Saudi Arabia: The Love of the Children

 

Saudis, no matter where in the world, love children.  This may sound like a generalized statement but it is what I have seen over and over again when encountering Saudis and children regardless of location or whether the children are Saudis or not.  A Saudi child grows up secure in love from immediate and extended family as well as friends and perhaps strangers.

 

Whenever I went out with young Saudi nieces and nephews other Saudis would always smile and say words of greeting to them.  When I was at family parties or functions which included young children, there was always much laughter and games and attention given to the children.  A mother instinctively knew with confidence that her child would be looked after and loved by all who were at a gathering.

 

I remember gatherings which included my own extended Saudi family.  I noticed that not only the “old” looked out for the young but at the same time, the “youngsters” always treated the elders with the utmost respect.  Kindness and love was always reciprocated between young and old. I believe the giving, loving and caring for both the young and the old has been ingrained in Saudis.

 

I found it especially touching to see how the young Saudi guys from their early teens and onwards would take special time with a young preschool age (or even an infant) child.  They entertained the young child with confidence.  Many would also not think twice to feed a hungry infant.  However most of the early teens to twenties who were not married seemed to draw the line at changing diapers.  But if a young boy were being potty trained, they would not hesitate to take him to the washroom.

 

While a majority of Saudi families have housemaids who will perform some tasks associated with children in the family, there always is a special bond between the child and his elders.

 

When I first arrived in Riyadh my husband and I stayed with family until a place was available for us.  The family had two young daughters.  They were so cute coming to visit me in my room each day.  We’d snuggle together and I would tell them stories, read them stories or play simple games.  They were very well behaved and although at that initial time language was a challenge, we did create our own special bonds too.  The youngest who was almost three liked to watch me and “help” when I did a daily exercise video.  She would copy me and we would both work out together.  I miss those earliest memories of adapting to life in Riyadh and getting to know all of my husband’s extensive family.

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50 Responses

  1. “Whenever I went out with young Saudi nieces and nephews other Saudis would always smile and say words of greeting to them.”

    You mean non-Saudis don’t? Try elevators, subways and restaurants and see how non-Saudis react when they see little children.

  2. I noticed this quality of love, acceptance and inclusion of children in family affairs present in other Arab cultures as well as Saudi. This was one of the qualities that attracted me to Arabs.

    Now, as a grandmother, I reap the joy of being an important person in my grandkids’ lives.

    As an interesting aside, I consulted with an Iraqi child psychiatrist in the early days when I was having troubles with my Egyptian-born daughter.

    He advised me that the Arab philosophy of raising children was opposite the American one. While American kids are disciplined and taught self-control at an early age, gradually taking more and more freedoms as they mature, the Arab kids are raised with every indulgence, free to satisfy their whims, but are reined in and disciplined more and more as they grow older. Do you agree?

  3. I have to agree with Ali. I think this love for children is universal. I didn’t read anything in this post that seemed any different than here. People fall all over themselves in my family to play with and take care of the kids and I’m always talking to and sometimes playing with kids that I see out in the stores. I can’t imagine that any culture could be any different with babies and toddlers. They are sooo cute and yummy!

  4. I love seeing kids in stores and making faces in order to make them smile (hopefully 😉 ). One of my favorite things in Syria was walking and seeing the children. I took pictures of and with several of them and they loved seeing their pictures on my digital camera. 🙂

  5. Marahm…

    It is the same in India. Even when the kids are little hellions they are given free reign. Actually this caused a lot of tension between my husband and myself. when I would correct my daughter wherever we were, he thought I was awful for trying to squash her spirit. No amount of explaining that it is dangerous to the waiters, patrons and our daughter to let her run around the restaurant freely could make him see the light. I thought he was too indulgent. Thankfully I was usually able to have the last say in it partly because he saw the glances of annoyance from other patrons.

  6. @Marahm, Yes, I agree with the observation you received from the pyschologist.

    I also agree that children do touch the hearts of people everywhere. Who can resist a smiling and flirting child? I especially love most the aura of innocence the young child has and who reacts totally naturally.

  7. Children are like angels, sweet, innocent, radiating smiles and happinesses.
    Who would not like to care and love them. It seems this trait is high in Saudis, so the Saudis also might be lovable fellows.

  8. everyone loves kids.
    who invented [invetro fertile] drugs to try and have babies. ya, saudis love kids alright, they like to marry them [girls] at ten years old. they don’t watch out for them like the americans do. they are like wild indians. pardon me. in america, we have to take in to consideration of the fact if you pay to much attention to a strangers child it could mean you are a weird person, especially a man [pedaphile]. all children are loved in an equal way. no one has the better way of loving their child. a saudi parent will not think twice to pulling off the ear of their undisciplined child, then turn around and kiss them…that’s kind of abusive to me…

  9. I just love the photo you posted with this thread, those look adorable…

  10. gia… generalize much?

  11. Saudi guys adore small children, and I have not observed a similar feeling of freedom and confident handling of infants/toddlers in American guys. We have a 3-month old. All Saudi male relatives who visit always want to hold him and play with him. There is also no problem with feeding and diaper-changing. By way of reference, I don’t think I’ve ever held an infant in my arms before I had my own. I guess having lots of kids around acclimates you to be comfortable around them. My husband is fully involved in taking care of our son; in fact, sometimes he takes over night duty so I can get some sleep. If he could breastfeed, he would.

    There is definitely a difference in approaches toward discipline. I am a disciplinarian in my household, i.e. you VILL NAP at given times, and you VILL go to bed at the age-appropriate time of 7 pm, even if daddy would prefer to stay up and play with the baby. I had to squash early whining of “why does he need to be in bed so early? but he isn’t sleepy yet…is he?” I am also more protective of his feeding and sleeping times. Once it was suggested to me that we keep him up for another hour so some visitors can see him. I was like,,,NYET. If they want to see him, they should come when he’s up. End of discussion. That was met with some surprise, but I feel even more surprise when I see a 2-year old son of our Palestinian friends awake and running wild at 11 pm. I am like…WHY are you up? So I have to say that Western child-rearing is definitely more mindful of structure and discipline, starting at birth. Just the way we evolved.

  12. I agree , everyone loves kids , atleast till they turn into teens . and the discipline issue is also reversed with the west and east. We kind of incorporate both, since we have demanding careers and it’s easier on parents if kids are on a schedule.
    Having said that we confused the heck out of our kids body clock by setting strict bed times on school night and letting them loose sat night 🙂
    With my daughter she actually followed my on-call cycle , seriously that kid was so accomodating of my schedule, so easy that i asked F if in true saudi style he wanted another one when he reminded me of the nightmare schedule of my first born.
    I think in case of parenting the saudi -american family is a fantastic combo.

  13. NN

    OMG! Too funny! It sounded like me when my daughter was young. I was a stickler for bedtimes for two reasons. 1. I firmly believed in a bedtime routine 2. MOMMY needed a break and I guarded that jealously.

    But our bedtime routine was a treasure and took about 2 hours each night. It started with dinner that my daughter and I would eat together (Hub was always at work) at about 5-5:30pm..then it was a leisurely bath with lots of bubbles and plenty of toys. My daughter had long hair that I would wash and then after the bath she got out I would comb and braid her hair. Then often (not always) I would have her lay on the couch and I would give her a massage to her feet and legs while I sang to her. Otherwise we would have story time. We cuddled in the recliner in her room and she’d pick three or four books to read. Then I put on music and we would cuddle in her bed until she fell asleep. That routine has gone by the wayside now that she is much older, but it was a lot of good memories and by 7pm it was Mommytime!

    My friend would occasionally call me to go to the movies with her and her son who was six months older than my daughter. Invariably it was always during the bedtime routine time so no way! The kids were two three or four and she would take him to a movie that in my opinion was not age appropriate. She used to tease me a lot because I was very careful about what my daughter watched and would never go to the movies she chose…essentially adult (not porno) movies. Years later she told me that she wished she had been more strict with her son’s bedtime and what he watched because when she tried to set a bedttime routine he was very resistant. But she was Indian so for her it was normal to follow the more indulgent way of raising kids. I sometimes wondered if I should have adopted that attitude…but I will say this…to this day I have no issues with bedtime with my daughter. I think since she has had the routine her whole life she doesn’t know any different. (minus all the frou frou massaging, reading etc. of course) Of course her bedtime is later now than when she was 4, but essentially the routine/idea still exists.

  14. If I am with my wife, I will smile or talk to young children but if I am not I simply do not. I don’t want to give their parents a scare. The last thing I need to hear is a report of a crazy man with beard stalking children.

  15. Some would say that giving the child structure IS love. There really is a difference between having fun and playing with and enjoying a child and really loving that child. I honestly believe that indulgence is actually laziness and not necessarily love. My daughter complains that her baby at 18 months is up until 2 in the morning running around and having a grand time (in their shared bed) when her husband has to get up for work in the morning but she lets him get away with napping at 7 pm? WTH? But, it’s not like I can tell her anything. LOL My kids at that age were usually sleeping 8pm to 8am but they followed a schedule from day one. When I told my daughter that she was surprised and asked how I managed THAT. I said, you just DO it. I think she should send that boy to live over at Granny’s house! LOL I’ll keep him until he is 13. I think I have developed an allergy to teenagers.

  16. I noticed that here in America kids are running around way after ”proper” bedtime.
    Which is 6 in the Netherlands!

    I don’t mind kids if they are well trained…
    :mrgreen:

  17. @lynn
    I share your allergy, miraculously it disappears when they turn 19 🙂

  18. Thank you Carol for sharing that Photo. They are the cutes little guys, I could just jump into the picture and cuddle them.

  19. 6 o’clock Aafke? Seriously? We’re barely cleaned up after dinner at the time IF we’ve even HAD dinner yet. Do y’all have dinner without the kids in the Netherlands?

    Radha, I wish I had the opportunity to find out if my allergy would have gone away at 19. My daughter was off and married at 18 and my son had another 7 months to go before he’d get there. :’-(

  20. @Lynn

    We cosleep as well but we do follow a schedule for naps, bedtime, food, etc. Bedsharing is not necessarily incompatible with routines, you just have to be strict. I sympathize with your daughter but at 18 months! OMG that child should be on a structured routine from 3 months at the latest. We actually started at like week 2. She will have one hell of a time breaking bad habits that had 18 months to cement.

    I guess some parents see any restrictions on their child as abusive…the way I see it, there is a difference between what babies need and what they want, and as a parent you should know better. I mean, does my little one WANT to go to a dark boring room when playing with daddy and mommy is so much funner? Nooo…but he NEEDS sleep to properly grow and develop. So I am the mean mommy packing him upstairs at 7 pm, but he’s well rested in the mroning.

  21. NN, I don’t think that sharing a bed should be incompatible with routine but I think it is pretty silly to try to sleep with a child jumping all over you. If she wants to let her baby make his own routines then she should take him out of the room when dad is trying to sleep so he can get up for work in the morning. But, not MY problem! LOL

  22. I was fairly strict with the schedules with my kids but not like my sister who would allow her kid to cry and cry because he wasn’t due to eat for another 10 minutes. LOL Hmmmm? perhaps my daughter’s extremism DOES come from my side of the family?

  23. Lynn, I should have said that sharing a bed with a SMALL BABY is not incompatible with a routine. By the time a child is able to jump all over you, he/she should be in her own crib.

  24. Lynn, for very small children yes. And for new mothers they always specify a time of day when visitors are welcome and other times when mother and baby are resting. As you get older your bedtime goes up of course, as a teenager it was 10/11 o’clock. Depends to on the load of homework. You get an incredible amount of homework in the Netherlands. Several hours a day worth, and you get out at around 4 or 5. depends on the schedule, small children have Wednesday afternoon off.
    And of course you have to get up again at 7, make lunch, cycle to school, which was about 30 minutes for me, but a friend of mine had to cycle for an hour!!!

  25. it seems to me from what i read is that pretty much most americans have the same child rearing structures as above. i do exactly the same to my kids as the stories above. the saudis like to just let the kids do whatever whenever, it bothers me to no end on that…such as, when a child comes from school, that is when the mom ususally wakes up and makes lunch [or the maid makes the lunch] then the kid takes a nap, then wakes up and does homework, and ends up going to bed at 11pm very typical routine.

  26. @lynn –
    I’m sorry for your loss, but your daughter will come around, they outgrow their rebellious teens sooner ot later, some just take a tad bit longer. Now that she is a mom she will understand you better .

  27. Thanks Radha. I am thankful that she has been coming around a bit more now and there is no denying that that boy loves his granny and grandpop so I’m glad that she got over her declaration that she would NEVER leave him with us infidels. 😉 He brings lots of smiles to our tear stained faces.

  28. I think bedtimes should be based on when the parents & family are awake so everyone can get the best possible night’s rest, although there are certain times when supposedly our bodies prefer to rest. My sleep schedule varied a lot while I was growing up based on my parents working schedules as spending time together was more important than being on a “proper” sleep schedule.

    I think the hardest thing is when there are two or more children on varying schedules. For instance, you may have to wake up early to feed an infant but not long after the infant goes to sleep, the slightly older child wakes up and is ready to start his/her day.

    I think it’s great when the men in the family are willing to get involved with caring for the children. I honestly was shocked (these are rough-looking guys from rural America) when I was visiting at my grandparents this last time and saw so many of my male relatives helping with the young ones. I thought it was so very cool and sweet! ❤

  29. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

  30. I agree with the comments that Westerners are more disciplinary when raising little ones as compared to the Arab world in general. But I stand by that Saudi males are more comfortable with infants and toddlers than a lot of Western men! My step-son has always adored the little ones and they respond equally in turn to him too wanting their special attention!

  31. I teach in a language school in the States and most of my students are Saudis. I also homestay two young Saudi men. One thing that we tell all the new incoming Saudi men is to NOT hug and kiss every child they see. When out grocery shopping with my two, I have lots of fun watching their faces light up at the sight of every single child in the store. I can see them restraining themselves from cheek pinching, head patting, hugs, etc. My two are 20 and 22 years old. I just don’t see this kind of reaction from American boys of a similar age.

    My sister brought my niece to my school about 8 months ago and I STILL have Saudi boys asking when she’ll be in the state again so they can play with my niece again.

    People from the United States are certainly more restrained with children they do not know, especially men. There is the fear of being thought of as or accused of being a molester and let’s face it, US citizens DO look askance at any man who is super friendly to children not of his family or acquaintance. Saudis don’t seem to

  32. @Strangeone

    “I think bedtimes should be based on when the parents & family are awake so everyone can get the best possible night’s rest, although there are certain times when supposedly our bodies prefer to rest. My sleep schedule varied a lot while I was growing up based on my parents working schedules as spending time together was more important than being on a “proper” sleep schedule.”

    This is an example of thinking I had to fight hard to overcome in my own house. Young infants have specific sleep needs, and it’s selfish on the part of the parents to keep them up for the sake of spending time together. Would you deny them food because you want to spend time together? They need sleep as badly as they need food, and they don’t have the skills to organize their sleep schedule anymore than they have the skills to schlep to the fridge and get their own bottle.

    The reason this sleep schedule is called “proper” is because it serves the development needs of young infants – not entertainment needs of their parents. I had to at one point tell my husband that if he wants to spend time with the baby, he just needs to get home sooner. Sorry. I’m not going to deny my baby sleep so that he can spend time together with someone, getting cranky, overtired and sleep-deprived in the meantime.

  33. I don’t know Carol…let’s put your step son and my brother in law in a room and see which one attracts more kids! LOL All of the men in my family have happily taken active roles with the children of the family and the teenaged boys have as much fun with the little ones as the teenaged girls. These days there are even many, many fathers that take a paternity leave to be home with the newborns.

  34. NN,
    I understand they have sleep needs, especially as infants. If the infant is tired, then the infant should get some rest. However, I don’t see a problem with adjusting the schedule slightly so the family can spend more time together. For me, I see it a bit like adjusting the baby’s sleep schedule so the baby can sleep through the night if the baby has been staying up too much at night and sleeping through most of the day. I think as long as the infant is getting enough rest, then it’s not hurting the infant any.

    I also believe that every child is different and will therefore get hungry at different times. Therefore, the child should be fed when the child is hungry. As soon as my siblings and I were all able to cook for ourselves, my mom quit cooking and we cooked for ourselves individually as we got hungry. This is because some of us eat 5 times or more throughout the day while others eat only a couple times daily. Occasionally, one of us would cook for everyone, though this was uncommon. (We constantly spend time together to this day even though we don’t eat together.) I think it’s cruel to keep food from someone, especially a child, when they are hungry.

    But of course, every family is different and if people want to raise their child on a set schedule, then I don’t see how this is a bad thing. In fact, some of my aunts did this. However, I don’t think it’s the ONLY “right” way.

  35. when we were kids growing up, all the uncles would tease us and give all the kids nick names that stuck with us forever…oh, and not to mention, they always gave us money…not much, but something. and they liked to hear about our school grades…

  36. Arab culture reminds me a lot of Hispanic. Growing up we all looked out for one another and I HAD to ask for blessing from all the adults when I was a kid.

  37. Forgot to add, my Omani ex went crazy over small kids and he was always trying to be so machismo. LOVED it though when he gushed about them. Always made me smile.

  38. There is something so special and touching to the heart when you see a young man forgetting himself or the “need to be cool” when a baby is around.

  39. I agree that in general, Saudi children have less discipline, especially when it comes to bedtime!

    Also it’s very true that Saudi men are totally relaxed and comfortable in handling infants/toddlers. When I compare to western men the difference is obvious!
    I was surprised how well my husband knew what to do when we were babysitting my few month old niece. I had been trying to get her to fall asleep with no succes, then he just took her and after a moment she was fast asleep!
    His experience and confidence with babies makes me feel relieved that I will have his support 100% when our baby arrives in a few months..

    But I bet I will still be the strict parent when it comes to bedtime 🙂

  40. Let all who breathe praise the Great Goddess from whom all life on Earth sprang.

    Laylah, I think NN is a great example, both in how to train a Saudi husband, and to train a baby!

  41. Aafke, you are such a brat!! LOL I relinquish the crown to you.

  42. Laylah, Congrats on your coming blessing.

  43. So interesting. My experience is that Saudi men love to indulge children, but not take care of them. They only want the fun parts. And nowadays no one but the maid changes a diaper. I’ve seen Saudi men exteremely uncomfortable to hold their own infants, and the second they cry they get handed off to someone else.

    My husband wasn’t that way, but he wasn’t comfortable off the bat either. But he learned. My older boys helped with my younger so will probably be more used to babies, but nowadays I don’t see older siblings helping.

  44. sandy
    you got that right!! so very very true.

  45. layla
    what do you think of the name Farrah? my husband did not like it. i think it’s a pretty name for a girl. i read your story how you married your saudi, not the typical way saudis marry westerners,[SWEET], i was curious to know if you are close to your husbands family. congrats!

  46. Aafke-You’re right I’ve notcied she has trained her hubby and son quite well! Mine is quite well trained too, will do most of the housework and now he’s been very involved in the pregnancy and birthing classes too 🙂

    Lynn-Thanks!

    gia-thanks! I like Farrah too, but for Finnish people anything with an F and wouldn’t be able to pronounce it right.
    At the moment my husbands immediate family is still kind of dealing with the shock of him marrying someone not only from outside the tribe but the country as well 🙂

  47. laylah
    oh…i hope they will see things different after the baby comes..good luck. and you married a trooper

  48. Laylah – I agree that after the baby comes your relationship with your husband’s “tribe” will change. These little bundles of joy work their own miracles!

  49. Congratulations Laylah. Be prepared for a lot of advice. And be ready to stand firm on the use of car seats and seat belts!

  50. Thanks everyone for the encouraging words!
    Luckily my husband is very strict on issues such as importance of breastfeeding, carseats, sleeping habits etc. so inshallah it will be easier to handle all the “advice”.

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