Things I’m learning in Uganda #5 – I have some “strange” parenting practices

Although I lived in East Africa for several years before having children, living in Uganda as a mother has opened my eyes to cultural differences that I hadn’t noticed before, and is making me realize that some of ways I parent my children is very strange in the eyes of my Ugandan friends and colleagues.  I find these differences very interesting because many of these are things that are so “normal” in the US that I was surprised by the reactions I received.  Some of my “strange” parenting practices are:

My kids are often barefoot and in shorts

 I do not dress my children in enough clothing.
Average temperatures in Kampala are pretty much in the 80s year round – slightly hotter in Jan and Feb and slightly cooler during the rainy months.  Therefore, I often have Nathan in just a onesie, or a shirt and shorts.  Natalie is almost always in a dress, skirt, or shorts.  Both of my kids love being barefoot (Natalie will remove her shoes almost immediately whenever we arrive anywhere).

As a result, I often have concerned people ask me, “Aren’t your children cold?  Where are their sweaters and socks?”
In Uganda, it’s very important to make sure young children do not get cold.  It’s not uncommon to see young babies wearing snow hats and wrapped in fleece blankets even when it’s 80 degrees outside.  Young children often wear sweaters or heavy jackets, especially when it dips down into the 70s.  It doesn’t help that Natalie NEVER gets cold.  I don’t know where she got those genes because Muigai and I both get cold easily.  If I try to put a sweater on her, she will take it off within 2 minutes, complaining of being hot.  Ever since she was a baby she has never slept with blankets on.  Even if she’s in a deep sleep, she will somehow find a way to kick them off no matter how many times I put them back on her!
As you can see, Natalie is the only child without a sweater or jacket.  I did convince her to at least wear leggings so her teachers wouldn’t think I’m a completely neglectful mother 🙂

Nathan comes with me to the office, and I always get him to sleep for his nap in his carrier in my office and then he sleeps on a mattress in another room.  Even though he is often sweaty from the carrier when I put him down on the mattress, inevitably one of my colleagues will cover him with a sheet or a blanket almost immediately so that he doesn’t get cold.

Nathan didn’t seem to mind the cold water

 I brought Nathan swimming when he was only 9 months old.  This one goes along with the first one about avoiding cold – it’s unusual to see young babies in swimming pools because of the cold water.  My parents had sent me a baby inner tube for Nathan, and we were excited to try it out and let Nathan go swimming for the first time.  Although the water was a bit chilly we put him in the pool, and let him stay in happily for almost 30 minutes. We did get several incredulous looks and comments from other swimmers at the pool.


 I give my children water, cold milk, and other cold food/drinks straight from the fridge.   Along with being concerned about children getting cold, it is also very uncommon for people here to give babies or young children cold beverages.  Many children drink warm milk or tea, and if they have juice or soda it will be warmed to at least room temperature.  Natalie loves drinking cold milk and juice right from the fridge, and also ice, something that is very rare in Kampala.  Nathan’s sippy cup is always filled with water, and his babysitter in the office will often add some boiling water to the water I bring just to make it a little warmer for him.

My one year old son wears diapers all the time.

Apparently, there is a belief among some Ugandans that young boys should not be confined in diapers all day.  I first realized that keeping my boy in diapers all the time is a bit strange when we were getting ready to head back to Kampala from visiting Stella Matutina.  Sister Sophie saw me changing Nathan’s diaper and suggested I leave him “open” for the car ride home.  4 hours in a carseat with a diaperless baby did not seem like a good idea to me, especially for a boy who has the potential to spread his urine far and wide.  When I mentioned that I was concerned he would make a mess, Sister asked me incredulously if I even kept him in a diaper at night when he slept.  After talking to other mamas, I learned that some women keep their boy babies diaperless at night when they sleep.

   I still don’t fully understand the rationale, but I think part of it is a concern that keeping boys in diapers all the time might lead to infertility.  In a culture where having children is extremely important, anything that has the potential to lead to infertility is avoided as much as possible.  A colleague told us that in her culture, a mother is not allowed to touch her baby boy below his waist for the first three days of his life, or it is believed he will become infertile.  My colleagues have also said that boys are much more “fragile” than girls, and the salt in the urine can irritate them so it’s better to leave them open.

Instead of keeping boys in diapers, many mamas teach their boys how to use a potty from a very young age.  Nathan’s babysitter said her son was using a baby potty by 8 months, and another colleague with 3 boys said they were all using the baby potty by one year.  So I bought a baby potty that we keep in the office, and I’m asking them to teach me how they do it!  I will let you know if we are successful.


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