Raising our child the European or Asian way? Part 1: Dinner table diffusion

The environment for a child is not the city, it's the parents.

Hi everyone,

This week amidst a trip to Warsaw, Poland, on our campervan, my friend asked me a question about how we’re choosing to raise our child. I had 1200 kilometers to think about it and here’s part one of what came from all that thinking time while on cruise control at 120km/h. It’s part one because I thought it was important to lay bare my assumptions before describing how my wife and I are choosing to raise our child.

This post goes out to paying subscribers first, and will be made public later so that part two makes sense when it’s published publicly.

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Our baby daughter was born a Berliner. It's a fact that I'm still wrapping my head around, not because it is uncommon for adults to conceive while living abroad, but because I never believed this would be the case for me. But there it is: a Singaporean baby born in Berlin, Germany. A Singaliner?

A friend recently asked me this fun and meaningful question:

You're living in Europe, are you raising Charlotte the "european way" or the "asian way" (referring to food, culture, values, etc.)?

For starters, to be honest, I never did think about this as "european vs asian." That seems too high level. My wife and I only discussed how different Charlotte would be, raised in the environment of Berlin versus Singapore.

People argue about nature-nurture a lot. Parents, especially, as we're forced to confront the question on behalf of our children. Charlane and I sit closer to the end of "nurture" in the nature-nurture spectrum and we believe the that the most significant element of the "nurture" equation is one's environment.

When we moved to Berlin, nobody was "raising" us, yet our food choices, culture, and values have morphed since we arrived.

Arguably the only thing that has changed for us when we moved from Singapore was our environment. The air we breathed was different. The people we had serendipitous encounters with, the costs of living, the road signs, the shops that were open, the public transit, the bureaucracy... all different. All part of our new environment. The old environment stayed behind. And that has changed us in big ways (I wrote about some of the ways I've changed in my recent 3rd year reflection).

As an adult, it's clear that my environment has the biggest influence over my life. This is probably why Casey Neistat moved back to New York City and why he sees the city as his muse.

Does this logic extend to that of a child, though?

Is the environment important for a child's upbringing? Yes!

Is the environment the most important thing for a child's upbringing? I think so.

But if we take a closer look, we'll realise that for a child, the "environment" is much bigger than what the city or town they live in. It extends to their family life. If I were to try to visualise this as two concentric circles, the differences become pronounced:

The city that Charlotte grows up in — Berlin — is not close to as important to her development as the family she grows up in. Mummy and daddy more or less decide what food, culture, and values are on the radar and how close they ought to be.

So then, what about mummy and daddy themselves?

Food, culture, values - what are our influences in our later years? Well, the family that I grew up in plays an important role, but because we meet less often these days, that influence is waning.

I'd say that for me, friends, coworkers, and the cast of characters who live 20-kilometres around me have the most influence on me these days. In other words, the immediate environment outside of our apartment.

So there's a connection worth adding in the sketch:

This is how I think parents transfer preferences, cultural norms, and values to their children. It's at the dinner table that we speak to each other, share observations, impart lessons, correct transgressions, consider the future, and so on. Everything that a parent experiences in a particular day, in their particular city or town, will influence what they say to or do in front of their child at the dinner table. Hence, dinner table diffusion.

But that's not quite accurate, because we must also recognise the fact that as an adult, our past environments leave an imprint on us. Like, for me, being born and raised in Singapore up until I was 29 before moving to Berlin, my concentric circles would look messier:

Now it's a more complete picture but also a little more complicated. The point I'm trying to make, however, is simple: we may be the result of the intricate intermingling of cultures and values of our environments, but we are in the unique position to consciously influence our child's life in their early years.

Since our influence is disproportionate to any other sources of influence for a child, we should try and be mindful about what we decide to bring up at the metaphorical and literal dinner table. This, despite the fact that the city's influence on us acts mostly subconsciously.

The rest, like what other children do in the playground in front of our children are beyond our control.

I thought this was a necessary preamble before I tackle the main question head on. In the next post, we'll look at how are we choosing to raise our child in Berlin: mostly as Asians in Europe, as Singaporeans in Berlin, or as Berliners in Berlin?

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