To a great extent, culture determines the way children are brought up and raised. Child rearing practices vary from culture to culture. Families in all societies have three basic goals for their children (LeVine, 1974). First, families have the survival goal, which promotes the physical survival and health of the child. Second, there is the economic goal, which is used to foster skills and behavioral capacities that the child needs for economic self-maintenance as an adult. Lastly, there is the self-actualization goal, which is used in order to foster behavioral capabilities for maximizing cultural values such as morality, religion and achievement. While these basic goals that parents have for their children are similar, culture can produce variations in the behavior and beliefs of parents. These differences in behavior and beliefs the parents hold affect their child-rearing practices. The child-rearing practices among the Mexican-American families and Native-Americans are examined throughout this paper.
The Mexican culture has a very rich heritage of both Indian and Spanish ancestry, which have great influence on raising children. Mexico was a patriarchal society under the Spanish legal system. Traditionally children were wards of their fathers. Women only had rights over their children in extreme circumstances such as default of a natural or appointed male relative. The premise of Spanish family law was primarily unchanged until the late 19th century and was not significantly revised until the 1960s (Lavrin, 1991).
Today, in Mexican households in both the United States and Mexico there is still a traditional division of labor by gender. For example, girls help their mothers in the kitchen and boys help their fathers in the yard. In addition to the division of labor by gender, in the Mexican culture adult males are “expected” to be dominant over adult females (Bronstein, 1994).
It is very interesting to know that as in other Latin American countries, the study of parenting in Mexico is extremely limited. In fact, much of what is known comes indirectly from studies of Hispanic families living in the United States (Bronstein, 1994) or is obtained from Mexico City and the surrounding areas.
In Mexican families the mother is the primary caretaker of the children. Typically, Mexican mothers are very affectionate especially to children under 3 years of age (Bronstein, 1994). While there appears to be defined roles for males and females, Mexican mothers did not differ in their treatment of children based on gender (Bronstein, 1994).
Parental authority, children’s obedience, and respect for the parents are major values within the Mexican family (Diaz-Guerro, 1975). Both mothers and fathers discipline their children. In fact, discipline in Mexico and in the United States is quite similar. This is true for Mexican mothers (Solis-Camara & Fox, 1995; 1996) and Mexican fathers (Fox & Solis-Camara, 1997).
In traditional Mexican culture the male is the disciplinarian and his wife and children both respect him. The father’s role has been characterized by “aloof authoritarianism”. Recent research has shown that fathers in Mexico and in the United States are quite similar in their discipline style. In both countries, fathers from lower socio-economic status families were less nurturing and used more frequent and harsh discipline styles (such as spanking and yelling) than fathers from higher socio-economic status families (Bronstein, 1994; Mirande, 1988; Fox & Solis-Camara, 1997).
Mexican fathers treat their children differently based on gender. Fathers often pay more attention to their sons, and are less punishing of their daughters (Bronstein, 1994). Despite traditional gender roles there has been some changes in the fathers role. Today, fathers are more involved with their children than in the past. The involvement, however, is typically physical and outdoor play (Bronstein, 1994).
In regards to the culture of Native-Americans, there many separate Native-American societies that are broken up into tribes. All tribes are somewhat different with regard to culture, customs, beliefs, and behaviors. It would not be a good idea to generalize across tribes because each tribe employs different child-rearing practices. Nevertheless, some basic similarities are found among tribes.
The traditional Native-American community is collective, cooperative, and has extensive non-competitive social networks. Most aspects of life have spiritual significance, and there is an interdependence of spirituality and culture. Important traditional values include harmony with nature, respect for elders and traditional ways, centrality of family and tribal life, and cooperation (Coll, Meyer, & Brillon, 1995).
Responsibilities for child-rearing are often shared among many adults including parents, extended family members, and other adults (Harrison et al., 1990). Children are treated permissively and there is less interference in the affairs of others and in the regulation of activities (Phillips & Lobar, 1990). Being part of a group and blending in are important virtues and children are not encouraged to assert their individuality. Patience is a virtue and Native-American children do not seem competitive by the standards of the dominant society. Traditional Native-American beliefs focus on “seeking the path of life” in the “here and now” and on “being” rather than on “becoming”. While very involved in cultural tradition, Native Americans are very present oriented (Griffin-Pierce, 1996; Harrison et al., 1990).
Children are treated permissively in accord with the belief in the sacredness of the individual, which emphasizes that no person has a right to speak for or to direct the actions of another person, and this includes children (Coll, Meyer, & Brillon, 1995). In order to shape children’s behavior, adults may attempt to persuade, instill fear, embarrass, or shame children (Coll, Meyer, & Brillon, 1995). Native-American children master self-care skills early and participate in household responsibilities at a young age. This helps to foster their sense of self-sufficiency and confidence. In accordance with traditional Native-American values, children are taught to respect elders, cooperate with others, and are discouraged from asserting themselves and from showing emotion (Atwater, 1996).
Child-rearing activities may be aided by extended families. If the family resides on the reservation there is typically more of an extended family. If the family has moved off the reservation and resides in urban areas, the family is more nuclear (Joe & Malach, 1992).
Within the Navajo tribe, infants are kept close to the mothers continuously. Infants can suckle on demand. The cradleboard technique of carrying infants is used as a means to allow mothers to continue working while tending to their babies. This physical closeness continues until weaning and aids in the attachment process. While there is a strong mother-child attachment, the grandmother also assists in raising the children (Phillips & Lobar, 1990; Shepardson, 1995).
Within the Navajo culture collective behavior is encouraged, but individualistic behavior is respected without punishment. The words t`a`a`bee bo`holni`i (”it’s up to him or her to decide”) combines the Navajo emphasis on autonomy and consensus. The belief in the sacredness of the individual plays a large role in the parents attitude toward discipline. Persuasion, ridicule, or shame is the typical form of discipline. Corporal punishment is basically non-existent.
Navajo children typically do not ask permission to engage in certain behaviors. For example, they eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired. To the majority culture, Navajo children may appear to be “spoiled”. The Navajo, however, believe that they demonstrate that they care for the children by respecting their independence (Phillips, & Lobar, 1990; Dehyle & LeCompte, 1994).
The job of the Navajo father is to provide for his children and to serve as a role model. If the father is absent, then the mother’s brother assumes some obligations toward her children. Fathers and sons have a more direct relationship than father and daughter. Girls are more reluctant to approach their father and tend to use the mother as an intermediary (Phillips & Lobar, 1990).
In summary, the Mexican-American culture and the culture of Native-Americans both involve the three basic goals for their children (survival, economic self-maintenance, and self-actualization). Family loyalty and unity are highly valued in Mexico as in the United States. Mothers are the primary caretakers of the children. Parents are authority figures and obedience and respect are highly valued and expected. Discipline in Mexico is similar to discipline in the United States. Fathers are not highly involved with their children, but do act as disciplinarian and play partner. Mothers do not appear to treat their children very differently based on gender. Fathers, however, pay more attention to their sons and are stricter with them than with their daughters.
Native-American societies are typically collective, cooperative, and have extended family networks. Traditional values and beliefs about spirituality respect for elders, and family guide the parenting process. Thus, children are typically treated permissively and taught to respect their elders, to cooperate, to be nonassertive, and not to display emotion.