Parental and Other Caretaker Roles

Parental roles are not necessarily preordained in Kyrgyz culture, since birth parents do not always raise their child. Occasionally, extended family members, grandparents, or aunts and uncles play a more day-to-day role in parenting than the actual birth parents. Grandmothers are particularly counted on as a primary caregiver of young children, and many Kyrgyz have closer relationships with their respective grandparents than they do with their own parents. In some instances, the first-born child born of an eldest son is given to the parents in what is called amanat. The relationship between the "gifted" child and the aging grandparents is seen as reciprocal, because the child assists the grandparents' household but in turn the grandparents help preserve Kyrgyz traditions by passing their knowledge on to the child. In most cases the child is well aware of the fact that his grandparents are not his biological parents, but nevertheless calls them by the names ata (father) and ene (mother), and calls his own father and mother "older brother" and "older sister."

During the Soviet period, parental roles shifted from family members to state institutions. By the mid-1950s, the number of detskii sad (kindergartens) reached an all-time high as children's centers were set up throughout the urban and rural regions in Kyrgyzstan to care for their children. Every collective farm had its programs where children resided for weeks at a time, while parents worked long hours during the peak seasons of planting and harvesting. The childcare centers addressed one part of postwar economic issues—it helped to free women in order to increase their productivity. Because of the type of laborious work done by the most physically capable, the parents of young children were rarely available to raise their offspring. It was the grandparents who often nurtured language skills, social values, shared stories, and kept alive various traditions for the young children.

Today the difficult economic predicament means that, typically, both parents work outside the home. Sometimes a niece or a cousin lives with and cares for the younger children of their relatives, or else an older sibling is placed in charge of the younger brothers or sisters.

Both mothers and fathers are much more indulgent of young boys then of young girls. Physical affection is much more common with infants or toddlers than with older children. Children are not necessarily indulged, but instead they are considered a part of the household structure and are expected to contribute to ensuring that the household runs effectively. Children often have many responsibilities, particularly the girls in a family. Both mothers and fathers expect more from a female child. A daughter is engaged in some sort of household work at a very young age, whereas a young boy is often left to play on his own rather than asked to participate in household duties.

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