Thursday, March 1, 2012

Being a baby in Ukraine

To be a baby in Ukraine means you live the privileged life.  Oh sure, in this country water gets turned off, power outages happen and many people still use public transportation.  But, um..... those are adult problems.  

{Below}  Micah James Sloan, 13 months, wearing his Ukrainian clothes and shoes
Since most Ukrainians only have one baby (or two, at most), babies get oodles of attention here.  When one of these little fellas live in a home, they are the focus of all who live under that roof.  So, eat your hearts out, American babies.  You may have Babies 'R Us, but look at what we have...

(A fun little fact list about culture of babies in Ukraine):

1.  When a parent gets on public transportation with a baby, seats all around are instantly vacated.  These little tykes (with their fortunate parents) get first dibs on seats.

2.  Waiting in lines in Ukraine is a normal part of everyday life (post office, stores, government offices, etc.), but if a baby is in the room, the "Red Sea" is parted for the parents to go first.

3. Ukraine still lacks many of the "essentials" (brown sugar, chocolate chips, good peanut butter, Wal-Mart, Target, etc...) but Pampers and Huggies have been around here for a long time.  And, in many places you can buy just one if you need to.  (People can also buy just one cigarette too.... not that we do, of course, but that topic is for another day...)

4.  Though the largest percentage of parents in Ukraine cannot afford vehicles, "baby transportation" is a whole other story.  These little guys have what we like to call the "Mercedes" or "BMWs" of strollers.  No hand-me-downs here!  And many times, these strollers come complete with the whole kitten caboodle... with diaper bags, bottle holders, umbrellas, etc... to match.

5.  Pediatricians here not only recommend, but strongly encourage parents to take their babies out for a "walk" twice a day.... one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, from the time they are born.  And parents adhere to this rule very seriously.  It is not uncommon to see mosquito nets or plastic coverings over strollers so that they can squeeze as many of these one-hour walks in as possible, despite the weather challenges.

6.  From the time a little one can sit, they are not allowed to sit on concrete anywhere at anytime.  Concrete is naturally cool, and it is considered unhealthy to sit on it.  And if it is hot during the summer?  Doesn't matter.  No concrete!

7.  Children are not allowed to drink cold drinks under any condition (even on hot days).  Everything has to be warmed.  We even had a babysitter once who warmed our children's milk before allowing them to eat their breakfast cereal!

8.  Babies do everything early here... from crawling, to sitting, to walking, to potty training.  Parents and grandparents faithfully bend over and help them "walk" when they are just a few months old, and it is rather common for a nine-month-old to walk unassisted.  Parents also give their babies daily exercises and massages, which they are taught to do by their pediatricians.

9.  Have a two-year old in diapers?  That is nearly unheard of in this culture!  Parents and grandparents are faithfully teaching their little ones from the time they are just months old to potty train.

10.  In this country, hats are for all seasons.  Whether they are protecting from the cold or sun, babies wear hats.  Feel a little breeze?  Then be assured that baby will have a hat on, even if it is a warm, summer breeze.

11.  Boys and girls alike wear winter tights and lots and lots of other layers during the winter and even late into spring when the rest of us are shedding our layers.  Layers = Love here!

12.  Have a baby in tote?  Then be prepared for a constant bombardment of opinions from strangers.  It is not considered rude or impolite for strangers here to give their opinion, especially concerning a baby.  Hat not on?  Be sure you will be told to get it on baby quickly before a cold sets in!

13.  If someone is sick or is even slightly sick with a cold, be assured they will not come near your baby.

So, have we adapted to these cultures?  I can pretty much say that we have, though it was certainly not easy at first.  After all, we came to Ukraine with a 3-month-old.  We were new parents and already timid about being in a new environment.  The constant unasked-for opinions were the most difficult hurdle for us to overcome, but we have since learned to smile, do what we are being asked (just put the hat on.... you can always take it off later!), and not argue.  It doesn't matter that WE are the parents and that person is a stranger.  It is easier to just try to live in peace and be neighborly with everyone around than to argue.

Do we follow all of these rules personally?  No, we don't.  But, I do have to say that we have changed somewhat in our thinking about babies.  We take the best of both cultures, add in our own common sense and parent the way we feel is best!

So, don't feel sorry for my little ones growing up on the mission field.  They are quite the pampered bunch, if I say so myself!


  1. This was so interesting to read, Jolene! They have some great ideas! :)

  2. Very interesting. And very simple for a parent of one. :)
    I can't even imagine trying to live up to those standards!
    What would they think if they saw all of my children lined up on the concrete curb with NO hats on and cool drinks during a parade? Oh, I'm such an awful mother. LOL.

    1. Yes, they would think you are an awful mother, but don’t worry. Sometimes they think I am one too. We even had a lady insist we did not love our baby back before we learned to “compromise.” (Remember those unasked for opinions I mentioned?!)

  3. So much of that sounds like how it is here!
    Babies should never cry. If they are crying, something is wrong and it must be fixed immediately.
    Babies should always be dressed warmly and wrapped in a very warm blanket. Even when it's 110 degrees.
    If a baby has the hiccups, it is because he/she is cold.
    If they don't always where socks and shoes, they will get sick.
    If they go out in the rain, they will get sick.
    If they they have the slightest sniffle or worse yet, a fever, WHY haven't you taken them to the doctor?
    Watching them and caring for them at home if they are sick without a prescription drug is considered strange.
    Now days, nobody here has more than 2 babies. Don't you know? Babies make you poor. :)
    But everyone ooos and ahhhs over babies here. They are so cute!
    Many people have asked for my babies eyes.
    It doesn't matter how many babies you have had. According to the doctors, you really don't know anything about them.
    Our little ones are loved and spoiled almost daily by our church, their adopted grandmas, neighbors, and strangers alike.
    No matter where you are or where you live, who can resist loving on and spoiling a baby? :)

    1. Ha! This was fun!  I enjoyed seeing your list too and am glad you left it here for others to see. My hubby grew up in Mexico with the nickname “mis ojos.” (Is that how you spell it? HE is the one who speaks Spanish, not ME! LOL!)

  4. VEry cool..I like the walking bit!

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Jolene! I loved it! :-) Since I was there in both winter and summer, I can totally relate to the hat thing, as well as the layers. The nannies had a fit that I forgot J's socks when we busted him out of the orphanage and it was 80 deg outside! I had a couple of comments too about how to care for him. Good thing my facilitator was there to translate for me. LOL Oh, and the floor thing too... But sadly, I must say, if the baby looks a little "different", baby and mama don't get "special treatment". :-( But I admit I had "stroller envy" too! That is interesting about the potty training, I thought that was just an orphanage thing. I'm curious though. What is the general public views on bottles? Are they moved to drinking from cups at a very early age too? Thanks for the post! Micah is adorable in his Ukrainian clothes! I assume he had tights on, right? :-)

    1. Nope, no tights on Micah.... Like I said, we have only partly adapted. :o)

      I thought those who have come here to adopt would especially love this post. Talk about culture shock, right?

      Yes, the kids are also moved from their bottles to drinking from cups pretty quickly too. Definitely some heated competition here to see who can reach these milestones first!

  6. Such an interesting post. Many of the cultural things are similar here in Kenya too.

  7. EsauyTere HernandezFriday, March 02, 2012

    Sister i was checking your site and is blessing his ministry, I want you to know that you are praying for your family and ministry .. god bless you .. ricamente.atte TERE HDEZ

  8. Loved looking at the pics of the kids and your Ladies Banquet was lovely! Great job!

  9. Loved this! It's so interesting!

  10. Elizabeth LaysonFriday, March 02, 2012

    I love this!!!

  11. It's sounds just like here in Domodedovo, Russia! :) Amazing how similar the cultures are!

  12. Дорогая, уже некоторое время у меня появилось новое увлечение - чтение блога мисс Джолин)) Что-то я перевожу быстро, что-то при помощи словаря, но когда не могу понять смысла, то прошу мужа, вместе справляемся. Муж говорит, что Джолин излагает хорошо по-журналистски. Предыдущие опубликования я читала с интересом, а сейчас не удержалась и решила вставить свои "пять копеек"!
    Читаю и смеюсь над нами украинцами))) замечаю себя и моих друзей. Это правда , мы любим давать советы по поводу всего. Мы - твои ровесники и те, кто по-старше выросли в стране Советов. Нас учили с детства раздавать советы. Это норма для нас! Если мне долго никто не дает советов - я начинаю чувствовать себя одинокой и ненужной. И сама люблю высказываться, даже не важно если меня не готовы слушать...смешно, но это вложено с детства. Надеюсь, мы уже лучше воспитаем своих детей.
    Почему вы не останавливаете нас, когда мы вмешиваемся не спрашивая разрешения в ваши методы воспитания? Я знаю, ты можешь сделать это красиво и корректно. Ведь многому у вас мы учимся, мы внимательно наблюдаем за вами - ты знаешь. Активно между собой какие-то вопросы обсуждаем. Когда я пришла в церковь и увидела (ведь я вижу не все, а часть) как воспитываются дети миссионеров, для меня многое было открытием.

    Не так давно я читала рассказ молодого человека из России, который посетил Сан-Франциско, он учился в Штатах. И в Сан-Франциско ему удалось встретиться с группой пожилых людей, которые эмигрировали из царской России еще до революции, сразу как начались волнения, примерно в 1917г. То есть это люди в почтенном возрасте. Они говорили на другом русском языке. Они вели себя как другие русские. После общения с ними парень написал: "Теперь я понял, ЧТО! потеряла Россия в лице этих людей". Я могу себе только представить, какие это люди - высокообразованные, верующие, благородные. Жаль, что долгие десятилетия мы жили здесь без веры и благородство как то вымерло или исказилось за годы правления Советской власти.
    Вас - миссионеров я воспринимаю как людей, которые заменяют для нас тех "эмигрантов из Сан-Франциско", покинувших свою родину когда-то, Бог пожалел нас и начал возвращать к нам благородных верующих в виде вас...
    У Бога всё разумно, возможно Он хочет, чтобы вы научили нас корректности и сдержанности)))
    Очень люблю тебя! Жду новых рассказов!
    Аня Гнатюк

  13. Excellent!!!! I will forward this to my praying friends.

    Nola Holmes

  14. Wow! They DO have it good, don't they??? Americans are sooo selfish and don't care about anyone but themselves when in public (even when they are not!)...let alone a woman with a baby. Funny about the concrete you follow their "rules" too? I would not think twice of plopping my hot baby down on the sidewalk. Ha ha.

    Just so you know, I have been reading here for some time now and am blessed by what you write. I learn something new every time I read here! :) Blessings! :)

  15. Love it! We adopted a 3 year old from Kiev in November...and I can relate to all things hat/tights/bundle up/opion related :) But what do people think about baby wearing? We had Carter in a baby carrier while walking the streets of Kiev - and I kept wondering if my hair was sticking up, or if I had broccoli in my teeth - because people were looking @ me like I was crazy! It wasn't until we got home that someone mentioned that 'baby wearing' hasn't hit Ukraine yet :) Oops!

    Love your blog - I always look forward to reading new posts from you!!

    1. The baby carries ARE a new thing here. I wore one all last summer and got lots of comments about it. They actually REALLY liked the idea and talked about the benefits for baby being close to Mom. So, if they were staring at you, it was in a good way. LOL!!!

    2. Actually, traditionally baby carriers are a big no-no! They're starting to be accepted and loved by the younger people, but the older generation still thinks they will make your babies into hunchbacks. When my first was a baby, eight years ago in Russia (and I think Russia still sticks to more of the traditional baby care ideas than Ukraine does), I actually had babushki scream at me about my baby carrier. Having babies upright before six months is almost as bad as letting a draft blow over them. They express opinions about everything, of course, but the baby carrier was the only one that I saw them get really, seriously upset about. Even after six months, they remain skeptical about those kangaroo things. :-) Oh, and even now, I loaned my Baby Bjorn to a young mother recently. She was all excited about using it... and the next week it came back, because her mother-in-law wouldn't allow her to put the baby in it.

      But, yes, in Kiev, the stares were probably just interest and approval.

    3. Thanks for leaving this comment… it always adds interest to my posts when others leave comments about their own experiences.

      I have been surprised to see the way people have accepted baby carriers where we live. They have actually complimented me on keeping my baby close to me so that he can “feel his momma” and “be warmer.”

  16. Yes, I can say, Jolene, that you are absolutely right. :) My husband is Ukrainian. Our Ukrainian side of the family also says that if the baby has hiccups, they are cold (like Jaynee said they say in Mexico) oh, and if they are cold then they will surely catch a cold: so you need to find extra socks (we try to keep them sock-footed for the sake of those relatives) and some sweater or jacket to put on.
    Anyway, it was fun to read the list~ I think I want to save this post it as well as share with my sister. :) I have often pondered that even though the abortion rates are high in Ukraine and Russia, children themselves are totally loved and treated with great care. It's a strange mixture to me.
    NOW I understand why I was soooo encouraged to take the babies out cold or not for walks... well, it certainly is good for Mommy to get out and take walks but I didn't realize that it is strongly encouraged morning and evening. That actually sounds very pleasant (not rain ice or snow though!)

    1. Yes, it is definitely sad to see the high abortion rates (they say it is an average of 7 per woman here in Ukraine) and certainly such an irony that they take care of the ones they decide to keep.

  17. What a fun post to read~!!I LOVE reading about babies and reading how it is done in the UKRAINE was just fun.:)

  18. LOVE this!!! While I can't relate to all of them, some of them ring true for life in Greenland as well. My boys have both worn tights... blue ones, striped ones, some with cars and animals... I think they are great articles of winter clothing for either gender (for children of course Ha!, though I and my girls wear them almost year round) And I absolutely love my stroller... though I did get it second hand. It's been a lifesaver for me!

    One thing I've learned is a baby can open so many doors previously barred shut! :-) I mean, who can resist, sweet, little chubby cheeked, kissable babies? :-) Love the picture of your little guy. SO cute!

  19. Wow! I want the Guatemalans to read #5! haha! They will NOT under any circumstances believe it is EVER right to take your baby out of the house before they are 2 (maybe 3) months old. Any kind of cool air is dangerous and can make a baby very sick...we won't even talk about not wearing socks. Vanessa just about went nuts from the cabin fever! :D

    We are very controversial parents for getting on an airplane when our baby was barely 3 months old. VERY! haha!"

  20. Ohh Wowww That is so...umm...neat. ;)) It just made me smile all the way through! lol
    It's good to know that everyone loveees babies around there! ;DD haha

  21. Jolene,

    From the looks of it, most countries are similar in how they bring up those babies. What is wrong with Americans? They are so far behind the rest of the world :-) I am teasing of course!! Fun to read! Thank you!

  22. Great news about the ukraine....all my dads side ...grandma and grandpa were....and. Almost still in or near the Carpathian mountains.....God bless them all....

  23. We are serving in Romania and I can relate to almost every point. So interesting. Thank you for sharing!!!

  24. I loved this list! All my babies have been born in this culture, so I might have a harder time stepping back and analyzing it than you do. Plus, you're just a good writer. So, thank you for compiling this. I don't really think that I do everything the Russian/Ukrainian way. For instance, I do not smother my children in layers! :-) But then, the one time I was in the states with a baby, when Asya was 4-7 months old, I was completely lost.

  25. This was such a fun list. Almost all of these points apply to Croatia. It's funny how far apart we were but how similar our lands were. Slavic folks are pretty much the same all over Europe. I'm sure you're getting a whole new dose of wives tales in the Promise Land. Would love to be there, one day!


Thank you for your encouraging comments! "As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country." Proverbs 25:25