upbringing of my own child. This was the fact that we were not allowed (or expected) to question anything. For me this was a problem in elementary school, where early on I started questioning certain things we were taught or told. At this point I understand that for a child around 5 years old this is normal behavior. This is when we start making sense out of the world around us and ask questions to try and make sense out of it all. And as mentioned before, it was not expected that we went on and on in those days. We would have to accept and make do with the one answer we were provided with. Because of course, we could not reply with an additional question, because….one does not talk back to grown-ups.

On the other hand, when sometimes I see toddlers or children talk to grown-ups nowadays and being replied to as if they were equal conversational partners. One can argue that the boundary between childhood curiosity and a child being ill mannered, is fading. Where do you draw the line? At this point I think that I will engage my child in a “grown-up” way, but making clear that when daddy says its enough… is enough (no need to props to evoke fear).

If you have any stories or things based on this topic to share, please do so. I think it can be very useful for us to learn from each other and celebrate wisdom we posses handed over to us from our elders.


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