The first time I took my new baby for a walk in a park near our home in Mexico City, on a crisp sunny day last January that was probably about 55 degrees F, I had a woman rush up to me and inquire whether I should put another blanket on her.
“Should I?” I thought, panicked. After all, I was a new mother.
But as winter turned into spring, the warmest time of the year here, and concerned parents and even concerned street cleaners would tell me my daughter needed an extra layer, I eventually realized that Mexicans overbundle – and they aren't shy about letting you know yours must be cold.
But there the unsolicited advice ended.
No one asked if I was breast-feeding, not once. No one asked what kind of stroller I had or whether I thought it was right to use a stroller in the first place. Blessedly, no one was telling me I needed to start looking at preschools already. The only thing anyone seemed to judge was whether or not I had an extra pair of socks on hand.
My daughter was very late to walk, and at 21 months still does not say much. I have had my moments, but generally I have not been worried. During one of those moments, however, when talking about this with a friend in the States, she mentioned that I might inquire about early intervention services.
Early intervention services? For reaching milestones late? Yes, she said, people she knows have accessed such help without even blinking.
Even if I wanted to, I have no idea where I would seek out such services here. I am sure they exist but definitely not in the mainstream. Parenting abroad definitely means that you may forgo some of the support built into the system at home. (Likewise, I have yet to find a pediatrician whose philosophy I fully embrace, so instead I crosscheck advice against my sisters and mom – none of whom remember anything and are of usually no help.)
But for the most part, the fact that a late talker here isn't necessarily viewed as something that needs immediate attention, or not engaging in conversations about whether certain strollers or gadgets have long-term emotional impacts, takes away a source of second-guessing in years that are already fraught.
Recently, like every other parent, especially those living abroad, I downloaded Pamela Druckerman's "Bringing Up Bebe," which compares parenting styles in the US to those in France, where she is raising her three children. Largely she finds a calm firmness in France, which she argues creates a group of better-behaved brood. I see parallels in Mexico. Of course there is anxiety here. But there seems to be less of an industry, which generates more self-doubt, which then creates the demand for more parenting books – and of course more unsolicited advice.
A friend of mine currently living here is from Berkeley, perhaps ground zero of mommy judgement. She says that raising her baby here this year has been liberating: She is left alone to follow her instincts and is not bombarded by others' opinions. She says that the only time anyone has questioned her parenting is on choice of attire for her daughter.
While her girl is running around in sundresses, her Mexican peers are dressed in tights and pretty cotton sweaters. Parents also tell her she needs to bundle her daughter up. But even there, she says, she doesn't sense it is a statement or judgement call. "It comes from a place of concern," she says.