I thought parenting rules were universal ... until I moved to Jordan

I thought parenting rules were universal: don’t let your kids don’t eat too much junk, make sure they go to bed at a reasonable time, use their manners, clean their teeth … Until I moved to Jordan.

After arriving with my four-year-old son a month ago, all my preconceptions have been thrown out the window. I’d presumed his aunts, uncles and grandparents swarming him at any given time of the day or night, catering to his every whim, had been because our previous visits were for brief holidays.

But no, that’s what happens ALL THE TIME. And that’s just the tip of the dust storm.

Here are a few of the other differences I have encountered so far …

Getting up at 6.30am is unheard of here unless you are a goat

This is problematic when a) you are an early bird, and b) there are between 10 and 20 visitors per day during the first week, some arriving at midnight. The visitors and the 30 family members then proceed to sit outside where you are trying to sleep and talk (all at the same time and at the top of their lungs).

Your child will be force fed by 30 family members and you will hear the word "strong" 1000 times each meal time

Everyone will think you are weird because you want your child to eat meals before chocolate and biscuits. They think you are cruel because you won't let him drink Pepsi or coffee.
Why would I not want to give my child whatever he wants and make him happy?  


Cleaning baby teeth is totally pointless

 My son brushes his teeth twice a day. He has been to the dentist, and has lovely little four-year- old teeth.  The children here don’t brush their teeth at all.  Most of them will not visit a dentist until they have a problem. When I asked a parent about this they simply said; “These are the first teeth, it does not matter, they get new ones.”  Sorry to break the news sister, I’m no dentist, but the deciduous teeth affect the second teeth.  I also like to look at nice, white clean teeth, not teeth with black decay and holes in them.

Doing laundry is wasteful

I like my son to wear clean clothes that fit him. My relatives think I am being indulgent doing too much laundry. I can’t get into the habit of putting clothes on him twice. I also iron all of his clothes … I am the talk of the village!  

As for that nightly bath ritual …

We have had to go down to a shower every second day here. The water shortage is incredible. Water is brought in by trucks. We get a delivery every second Monday.  I am trying to adapt to this, but it is a challenge after living in Australia, even being brought up to be careful with water.

Bedtime is non-existent

One of the things that bothers me and most is bedtime. Kids just run amock until they collapse on the floor. When this happens, someone gathers them up and puts them on a mattress on the floor somewhere.  They stay at their aunts, uncles and grandparents homes.  They fall sleep in their clothes. No bedtime routine of bath, pyjama’s, brushing teeth, a bedtime story and winding down for the night. They just go crazy until they can’t do it anymore. They also run wild outside.  Last week at 1.40am I finally screamed out my front door to “Shut up!” I may have sworn a bit too … I know it was futile because they had no idea what I was screaming in English, but the tone helped me out. I know my relatives think I am a bit twisted when I head off at 9.30pm to get my little one ready for bed.  One of them asked me last week why I put pyjamas on him. I had to think about it for a minute because it is probably out of habit, but that is what we westerners do.  My relative seemed to think it was just another pointless task. I suppose if I had six kids I might reconsider the pyjama thing too!


There are no playtime boundaries

Another thing that drives me to the point of insanity is the kids riding scooters and bikes inside the house. Yes, you read that right. INSIDE THE HOUSE.  So, with the dozens of people sitting around, babies on the floor and total chaos, in whizzes a scooter! Then a bike with training wheels!  You have to constantly dodge kids on bikes while carrying hot tea and coffee.  It is a miracle they don’t get burnt daily.  

Being polite is optional … until you’re 10


There is something about the Arabic culture that at around age 10, something clicks in and the children become polite. At this age, they will greet you with a shake of the hand and a formal Arabic greeting of Salam wa Aliakmon (“Peace be upon you”) and ask you how you are and give you a kiss on the cheek. I don’t know how this happens really, but it is like a switch. Until that moment they are spoilt and given no boundaries whatsoever and then boom!  Polite.  

Time-out doesn’t exist

I am trying to find a balance with my son, but I know every time I do something drastic after he has been just running with the mob, my relative think I am a monster.  We went out for coffee and ice-cream last weekend at 10.00pm.  My son has been here for a month and he is so overtired from the change in routine.  He was just doing what every other kid was doing at the cafe, but I reached my limit.  I grabbed his arm and took him out to sit in the car with me for ten minutes to calm down. He was screaming as I dragged him to the car. The whole place stopped and watched me as I took him for some time out.  When we returned to the group, the whole family was looking at me like I’d just given him a huge beating in front of them.

Family is everything

Some of the positive things that I have noticed are the close bonds of the family unit here.  It is all about the family. Everyone helps out with the children. The Arabic culture has a genuine love for children. My brother-in-laws turn into big, giggly playful kids themselves around their nieces and nephews.  They are constantly kissing, hugging and playing with them. I have seen them sitting on the floor for an hour playing with toys or just wrestling and having fun. It is quite the paradox to see these “sexist” Arab men being so affectionate. The TV rarely goes on here.  The priority is spending time with your family. I think this is a good thing.  Children do not seem to be influenced by outside sources such as the media or popular culture.  


Toys are a luxury

Most kids have a bike and a handful of toys.  The first day we arrived, my son was busy on the i-pad while his cousins played with some empty yogurt containers and chick peas.  They were playing a game and making their own fun.  They have certainly been enjoying exploring my son’s toys that we brought here from Australia!

The extended family rules

The children have homes away from home within these large loving families.  They sleep at their relatives homes a lot. They are extremely attached to their family. I really love this aspect of the family life here.  I think this is something we are lacking in our western way. I know friends whose parents help out with the grandkids from time to time, but the Arabs go over and beyond the call of duty.  Nothing is too much for the family when it comes to the children. The cousins have really lovely bonds too. They are like brothers and sisters to each other.  I loved my cousins as a child and it is really lovely to see my son There are always things we can learn.  It is really interesting to see the dynamics between the family members here.  I have always longed for a big, happy family and I have one here with my in-laws. They love me and accept me even if they do think I am a crazy western woman.  Just like I love them.  I am glad that they respect that I do things differently to them. I have to keep working on accepting theirs.interact and play with his.


Yelling at your child is a no-no (if you’re a woman)

I learnt something interesting the other day.  In Islam, it is haram (not allowed) for a woman to yell in anger or in an aggressive way.  It is a good lesson for me (a yeller) to learn to calm my farm.  In Australia, I yell from this room to that, I yell at the kids, I yell and exclaim in general.  I am just a loud person.  Here, it is about talking to the kids and reminding them that you love them and that they are in fact a good girl or boy.  I am not saying this is right or wrong, but for me it is a good reminder that words can hurt.  It is a lesson that I can take from my time here.

So, there are things that make the different cultures unique. I still like the western ways as far as parenting goes, but I like to keep an open mind.

Jodie Okakesh blogs at Middle Eastern Maneuver.