I’ve been reading a lot about what Annette Lareau called “concerted cultivation,” which involves treating children as projects, signing them up for various activities, and planning out their lives in minute detail to possibly, maybe, improve outcomes.
For a while, I felt quite smug about myself about not being “that kind of parent”. Until I realized that what I’m doing with my kids isn’t all that different.
We’re white and middle class. That is, I think we are middle class, although my husband says expats are a class in and of itself. Nevertheless, financially speaking, we fall into that range. And we do many of the things that middle-class parents do.
It all started with cooking class. I was looking for a nice gift for my eldest daughter’s 7th birthday and knew that we wouldn’t want to buy toys and that we’d get clothes from the grandparents. Excited by the idea of buying an experience rather than a product, I looked for workshops, and I found it in a cooking class in our nearby cultural center for kids. My daughter loves it.
Then, I decided she needed to blow off some steam after school, and signed her up for theater classes. Then, we also signed up her little sister for the same class.
Then, it turned out that my middle daughter needs physical therapy. Again.
And then there is the whole multilingualism thing. It started with speech therapy for my eldest. She is doing fine with all the three languages but could use some help with Polish, especially with pronunciation. So we hired a therapist who comes over once a week.
These sessions soon turned into Polish lessons for both girls.
And then, every day, I’m teaching my middle daughter (age 5) to read and write in Polish, while I go over a Polish school book with my eldest (age 7).
I’m not a helicopter mom. Not at all. On the contrary, as I said in another post, my favorite activities for the kids are the ones they can engage in by themselves, without my participation. Moreover, they spend a lot of time outside, we take them for long walks whenever we can, we engage in family time rather than quality time.
Personally, I don’t believe that having children requires sacrifices. Or at least, too many of them. The same way, just because my kids speak so many languages doesn’t mean that I should spend hours on their multilingual education. I wouldn’t go as far as the blogger who said that raising bilingual children required sacrificing his relationship with his wife, and much more.
Multilingualism is natural, and normal. It’s nothing special. So why then am I doing so many Polish classes on top of other activities? The answer is simple.
The environment supports all their other languages: they have Dutch and German at school. My eldest is learning English as well. But they have no one to talk Polish to. My family only comes over once every few months.
I don’t believe that it takes 30% of her waking time for a child to really learn the language. How do you even quantify that? Nor is it even a scientific finding, so what’s the point?
So why do I do what I do?
I could tell you that I want them to have more exposure to Polish, and it would be true.
But mostly, it was because it kind of just happened. The speech therapist used to be a friend’s au pair for a while, and she lives nearby. Both the theater class and the cooking club are very close to my house (I wouldn’t have signed up my kids for it if they weren’t).
Concerted cultivation, as sociologist Annette Lareau defined it, is something middle-class European Americans do (as opposed to what the working class does, whose approach is known as the accomplishment of natural growth). Middle class-style parenting is apparently spreading to all parts of the world, including Europe (sorry I can’t find where I read that but try this article). No wonder we find ourselves doing at least some of these things. But we’re doing it our way- maybe that’s the European twist to it.