Kara, my tween daughter, recently confided a story to me recently that made me cringe inside. The local custom in Costa Rica is to dump organic waste (banana peels, uneaten rice/beans, and other food waste products) outside as compost. We dump it into a creek bed/ditch on our rental property. The creek bank goes at least 10 feet down and it can get slippery thanks to our cloud forest location. One night, soon after we had moved to Monteverde, Kara went out to dump the dinner compost. As she tossed its contents, she accidentally dropped the bucket into the ditch. She was so terrified to go back in the house and tell me she had tossed the bucket, that she grabbed on to a treebranch and lowered herself into the ditch to retrieve it. When I asked her why she had done that, she responded that she was more scared to face an angry me, than climb down a dark, wet, slippery bank littered with organic waste, scorpions, spiders, and other scary things.
Ouch! That one hurt! Was I really that bad before? Apparently I was.
Kara then proceeded to tell me that she realized I had changed about one month after moving here. At that time, Kara dropped a glass in the kitchen. She immediately shot me with a look of terror. I calmed her down and told her not to move as she was barefoot, and I did not want her to get hurt. I swept up the shards of glass on the floor, made sure there was no more broken bits on the floor, and said, “Don’t worry. It’s just a glass.” Being her honest self, Kara responded by saying, “You have really changed. When we were back in the US, you would have gone into a screaming fit if I broke a glass. Now you are more concerned about making sure I don’t get cut.” At the end of the conversation Kara said, “If I had known you had changed when I tossed the compost bucket into the ditch, I would not have climbed down to get it!”
When faced with the realization that my parenting style at some point was so harsh that my child would rather slip and fall into a ditch than face me after dropping a bucket (which by the way is actually an old ice cream container!), I began to reflect on parenting my children in Costa Rica, specifically the challenges as well as the positive changes in my methodology. Some aspects of parenting as an expat in a developing country are very different than in North America, and others are the same. After all, in the grand scheme of things, people are the same no matter where you go. We all want the same things for our kids, such as safety, proper nutrition, good education, access to health care, and a nurturing social environment.
If you ask all the Costa Rican expats how their parenting style has changed since moving abroad you will get a wide variety of responses. Stay tuned to this blog later this week for some of answers from expat parents as they share the challenges and advantages of parenting in Costa Rica.