When I was pregnant, I decided that one trait I definitely wanted to encourage in my child was a love of travel. In my youth I'd happily wandered through Europe, Australia, the South Pacific, Indonesia, and even Pakistan. When my son was an infant I stayed a bit closer to home -- meaning I didn't leave the United States -- but when he was a toddler I decided it was time to go further afield. My family traveled to Puerto Rico as a kind of test trip, and when that went well we decided it was safe to go abroad. I knew how to pack all the right clothes and toys, but one thing I hadn't considered was how parenting customs differ around the world.
France: In Paris, for instance, children my son's age sat quietly in restaurants and ate with impeccable manners. My son was used to slipping under a restaurant table to play when he got bored, roaming through the restaurant to explore, wheeling toy cars along the floor. I knew people were looking at us disapprovingly, but I tried to ignore it… until one evening when my son accidentally knocked over a neighboring table's silver stand holding an ice bucket and a bottle of champagne. We had to slink out of the restaurant in shame.
UK: In London his rambunctiousness was accepted, but people disapproved of a child his age (by that time he was four) still being in a stroller. I kept him in the stroller, quite honestly, just because it was easier for me to get around the city that way.
Japan: My son and I were at the top of a tower looking at a gorgeous view of Tokyo. Like many tourist attractions there, this one had a rubber stamp, an inkpad, and a pile of paper near the entrance so people could make a stamp impression as a souvenir. My son stamped his hand instead. A family nearby thought this was very funny and started gently teasing my son, laughing and making hand gestures, trying to persuade him to stamp his forehead. I was surprised, since all the Japanese families we'd encountered until then had not interacted with us this way before. Then I started listening closer and realized the family playing with my son was speaking Mandarin and visiting from mainland China.
China: And yes, we eventually went on to visit mainland China. There the one-child policy in the cities means that children are treated as little princes and princesses -- or emperors and empresses. Although we spoke very little Mandarin ourselves, we didn't notice many parents admonishing or punishing their children, no matter how much they seemed to misbehave.
While parenting practices may differ around the world, one thing that parents everywhere clearly share is the enormous love they feel for their children. I look forward to exploring much more of the world with the family I love.
Beth Weinhouse is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about parenting issues and women's health. She's been an editor at Ladies' Home Journal and Parenting magazines, and her work has appeared in dozens of consumer magazines and websites.
Parenting advice is given as a suggestion only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider.