My Husband and I saw the movie, Babies, a documentary film came out on Mother’s Day weekend that follows the first year in the life of four babies born in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco.
I highly recommend putting aside any judgement and assessment you might have about what “good”/“right” parenting is and is not as you watch the movie. As someone who was born and grew up in another country/culture, I can deeply relate to the life style of Mongolian and Namibian families. Not because I grew up in the village, or a yurt, but it reminded me my own childhood. For example, when I saw the Mongolian baby and his family all squeezed onto one motorcycle with no one wearing helmets, I remembered our family-of-five crowded on my father’s Vespa with no one wearing protective gear. Did my parents not care about safety? I wouldn’t think so, but a scene like this could get reported as a possible child abuse/neglect, or a crime of some sort in the U.S. if anything had happened to a child.
Another childhood wonderment was seeing the Mongolian and Namibian babies playing with rocks, sand, sticks, and pure imagination. My parents were not big on store bought toys, or children’s books. My mother would use a thread and tie around our wrists to a mobile she made–a wooden stick sewed with a few fabrics she got from the clothing factory she worked for. Kitchen utensils, cardboard boxes, and that forever-fun toilet paper were my favorite toys. Green grass and tree leaves, red flower petals and black sticky mud were what’s-for-dinner-tonight at my tea party. And, yes, my mother would also tie us to the leg of a chair, and she would sing, or tell us a story as she working away at her sewing machine.
The movie also makes me look at how urban/suburban life style impacts the interaction and relationship between parents and children. It seems that in the Western world, parenting has gotten harder even though things have gotten a lot easier. I sometimes wonder does the technology itself makes our daily life safer, or more dangerous and toxic? “Child-safe” environment is not a concern in the hills of Mongolia and mud-hut village of Namibia. I heard the sound of gasps from the audiences as the movie shown buzzing flies, cracked stones, dried up animal bones, live-stocks strolling next to the crawling babies. Though, they were never harmed physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. It’s almost like they are in harmony with nature. The babies in Japan and San Francisco, living in touchy-feely, hyperactive coddling, tightly high-tech-organized-and-crowed environment, child-proofed environment seems to be a must.
A Dad (Rufus Griscom, “Babies Movie Review from a Dad”) wrote in his review,
“… that we in the Western world are parenting against the grain. It’s harder than it should be. Most things have gotten a whole lot easier in the last 10,000 years, but I think it’s possible that parenting has gotten harder.
To put a finer point on it, I don’t think it’s natural for a grown up to be isolated in a white box with one or more small children. … In the traditional village environment… infants and toddlers receive constant stimulation from siblings, peers, animals, and the various nuances of the great outdoors; in the modern, urban/ suburban environment, in contrast, parents provide that stimulation — we get on our hands and knees with educational toys and pretend that we too are just discovering the mysteries of gravity, percussive acoustics, and the tensile strength of styrofoam. This, of course, can be a magical and lovely experience — I love nothing more than time in our white box with my kids, rolling around on the floor — but the reality is that my interest in kid stuff is exhausted before my kids’ interest in kids stuff is exhausted, and then I tend to feel guilty and frustrated.
Because of this tension, and the intensity of work and other interests, I all too frequently try to multi-task, sneaking in emails while lying inside the fort constructed out of coffee tables and armchairs, reading the newspaper in the tub while the kids splash about. … I have a general sense that I am doing too much and not enough at the same time.”
Of course, parents will and always want the best for their children. It is possible the commitment that our children turn out is reduced to expectation, one that seems to be a genuine hope, but is often based on grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side. Such unconscious comparison builds up frustration, pressure, stress, and guilt–looking for the best toys, schools, camps, extra-stimulation-curriculum-activities. Looking for something better, or best as if what we have, or what we do is not good enough. I don’t mean to invalidate all the opportunities and technologies we have. Yes, we are blessed with modern tools, but they are not what nurture our children. Tools can never replace the presence of and the interaction with another living-being (i.e., siblings, peers, animals), like those moments portrayed within the scenes of the Namibian and Mongolian babies.
The movie powerfully echos a view that considering how varied our cultures and environments are, the human behaviors, i.e., how babies grow and develop, are surprisingly similar. It might look as if child rearing practices are very different around the world; though, as I looked beyond the obvious-dos during the 80-minutes-no-voice-over-and-no-narration-but-babbles-and-giggles, the universal truth about those four families is, as the director said himself: “These babies were all loved by their families, loved in different ways. A loved baby has all the advantages, no matter where [he/she] grows up.”
Check out more Babies movie reviews here: