I met Elżbieta through a Polish Facebook group on bilingualism. Besides, Elżbieta is the POlish version of Elisabeth, in case you're wondering. When I read all the books about how different cultures raise their children, I begun to wonder how Polish parents raise their children. I knew that I was being raised a little bit differently (I was allowed things my friends weren't and forbidden things my friends were allowed to do).
I also never raised my children in Poland- all three of them were born abroad. So, I turned that that Polish Facebook group and asked around. I would say that in Poland, the parents main concern is that the children are healthy (zdrowe) and well-behaved (grzeczne). But, as Elżbieta says, this is changing. Please read her post. It reads like a manifesto.
Raising Happy Children in Poland
It seems that in Poland, parenting methods are changing. But how do Polish parents really raise their children ?
I often see new thoughts and behaviours meant to break old structures. Young parents try hard to raise their children in happiness. But they're also fighting stereotypes of the older generation (grandparents, neighbours, strangers on the streets and in the park, "well-meaning people" in trams).
The children listen.. .and they are confused. Something isn't right. Their parents say one thing, their grandparents something else. I think we are the generation that feels that a bond with their child means something else than scaring, bribing, embarrasing, comparing: "Eat! If you don't eat, you won't grow! Put ony your hat or you'll be sick! Wash your face or the worms will eat you! You don't want to hug me? You don't love me?If you're nice, we'll go eat some ice cream. You're such a sissy. Look, your sister ate everything and she will grow to be big and you will be small and weak and other children will make fun of you. Stop crying, you're a man! Don't talk too loud or else... You'll fall, slip, be run over by a car, you'll break your leg, you'll die! These are real things actually said to my son.
Polish children may be better behaved, have better grades in school, but are less creative, they are shy, embarassed, not very active. They care a lot about what other people think of them, and their self-esteem is not very high. Adults are the same.
But there is a problem. I think that our generation does not have positive examples of parenting without fear. We don't know how. We're still looking. We are learning. We are learning how to raise happy children, and not only children who are clean, well-behaved, quiet, and who follow orders.
We begin to understand that a happy, accomplished person can be a better part of society than somebody who is well-behaved, and follows orders-such people are good workers but are they good citizens?
We now begin to introduce an atmosphere of tolerance, love and admiration for our children.
Only now do we begin to understand that the emotions, needs, passions, feelings of the child are just as important as desired behaviour.
Only now do we begin to learn that we have to work on ourselves. We are learning that if a child shows undesirable behaviour, he is showing that something bad is going on- he is a mirror, a barometer, he has an emotional need, he is not "acting out".
We are just now beginning to learn that as parents, we have the wisdom of acting through love, and not to be motivated by social stereotypes. We only now begin to learn that we can shape our characters and that of our children. That we can implement certain values and not just raise well-behaved children.
Only now, we, the next generation of parents, learn to love ourselves and our children. It is hard because we're missing positive examples. But we will make it because it is the most important thing in life.
Elżbieta is a Polish expat in Austria, a speech therapist, and has a PhD in linguistics. She is also the co-author of educational materials to help children learn. She is interested in bilingualism and creating meaningful conversations with children. She blogs at Dwujęzyczność (which means bilingualism in Polish).