There are many lovely parts of the Russian and Armenian culture I have come to enjoy. They work hard, they play hard, they love each other, they get to know their neighbors like family and see them daily. Going to coffee, tea, or lunch at each other’s houses happens every single day. All of the children in the neighborhood playing and being watched over by everyone in the neighborhood is just lovely to me.
There are also many parts that are foreign to me and difficult to adapt to. One of them is the advice. Russians (and especially Russian women) are so full of advice. They give advice to every person they meet. It is normal to have a Russian woman walk up to you in the street and tell you what you are doing wrong with your child. I had to really learn to let this go. My husband’s friends and aunties and cousins would tell me every single time I saw them something I should be doing differently. He told me – just don’t listen to it if you don’t like it. In Russia with the “real” family it was really bad. I finally learned to say “OK, thanks” and just use it if I liked it, or let it go and not get offended.
Luckily I ran across an article in Parenting magazine (I believe) that talked about raising children in different countries. Some women had moved to the US after being in a different country, some had moved from the US to a different country. The one I really loved was the woman who moved to France for her husband’s job. She talked about how the preschools were different, how the kids stuff was in the kids room and not all over the living room. How the adults had real lives – the kids ate early and went to bed and the adults enjoyed wine and dinner with friends after.
But the one that hit home was a woman from India. She explained that in India the idea of “it takes a village” is alive and well. That if you want a shower, you simply go next door to your neighbor and she takes the baby for a bit, or if you need a rest, or to go shopping. That the kids all play together going from apartment to apartment, or with one or two moms watching over them in the courtyard. That the adults along the children’s routes home from school watch the kids, make sure they are safe. That to hurt a child would end in terrible things being done to someone by the neighborhood people. That all children are “your children”. But along with that lovely “the children are the most important” idea comes the right to tell others what to do with their children. She said it isn’t uncommon for a grandma to discipline someone else’s child in the store, or for a complete stranger to tell you what you should be doing different while you wait for the bus.
And it clicked for me. Because when we were there I saw – I saw the older kids playing with each other and the ladies watching from their kitchen windows or yards. I saw the girls coming for coffee to let their children play with my son (which I thought was just because we were visiting – but no – that is how it is always). I saw how when we were low on diapers because my son had diarrhea my MIL went next door and borrowed a few and then gave them back later. The boys down the road came over to ask “aunt Susanna” for a cup of sugar or flour. The kiddos up the street came to play. My MIL took him to play with her neighbor’s grandchild – to get him out on a walk and to let him play with other kids. But also, there was the advice. The “don’t sit on the cement”, the “don’t let his feet get wet”, the “doesn’t he need his hat?”, the “he needs a jacket, it’s chilly”…. and there is only so much you can pretend you don’t understand after a month.
And I figured it out. They are trying to help. They want to give other women what they have – knowledge. When you have been there and done that I know that you want to share. So you see, I can learn. I learned to take what I needed and let the rest go. And be thankful they considered me family.
I do have to admit, when my MIL says there is something she doesn’t like about our culture, I don’t get upset anymore. But after a year of living with them, a small part of me wants to say “there are things I don’t like about your culture either – like the way you live with your children your whole life. Doesn’t Mother Russia sound lovely right now? It’s spring, the flowers are out – can’t you hear the Black Sea calling your name?” At this point I can almost hear the Black Sea calling MY name!