Parental and Other Caretaker Roles

Having done fieldwork accompanied by my wife and 6-month-old son, I was privileged to many discussions of the theory and practice of childcare on Kalymnos (Sutton, 1998b). I had initially assumed that my own participation in childcare might provoke negative comments in a "Mediterranean" culture. However, it coincided with a recent shift in values on Kalymnos toward fuller paternal participation. For the younger generation the ideal of sex-role equality was widely accepted. While the occupational structure which favored men still meant that women provided the majority of childcare, in cases in which wives worked and husbands, for various reasons, stayed home, it was seen as perfectly natural for them to care for and raise the children. Whether present or not, fathers are ideally seen as disciplinarians, and may be evoked as a threat ("wait till your daddy gets home..."), though in fact mothers engage in everyday verbal and occasional physical reprimand of young children.

What seemed most distinctive about childcare from my "American" perspective was the way that responsibility was distributed over a three-generational family, and not vested exclusively in the parents. Thus, we would often receive advice from 15-year-old boys on how to care for our baby, reflecting the fact that older children are expected to look after their siblings on a regular basis. Furthermore, because of matrilocal residence, a woman often relies on her parents for advice and for regular day-to-day care. This was even more true in the past, when teenage marriage was common. But it also reflects the strong bond felt between grandparents and grandchildren, which is reinforced through the baptismal naming system (Sutton, 1998a). This means that a grandmother may have a particularly strong bond with the grandchild who bears her name (or a significant family name), and the same is true for grandfathers. Uncles and aunts often play an important caretaker role, and childless uncles and aunts who are well off financially can often adopt a child from their siblings. "Uncle" and "Aunt" are used by children as terms of respect to neighbors and other adults on Kalymnos.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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