Parental and Other Caretaker Roles

In Hmong society prior to the resettlement in the United States, young girls are socialized at an early age to engage in poj niam hauj Iwm, or "women's work." This includes cooking, cleaning, sewing, and caring for younger siblings. The Hmong female spends most of her time in such child-rearing activities as feeding, holding, carrying, supervising, furnishing love and encouragement, clothing, and giving shelter to children. The Hmong mother is also responsible for the welfare of any orphans left by her husband's brothers or male relatives, the care of elderly parents, especially in-laws, the care of her husband, both when well and when ill, the care of sick family members, and the care of any and all guests. Mothers and other female relatives are also expected to instill in their daughters a sense of discipline suitable to their future role, and to teach their daughters the sort of behavior appropriate to their gender. The Hmong female may also be called upon to assume responsibility for the care of all domestic affairs of those related through blood and marriage.

Such activities, while crucial to the child's survival and to the continuity of Hmong society, are "only women's work," and, in a male-dominated society, a man's tasks are ipso facto more important than those of a woman. These tasks are solving family and clan disputes, hunting, and performing rituals. The Hmong father, by his example and the force of his personal authority, engenders for the family a model of respect, prestige, and recognition, all essential to the community status of the family and thus the welfare of the children. Hmong males look after public affairs, devoting themselves to meetings, the purpose of which is the general welfare of the Hmong: hlub kwv tij neej tsa.

The young Hmong male without older siblings may occasionally find himself helping parents with child-rearing and household activities, but should he have any siblings who are female, he will be given a wider latitude for play than the girls. To the Hmong father, a son is more valuable than a daughter, and therefore he will not treat a daughter with the respect and high hopes accorded to a boy.

In the United States, these roles are changing as the Hmong confront and come to terms with the social pressures generated by American society, and it is possible to find daughters whose lives are every bit as respected, and even privileged, as those of sons, while there are sons who are accorded neither the variety of privileges nor the latitude of behavior enjoyed by their counterparts in Laos.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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