Are parenting styles influenced by culture? Most probably. But how does American style parenting compare with native born Greek, especially when it comes down to the teen and young adult years? Which is superior–the American notion that aims towards independence and individuality or the Greek one which emphasizes communal integration and loyalty to the family? It’s a culture war.
Although without grounding in real sociological research, it is safe to say that American parents expect their children to get it together by at least by the time they graduate college. American culture is based on rugged individualism and a sense of personal growth, at times to the expense of unity within the in group, be it family or community. As a result, American parents try to instill a sense of responsibility and independence to their youngsters, even while quite young. By 7, American mothers expect their kids to dress themselves, serve themselves a bowl of cereal, pick up their clothes. By 16, american kids should have experienced their first job. By 18, they should have gotten behind the wheel and experienced the joys and freedoms of driving their first car. By 21, some parents expect them to be out of the house. In fact, the entire dorm culture of college I think was an invention to ramp up young adults into the realities of growing up. Going away to college was a way for young people to taste the fruits of self-reliance and independence in an effort to keep them from moving back home. It’s hard to go back into the nest once you’ve had a taste of your own freedom. That’s America.
Then, on the other corner, there is the Greek parenting style. Greek parents, and grandparents and uncles and all extended family, lets say random strangers on the street, adore children. Greek mothers fuss and fret over their brood like heart surgeons over a live or die case. Greeks take attachment parenting from breast to death. At risk of sounding bigoted, you can safely assume that most Greek kids grow up spoiled or at least we’ll catered to. Greek culture does not aim for independence or self reliance but slavish loyalty to the nuclear family and even the extended family. Children are expected to stay with the family for as long as possible. It is only expected of them to move out when they get married and establish their own families. So it does not seem embarrassing for a 35 or 40 year old bachelor to be still at home with his other or father. Because Greek culture views the family as the greatest social net of support, it would be viewed as a bit self defeating to walk away from it.
Can you really say which style is superior? Take as examples two extreme cases for each. On the one hand, I have heard of 17 year olds in my high school classes getting kicked out of their mother and father’s house to move in with their boy or girlfriend. The parents didn’t even blink. Or a 12-year-old who I was tutoring tell me how she was so excited that this weekend her parents had left the house for a weekend trip to Texas. “I’m going to have a house party and invite all my friends!” she boasted with freckles and a wide grin. “Do your parents know about this party?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said. “They even let the maid stay over to cater it.” Wow I thought that’s a bit young. Allowing a 12 year old to have a weekend house party while you go away? That’s progressive. Or is it? Is it a way for American parents to wipe their hands from their own parental responsibility ? You get tired of being the mother or father so you pass the buck to the youngster under the guise of giving them independence?
When I threaten to evict my disrespectful 19-year-old from the house, my Greeky- Greek mother chimes in, “How dare you? You can’t throw the child out of the house. What kind of mother are you? She is still a child.” When does she become an adult if she never feels the consequences of her actions? When is that golden line one passes that signals you have left childhood and entered adulthood, fully responsible and reliable on yourself for yourself? For American parents that line can’t come quick enough; for Greeks, may it never come.
But then you get the Greek kids on the other extreme. Like some, who at 35, still rely on mommy and daddy to pay their bills. You get whats called the mamothrefta, who cry when the apartment their parents rented for them does not turn out to be what they had expected. A conversation with a female 30 year old engineer reveals the divide in one confession, “Between the choice of moving out and having to struggle or living in their bedroom in order to afford a BMW to carouse in, most Greek youth would choose the beamer hands down.” I have heard all kinds of stories. Of pensioner arthritis ridden mothers who still do laundry and clean their 40 year old rooms. Of shipping weekly bundles of homemade food to sons and daughters in London while they were finishing up Masters degrees. Or worse mothers and fathers who politely went away for the weekend to give their so with his girlfriend free reign in their apartment. Isn’t this a pathetic way to call yourself an adult?
While comparing cultures is like talking about apples and oranges, a cultural reversal of young adulthood would produce a contrast in pictures: the American teen thrown out of his house at 18 would be surrounded by concerned Greek clan members sputtering things like, “There there to kaimeno, poor thing. You are with us now. We will take care of you. You don’t have to worry about anything.” The Greek 25 year old who still calls home every week waiting for his 300 euro allowance would get a kick on his pisino with the reckoning, “You achrissto useless piece of shit. You should be taking care of your mother not the other way around. Den drespese? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
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