Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Parenting by region

Now that we're settled and into our second year in the Midwest, I have definitely noticed that life is different here. Here are some of my musings on how parenting is different by region. Neither is a parenting utopia nor cesspool, it's just different.

West Coast
1. We were first to hear about all the latest gadgets and innovations. And OMG, the clothes were to die for. Attending playgroups was like witnessing a children's fashion show. It's not that people there were necessarily wealthier or more materialistic, the shopping is just better.
2. Organic baby foods and "green" baby products were inexpensive and widely available.
3. Allergies and food preferences seemed to abound, and you had to shield your snacks at playdates. If a tot snuck a bite from another kid's baggie, occasionally there would be a parental freak-out. Before bringing anything to a potluck, we went through a laundry list of dietary questions..."Are you nut-free? Celiac? Vegan? Lactose-intolerant? Diabetic?"
4. Vaccination and circumcision are very controversial issues.
5. Fear ran high about the latest recalls. We were the first to hear the gossip and if you didn't immediately dump your BPA bottles, literally dozens of moms would tell you which stores were letting you swap-up for the safer versions.
6. Parenting was seen more as a career choice and hence, there were definitely more competi-moms!
7. There were a plethora of activities for children. Your choice of music classes, swimming lessons, indoor gyms, etc. I miss the options.
8. The weather doesn't vary too much, so there's not much use for snowsuits nor tank tops. A sweater and a hoodie will suffice for many NW winter days, and you better keep that hoodie in the car during the summer for the evening chill. Nature is just gorgeous and outdoor experiences are pleasant year-round, although summer was our favorite season.
9. It's a given that you don't allow your child to watch TV or eat sugar.

Midwest
1. We're a few years behind on the trends which is aggravating when you want the latest gizmo, but also satisfying in that we are spending less money on the latest and greatest.
2. Organic options are limited and super expensive here.
3. Allergy rates are a lot lower - is this a genetic trend, something environmentally different, or are they just not diagnosed here? Either way, if someone brings crackers to a playdate, it's a happy free-for-all!
4. Vaccination and circumcision are "givens".
5. Folks are a little more laid back about the recalls and scares. They care, but without hitting the panic button.
6. Parenting is viewed more as a relationship, so while there is still the ubiquitous pressure to "keep up with the Joneses", the need to be the best is notably lacking.
7. It's pretty difficult to find activities or classes, especially those geared for younger children. They exist, but aren't heavily advertised, and often there is only a single option in the area.
8. Here it is necessary to outfit your children for every weather possibility - from snow to rain to sauna-like heat. This gets expensive quickly, as kids rarely fit into the same weather-appropriate clothing from year to year. There is a very real potential for frostbite or sunstroke. On the upside, most homes here are air conditioned, so no need to spend hours at the mall on sweltering July afternoons, just retreat to your own home! Here, fall is our favorite season - all golden, crisp, and a cool respite from the humidity.
9. It's a given that you allow your child to watch TV, and parents will recommend their favorite shows. That's really nice, because while there's no judgment if you don't let your kids have screen time, there's also no audible gasp when you can admit that you got a shower thanks to Elmo's World. It's also a given that you allow your child to eat sugar, so you can't expect Junior to attend a playdate without seeing cookies or cupcakes.

The overall feeling?

Parenting on the West Coast is more intense. The culture is about keeping on top of the latest studies, finding the ideal playgroups and schools, learning how to be the best parent you possibly can for your child.

Parenting is more laid-back in the Midwest. There is more of a general parenting camaraderie, as in, "This stuff is tough. Let's get through it together. You gotta do what you gotta do."

I think having experienced both cultures, I can truly take away the best of both worlds. I've been so blessed to have found such good friends in both areas, friends who support instead of judge.

Universal Truths:
1. All children scream the second they enter Target.
2. Fellow parents can be snarky or a God-send.
3. The kids are crankiest an hour before Daddy is scheduled to get home.
4. If the other kid has the same snack/toy your kid does, hers must be somehow better and your kid will go to any lengths to obtain it. Meanwhile, the other kid is hatching an identical plot.

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