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Special Edition - Psychologist talks about differences to West-African cultures

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

Anne-Sophie is currently a practicing psychologist in Tokyo, originally from France. She is also a PhD student at Keio University and studies the health and welfare of children whose moms live abroad. Previously she did her master thesis on Malian /West-African moms who raised their children in France.

The two main cultural differences regarding childcare between traditional environment in western Africa and the medicalized environment in France is the proximal and distal approach.

The proximal approach is composed of all the childcare that brings together a child and the caregiver. For example the child is going to be in constant skin to skin contact. The distal approach is all about making the child as an individual and independent as possible. The French culture mostly values a distal approach of childcare.

Co-sleeping is going to be discouraged by French medical staff, but co-sleeping is a proximal approach of childcare and it’s very important in traditional environment such as seen in western Africa or Asia.

A traditional Malian massage from the Soninké cultural group consists of suspending the child with its ankles or wrists. It is a very particular way of body stimulation. (-> Done when the baby is a few months old)

Pregnant women are going through something so strong. Preparing yourself to give birth is also about revisiting your relationship with your parental figure, through memories, dreams….

This is called Psychic transparency. Some of those relationship weren’t ideal so revisiting those can be challenging, it can bring a lot of anxiety on how to be a good parent. At that time a lot of psychologist notice that these mothers take comfort in religion or spiritual believes. This is especially true for migrant mothers. Because when you are away from your own country, from your own support system you need to reconnect with others. This will provide mental support. The mother need another support system that is as strong as her family and friends back home.

The environment in which you were born, in which you grew up is so important. It is part of you and you bring it along with you, when you go abroad. When everything seems unfamiliar and this can bring anxiety then you have to connect to what you know.

We call it the cultural cradle.

It’s important to know when to asked for help!

When your relationship with your parental figures were filled with anxiety / abandonment; having a child will make you revisit that and it can put you in a very vulnerable state. If you are in this situation it may be a good idea to reach out to a professional and try to talk it out so that all those anxious feelings don’t affect your relationship to your child.

The first few weeks after giving birth are so crucial because the mother is in such a vulnerable state on a psychological level that’s why the support system and a community is so important.

For me it is the most important that the mom is aright with the decision she takes and that the relationship between the mom and the baby is as fulfilling and as functional as possible.

Whatever makes you comfortable is the right thing

It’s important to have good models who you can asked for advices.

picture source: Bril, B., Sabatier, C., The Cultural Context of Motor Development: Postural Manipulations in the Daily Life of Bambara Babies (Mali), International Journal of Behavioral Development, December 1986

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