Monday, April 22, 2013


We had Bronwyn’s one year check up today with her pediatrician in Lusaka. Hepetitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella, you shall not conquer! 85th percentile in height and weight - huzzah!

Doctor Marsden was asking us questions about the things Bronwyn is able to do, like stand, walk, drink from a cup, etc and we found ourselves overwhelming our wonderful peds lady with info on how socially adept our daughter is. Oh first time parents, how over-enthusiastic you we are. We really got thinking abut all of the things that baby girl has picked up on. She has a whole repertoire of tricks up her sleeve that have nothing to do with standard physical development – things that she just sort of picked up... the invisible hand of socialization. Wow! Yikes! Oh my! I have very mixed emotions about this.

First, why I'm thrilled:
Watching Bronwyn play with the kids around her is pretty much the most darling thing I ever did see. I love that she plops herself down in the middle of their card games in our house and pretends like she knows what’s going on.

The boys taught her to drum on buckets and sing along and bop up and down to her own tunes. Last Sunday she crawled from the back of the church up to the front and began drumming on the choir drum while the choir kept singing and dancing around her.

I walked into the Learning Resource Center the other day and found that one of the little girls had strapped a baby doll to Bronwyn’s back. So sweet! They told her (in all seriousness) “don’t drop your baby – this is very important.”

She plays on the playground with the confidence of a five year old, climbing on things, having a grand old time, trying to figure out what mom means when she said, “be nice, take your turn, don’t be miss bossy pants…”

She has become a mini-mom, copying me in my daily chores, which is sometimes cute, sometimes messy.

We’ve realized that, without our noticing, our little girl has become a socialized creature! She has picked up and mastered the culturally mores of group play, rhythm and song, baby wearing, and domesticity. We ask, how did that happen? When did that happen? Who taught her these things?

And herein lies the worry. Socialization is cultural adaption over time, an influence of the general cultural and normative climate that positions an individual relative to the rest of society. The fact that personality and moral formation are happening based on Bronwyn's surroundings is absolutely terrifying. Bronwyn is a growing up as a third culture child. She is being imprinted by both Zambian and American cultures. But both cultures demonstrate characteristics that I really don’t want my daughter to “accidentally” pick up.

Playing with kids on the floor – awesome.
Learning a Zambian hierarchical structure or an Amerian dog-eat-dog mentality – not so awesome.

Drumming away on buckets( and everything else) and dancing and singing – awesome. Learning the Zambian “enticement” moves or the American sexualized dancing – not so awesome.

Growing into a wonderful baby wearing mommy – awesome. Defining herself as a Zambian baby-maker or an American “anti-baby-maker-cuz-I-want-a-career” – not so awesome.

Culture is complicated. There are aspects of every culture that should rightly be whole-heartedly accepted, those that should be outright rejected, and those that are simply waiting to be redeemed. My fear is not that my baby would become Zambian-American, but that she will become Zambian-American in all the wrong ways. How do I help her adopt the best of the two cultures, rejecting the wrong, and discerningly redeeming the rest? It seems to simplistic to think that “just” by raising her in a Christian home or teaching her daily how she ought to live that that will somehow save her from Zambian idolatry, poverty-mentality and degradation of women, or from American power lust, individualism and materialism. As I observe the kids around me, I make note of the fact that no one has verbally taught them the majority of their little nuances. Cultural osmosis has been the defining force in their life. The invisible hand of socialization has turned my little-people-friends into the full fledged Zambians they are – for better or for worse.

I don’t want Bronwyn to struggle with cultural identity. Nor do I want her to go with the flow and let the waves of culture sway her here and there. In my heart of hearts, I want her to belong to a completely different culture of a different world – a culture defined by compassion and justice and holiness – the things that make the joy-pursuit of this life come to fruition.

How do we lead her in that? To me this is the most important question as a parent whose call is to shepherd my child. As Jeremy and I talk about the cultural formation happening around us, we often feel overwhelmed, but at the same time we are thankful. We’ve both acknowledged that living in a place with a culture different from that which we were raised in, gives us a heightened sense of awareness regarding cultural nuances and their affect on our every day life. The typical American family living in a typical American neighborhood may never have a reason to stop and think about what messages society is sending their children and what character formation is stemming from everyday, secular influences. And yet this is the content of our pillow talk and our dinner conversation. Coming from one culture, living in another and trying to raise our daughter in a blended third gives us a keen sense of awareness. Even as we daily work through these questions, we give thanks that we are not passive participants in this giant social arrangement called community, but that we have been afforded the opportunity to parent intentionally. 

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you have the same concerns every mother, especially Christian mothers have. That is, How do I counter the culture?