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Monday, November 8, 2010

Questionable Parenting Around the World: A film Review by Rebecca

Imagine my complete shock surprise when Jeromy informed me that the documentary Babies was available on Netflix Instant Queue (Greatest Invention of Our Time) AND that he was actually willing to sit through it with me.  As we settled in to watch it, I promised myself that I would keep my cooing to a minimum in deference to my Baby Daddy's extremely low tolerance for sentimental movies.

If you haven't seen the movie or its preview--it follows the lives of four babies from four different countries (Mongolia, Japan, Namibia, and the U.S.) from birth to their first steps.  There is no narrator with informative voice-overs, just footage of the babies and their families.  There's not even much talking--you only hear the family members murmuring or singing to their babies, 3/4 of which is in untranslated foreign languages.  While I get it that the filmmakers were trying to just be unobtrusive, non-judgmental observers of the different cultures, I did find myself wishing that there was some narration to give more information.  For example, why did the mother from Namibia rub red paste all over her belly right before giving birth--is this some kind of natural alternative to the epidural that I should be aware of??  And why did the Mongolians keep the baby's legs wrapped up into such a paralyzingly tight burrito?

Over the course of the movie, it's difficult not to get the impression that the filmmakers were trying to subtly imply that Americans tend to overly fussy and paranoid when it comes to babies and children.  Which is probably true.  For me, this was both alarming and comforting.  Alarming, because I'm pretty sure I will be a fairly fussy and paranoid parent despite my best efforts not to be.  I'm always smacking Jeromy's arm and saying things like, "Oh no!  That child dropped his cheerio on the ground and the picked it up and ate it and the mom didn't see!"  It was also comforting, though, because the movie makes it seem like kids are not as easily damaged as we think.  

Here are a few of the scenarios that you see in the movie that, as a parent, I would probably try to avoid at all costs:

  • A large rooster is strutting around on the bed next to the Mongolian baby, who seems to be left alone a lot.  Me: Ack!  That rooster is going poop on the baby and give him bird flu!
  • The Namibian baby frequently wallows in the dirt and puts unidentifiable objects in his mouth.  Me: Was that a bug or a piece of bone?  I think that baby just ate a bone chip!
  • The older brother of the Mongolian baby wheels his defenseless sibling in his stroller out into the middle of the family's grazing cows.  Me: Those cows are going to knock over the stroller and trample the baby!  That mean older brother needs a SERIOUS time out!
  • The Namibian baby NEVER wears any kind of diaper, and his mom uses her knee as a baby wipe.   Me: I'm really excited to be a parent and all, but I don't think I'll ever love another human being quite THAT much.
  • Once he seems to be weaned off of breast milk, the Namibian baby has to shove his way in to get food from a dish shared by several other children, all of whom are quite a bit larger and more aggressive than he is.  Me: What, you think they're all just going to share nicely, Namibian Mommy??  Did you not READ Lord of the Flies?? 

The scariest thing that the American baby does--which, in full disclosure, did also stress me out a bit--was try to play with the family cat.  Of course, all of the above scenarios turn out just fine--no harm ever comes to any of the babies.  In fact, the  Mongolian and Namibian babies come across as being much more mellow and independent than the Japanese and American babies.

So, I think it was definitely good for me, O.C.D.-Parent-in-Training, to watch.  Jeromy did pretty well with it; he thought it was a bit slow and repetitive, but at least he didn't grumble about wanting two hours of his life back, which is what happened after I got him to watch the Phantom of the Opera movie with me.  

Speaking of my beloved husband...
On possible baby names:  "We should totally just name the baby Doctor.  That way, everyone automatically has to call our child Doctor Smith!  That would be awesome."  (So now, of course, "Doctor" is our nickname for the about setting high parental expectations!)


  1. I LOVED this movie! I was really horrified/annoyed by the American family for several reasons. Namely, they were creepy weird chanty hippie people. One of my favorite scenes is when their baby tries to escape that awful chanting/singing session. Tres horrible! But also because it was a little like holding up a very unflattering mirror to American parenting practices - too much crap and too much hovering - all of which we are guilty of ourselves!

    The Mongolian baby seemed downright neglected at times! I was seriously worried for his private parts as he was climbing up on the rusty tin drum thingy! And the yak fat pacifier! Omg! And his devious older brother! Double omg! But you're right - he seemed like a happy well adjusted kid! I thought the Namibian baby was by far the cutest and happiest seeming - which really could have just been a product of personal temperament or being the youngest and having an obviously very relaxed mom. Who knows? But whatever the case I found it to be a completely fascinating movie!

  2. I loved this movie but wanted to punch the American family the whole time. We're not all like that! I agree, the dad singing the horrible chanty song made me want to die. It still makes my hoo-ha hurt to think of that Mongolian woman jumping on the back of the motorcycle right after having a baby. Owwww!
    And I can't believe that Romy was willing to watch it! Soooo holding that over my Jeremy's head!

  3. Ha, the American family was pretty awful! I had to reassure Jeromy in a soothing voice that I would not be subjecting either him or our children to any kind of group chanting session. Or naked hot-tubbing in the middle of the day.

    I couldn't believe that not only did the Mongolian mom get on a motorcycle right after giving birth, but that it seemed like the dad had just arrived to pick her and the baby up when it was all over. Like he'd been back at home chillin' with the goats while she was in labor!