The book How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting invites readers on a journey from the cafes of Argentina to the nurseries of Japan and the rural villages of the Polynesian Islands. With an engaging and down-to-earth tone, Author Mei-Ling Hopgood traces her own exploration of parenting in different cultures, sometimes practicing new techniques on her toddler Sofia. The book How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm begins with a light, mildly interesting discussion of the late nights kept by children in Argentina, but quickly becomes gripping as the parenting issues grow more weighty.
In an easy-to-read style, Hopgood expertly intersperses her own experiences with historical and anthropological information about the countries and communities she investigates. The logical organization of the book will delight anyone who's wandered through the many rambling parenting tomes on the shelves, as will the clean editing, which leaves not one superfluous passage. Each chapter tackles a single parenting concern: sleeping, feeding, baby carrying, potty-training, fatherhood, extended families, pregnancy, child discipline and squabbles, playtime, chores and academics. But this is no how-to manual; the book merely presents alternate approaches to these universal questions, drawn from other cultures and countries.
With books like Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bebe glorifying a different cultural approach to parenting, it's a relief to read a research-based, even handed treatment. If you've ever wondered what Western parents could learn from other cultures, this deeply reported book provides a handful of fascinating answers. After a review of How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, you might even adopt the Mayan approach to household chores or the Asian perspective on academic excellence.
An Exploration of Different Cultures' Parenting Practices
Perhaps the most valuable lesson from How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is the simple step author Mei-Ling Hopgood takes to question the way things are done in the U.S. and many Western cultures. As an American living in Argentina, she's thrust into a world where parents bring young children along to late-night dinners and events without a thought to the strict bedtimes kept by her friends' children in the U.S. Ultimately, she concludes that sleeping arrangements are just one component of the parent-child relationship, with the Argentine approach integrating children into parents' lives.
The book grows more fascinating when she leaves Argentina to explore French eating habits and Kenyans' stroller-free existence. Here, Hopgood displays her expertise in reporting, taking the reader into a French preschool where toddlers gobble up parboiled green beans and roasted potatoes and along for a mile-long trek to a flour mill in Nairobi, with a two-year old on the back of local Patricia Munene. Delving beyond these observations, Hopgood explores the reasons for our dependence on strollers and highlights the concern of the scientific community that a "container lifestyle" could contribute to childhood obesity and poor physical development.
Her experiment with the Chinese method of early potty training results in the predictable mess and parental exhaustion. She notes that "many Chinese are managing waste rather than training a child," and finally does succeed in potty training Sofia at 22 months old. The chapter on how Aka Pygmy fathers balance parenting and work is worthwhile reading for any working mom who's struggled with a full load of child care and household chores after a long day at the office.
The book grows more personal and moving in chapters on adoption and pregnancy, with a touching exploration of Tibetan practices and the author's own miscarriage and hope for a second child. Every chapter is consistently well-written and logically structured: solid opening, engaging anecdotes, rich research and background on the topic, thoughtful closing and a postscript or historical note about a related subject.