How children are raised in Russia: an American woman’s view of our motherhood
In the nineties, an American, Tanya Meyer, learned Russian and came to work in Moscow. In addition to well-paid work, the novel happened to her here, but the man, learning that she was expecting a child from him, chose to disappear. So Tanya became a single mother in Russia. Then she married, had two more children and moved to Europe, but her experience in raising a child in Moscow was so memorable that she decided to write a book about him. Portal Nan interviewed the author “Shapka. Babushka. Kefir. How children are raised in Russia ”- and was very pleased with this acquaintance.
How did you find yourself in Russia, how much time you spent here and do you often come here?
I studied Russian and economics at Georgetown University in Washington. After graduation, I worked for Wall Street for a year and at one point I told my boss that I wanted to go to Moscow. In return, he offered London, I refused, quit, bought a ticket to Moscow one way and in August 1999 came here with a few suitcases and money, which was enough for one night at the hotel. But I was lucky, I quickly made friends and got a good job at the American Bank in Moscow. I stayed here for 8 years - I moved to 2008 with my husband in London. Now we live in Vienna, but I try to come to Moscow at least once a year: I like to watch how the city changes.
Under what circumstances did you decide to write a book about your experience? What hooked you so much in Russian motherhood?
I am very glad that I wrote this book. I am not a journalist or a writer, but I like to collect information, analyze it and write.
Once, one of my Moscow friends added me to the secret group of Russian moms on Facebook (many of them lived in Moscow, but some were scattered around the world). I began to read comments, participate in discussions and realized that Russian mothers have a lot in common, and that there is a special “Russian” way of raising children.
Then I shared the idea of the book with the group and asked the girls if they would agree to tell me about their motherhood experiences. They responded with great enthusiasm, and I set to work. I got the feeling that the women with whom I spoke enjoyed great pleasure in sharing their experiences - perhaps because Russia is very serious about motherhood. Probably, I was the first person who asked them to analyze exactly how they are raising children, and why. Talking to girls was very cool.
Why did you not give birth to a child in Russia, but then returned with him here?
I gave birth at the beginning of 2006. I was afraid of childbirth and decided (perhaps in vain!) That it would be more comfortable for me to give birth in a hospital in the United States than in Moscow. That was almost 11 years ago, a lot has changed since then. I did not have a decree: I did not stop working for a Russian company remotely. I am grateful to my then-employer: he supported me when I said that I would try to return to Moscow as soon as I regained consciousness after the birth of a child - and I returned.
In your book a lot of heat in relation to Russian mothers. Was there anything that annoyed you about them?
In the book, I describe several things that were not found in me of understanding or sympathy. For example, I am surprised that in Russia there are many mothers, including well-educated people who do not trust traditional medicine, treat children with homeopathic preparations and do not vaccinate them. This, of course, is a difficult topic, but the anti-vaccination movement scares me: recently, for example, there was news about the outbreak of measles in Yekaterinburg.
Russian mothers love to travel with children, but it seems to me that it is very risky to transport unvaccinated babies to other countries.
What is the difference between Russian motherhood and European and American?
It seems to me that Russian mothers - no matter where they live: in New York, Moscow or Paris - they take their parenting very seriously. They have a superintelligent and analytical approach to motherhood, they always ask themselves: what am I doing and why, what is better for my child? And at the same time, such parental involvement does not prevent them from finding time for themselves. Russian women are not victims of motherhood, they enjoy it. They are not afraid to ask for help: in my book, many chapters are devoted to nannies and grandmothers, because in Russia it is customary to raise children together and rely on the help of different people. It seems to me that in Europe many women more often trust children to the state and do not seek to find circles and sections outside of school or kindergarten. We have made a lot of work, but we don’t turn to grandmothers and nannies for help - so European mothers don’t spend so much time on their children.
In the US, there are mothers who work from home, they are focused on their careers, so they use outside help: mothers plan the lives of their children, but these plans are implemented by other people.
There is another type of American moms, housewives. They perceive motherhood as a sport, and the interests of their children often replace all other needs - I think this is not a very healthy trend. In society, these mothers behave the way we all behaved in adolescence at school (and around the age of forty it would be cool to behave differently!) But Russian women manage to combine everything: they are loving mothers and wives, good friends, they are take time to take care of themselves. Russian mothers support each other and rarely condemn someone else's choice. And, of course, they are absolutely not lazy.
What do you think, what are the hottest issues being discussed by Russian mothers? What turns them on the most - vaccinations, breast or artificial feeding, the method of delivery? Do you think that Russian mothers are more categorical than American mothers?
Russian moms have a clear idea of the beautiful. I already talked about vaccination. Another topic is the benefits of breastfeeding, but in Russia, alternative ways to feed a child are treated with at least respect. For example, I did not manage to breastfeed any of my children, and in Moscow I never felt guilty for using the mixture. I do not think that Russian mothers are more categorical than American ones, on the contrary - they are very enthusiastic about everything new. We Americans are very stubborn. In Russia, life is changing very quickly, and in order to survive, you need to be flexible - including in terms of ideas about parenthood.
How is maternity leave arranged in Russia - is it more humane or stupid?
Oh, this is very humane! As I have already told, I did not have maternity leave, but it was my own decision: I didn’t want to lose my high position and good salary. In the US, standard leave for child care is 6 weeks.
American moms work until 40 weeks of pregnancy, give birth and return to work after a month and a half, being forced to leave their children in the nursery - babysitters are very expensive and not everyone can afford them. This is the terrible reality that most working mothers in the US face.
In Russia, as far as I know, the decree is paid for a year and a half, and another half is not - and it seems to me that this is more than reasonable. In European countries, the decree lasts a maximum of 12 months - this is, of course, a dream compared to the American system.
What do you think: in other countries, fathers are more involved in parenthood? Did you have a feeling that in Russia parenting is a woman’s concern?
Maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I have a feeling that European and American couples do not share their duties properly. If in Vienna or in London you come to the park on weekends, you will see there are a bunch of unfortunate fathers who are told by their wives: “Today is Saturday! Go for a walk with your baby. ” It seems to me that many European and American men are under great pressure from their wives or partners, and this is not too honest, especially when the children are very young. In parenting, there are a lot of rather boring activities that require tremendous patience - and women cope with such things much better than men. Fathers in Russia are often actively involved in parenting, but the dads involved here are still treated as superheroes. In general, the expectations of Russian fathers are very low.
How do you like Russian children - what are they? Merry? Obedient? Inventive? Quiet? How do they differ from other children?
Russian children seemed to me to be open, cheerful, intelligent and interested in the world around them, generally obedient and certainly not quiet. Local children are more mature than their American and European peers. I spent a lot of time with Russian children in London and Vienna, and they often behave as if they are older than their years. They also, as a rule, study well and enjoy music, sports, chess and ballet. And my brain just explodes because of how many languages they speak. My son goes to gymnasium in Vienna - there they teach in German. He has classmates who speak Russian at home, German at school and learn French and English as additional languages. It is absolutely impossible to believe that there are children for whom this is normal!
What do you think about Russian kindergartens?
My son was too young for kindergarten when we lived in Moscow.
But I really like the fact that Russian parents have a choice: you don’t have to give your child to the garden, you can stay with him at home until 7 years old, if you want.
In the book I write that this choice is precisely the Russian peculiarity: in Europe and the USA there are certain educational standards that the state and society support and which almost all parents try to adhere to. And it seems to me that the methods of education should be many and different, because all children are different. In Russia, I came across children who, until 7 years, did not go to any preschool institutions, and at the same time were very smart and well socialized.
What superstitions of local moms and dads seemed cute and wild?
I love logic, so superstition in general seems to me something unreasonable. Most of all I am amused by the local idea that cold drinks (especially with ice) can provoke a sore throat or high temperature. I’m also amused very much by Russian mothers, like my perfectly educated friend Sonya, who doesn’t cut her hair during pregnancy.
What do you think, what Russian traditions of parenthood would be good to introduce everywhere, and which ones should be abandoned altogether?
Healthy nutrition, frequent walks with children, early potty training are those trends of Russian parenthood that would be worth learning from the entire planet. But I would not copy everything: there are days when you can go out without a hat, and also, it seems to me, mankind survives perfectly well without several courses of baby massage.
What local food did you feed your son? Maybe you borrowed some recipes from Russian mothers that you use now?
In Russia, I learned to cook soups. My son ate a ton of different porridge, cottage cheese, yogurt and soups while we lived in Moscow. In general, for a long time, he did not know how to eat adult food, because he was completely satisfied with the food, which should not be chewed. The recipes of the Russian cuisine saved me when my youngest daughter was born and it turned out that she was allergic to milk. I cooked all the food at home, and I was very much helped by a variety of Russian soups and cereals - I made them on water or in a lactose-free mixture.
My children are still often asked to cook "pink soup" for them - as they call borscht, they adore cabbage pies, squash fritters, pancakes with red caviar, and Mishka Kosolapy sweets.
So how do you raise children in Russia? Good or bad?
Obviously, I am prejudiced, since I wrote a whole book on this topic. But as a whole: yes, in Russia children are raised very well! Russian mothers spend so much time pondering their decisions, reading books, studying information, asking questions and analyzing their own actions, investing so much spiritual strength in their motherhood! Women around the world should learn from them. Unfortunately, in Europe and the United States there is still an idea of Russian women as strange glamorous creatures with long red nails.
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