In general, our relationship works like this. When we’ve mutually agreed that one person should be in charge of something whether it be doing a chore, making a purchase, or planning an event, the person in charge gets to make the decisions. When it’s something that pertains to one person alone, that person gets to make the decision.
And then we had a baby.
Because of our respective work schedules, I am solely responsible for Dragon during the weekdays. And because of social conditioning and individual ability, I’ve been the one making the majority of the decisions about how Dragon is raised, which, for an infant, is basically about food, sleep, and play.
There’s no dispute about sleep schedules; we only wish he would sleep longer and better. There’s no dispute about play and social interaction. And Mr. Lee has always been supportive of my choice to breastfeed and then my need to supplement at the beginning.
Then we got to solids.
Now, before we go further, I need to point out the mommy wars in Western culture often revolve around food. So this isn’t entirely an East/West parenting issue. And personally, I have stopped any form of philosophical parenting and taken a more – ‘what’s good for us and scientifically reasonable is what we’re going with’ sort of approach. That means I breastfeed despite obstacles and qualms about certain approaches to breastfeeding advocacy, and I started solids at 4.5 months because it was the right time and recommendations are just that. Recommendations. I also puree food because I like to and spoon feed for now because it works for us, but if the little Mr. takes something age appropriate and size appropriate from my plate, that’s okay too. In short, breast milk is great, purees are great, finger food is starting to be great. Breast milk is good for him and solids are good for him. All is good right?
Well, we went to the 6 month government sponsored baby wellness-esq check, and the dr asked if Dragon was eating beef. No. Chicken? No. Eggs? No. Fish? Um…no. A wide variety of fruit and vegetables (brussel sprouts even!) and lots of iron fortified pablum…yes. But the dr didn’t care about those things.
So then I got a big talking to. Because all 6 months old should be eating those 4 things. They should, specifically, be eating mackerel I was told. Really? I said in an exasperated voice which was unfortunately interpreted as a question. Yes. I was making my son anemic because he wasn’t getting his daily serving of hanwoo.
Now, agreeing to raise Dragon as a meat eater has been my big concession in parenting thus far. I made it for various reasons, but a primary reason is that we live in Korea, and he will be attending Korean daycare and kindergarten and school and kids have meals made for them at these places. And there’s always meat. And nobody is ever going to respect the crazy foreign mother’s request to omit that meat from her son’s portion. So I know that whether I like it or not, he will eat meat. And I was planning on starting meat from around 8 months. But because I feed iron fortified pablum, and because I breastfeed, and because I like the idea of introducing things slowly over time, I didn’t feel that the moment a kid turns 6 months he needed to be eating mackerel.
The same day we went to a second dr (our usual ped) for vaccinations, and I was again reprimanded for not giving my 6.5 month old meat. This of course started getting Mr. Lee antsy. He was already secretly worried I think about me the vegetarian REALLY agreeing to feed our son meat, and then he heard from drs that denying our son meat for the past two weeks was harming him.
And this is where intercultural parenting is fun. Because yes, I am the one who is preparing food and feeding Dragon most of the time, so from my perspective, I get to make the decisions.
But Dragon is not entirely mine. And we are not living in my culture. And to be honest, although people will say ‘your child is YOURS and YOU know what is best for YOUR child,’ that’s not entirely how most people see it. Society sees your child as theirs, family and children’s services see your child as theirs, breastfeeding or anti-circumcision or anti-spanking advocates see your child as theirs, and older generations sure as hell feel your child is a piece of them and that they have a right to have at least a little bit of an opinion. The validity of these claims is up for debate depending on the issue and situation, but at the very least, our child is ours. He’s Canadian and Korean and at some point there’s bound to be some disagreements as to how to deal with that fact in day to day decisions about how we raise him.
Plus, being outside of my culture, and trying to interact in a language I’m not fluent in means that I can’t always express my ideas adequately, or explain cultural differences like how our rice cereal is fortified with extra iron unlike most homemade juk. And of course, not being raised in this culture, I don’t always know what people expect as normative here in order to prepare my defense of my way or even prepare for the controversy. Anyway, needless to say, I didn’t respond well to the doctors, and I got kind of pissy.
Then I took a little break and tried to be rational again. And I tried to give up a slice of my monopoly on how Dragon is raised even if it’s really me putting in the time and raising most of the week. And I decided that my husband and the doctors shouldn’t be lumped together. I should talk and discuss and find a compromise with my husband. And in matters that are really not important, I should smile and nod and carry on when it comes to others.
So I started Dragon on chicken but only chicken at 7 months. He’s not a fan But I fully realize it takes kids some time to get used to different tastes and textures, so I try every so often in different combinations to see if he will become a fan eventually. And Mr. Lee is okay with no mackerel. Because he is our son. And we should find a middle ground in an honest way because we are raising a child together and can work together to find a good solution for all.
And then when Dragon and I went for a follow up vaccination, and when the dr. started berating me about meat and how my seven month old MUST eat meat at EVERY meal, I refrained myself. I didn’t talk about how often he consumed meat. I didn’t talk about how my culture does it. I didn’t talk about iron fortified foods or the fact that a whole lot of kids don’t take to meat or solids in general for quite some time. I just put the hint of a smile on my face, agreed to the general principle that iron is important, and said, that yes, indeed we had started ‘meat.’ Less is better, and appearance of agreement is good enough in this situation.