Parenthood and Growing up in the Balkans: the Good, the Bad, and the Path Forward

balkan growing up

Growing up in the Balkans isn’t just for those who can tough it out; it’s for those with big hearts too. This place is all about close family connections and having a strong support network around you. But, let’s be real, there are some old-school parenting ways that some people are still hanging on to.

The Balkans is a mix of old traditions and new challenges, all wrapped up in its rich history and cultural heritage.

We’re going to look into what’s good and what’s not so good about growing up here. We’ll talk about the usual ways of parenting and think about whether it’s time to start doing things differently.

Positive Aspects of Traditional Balkan Parenthood

Strong Family Bonds

Like we mentioned earlier, one of the best parts about growing up in the Balkans is how close everyone is in the family. It’s pretty common to see big families not just living near each other, but often in the same house!

This tight family vibe means there’s always someone there to help out, whether it’s with a shoulder to lean on or a hand with the kids. It makes growing up and raising little ones a lot easier.

Grandparents play a huge role in this. They’re like bonus parents, stepping in to help out whenever they’re needed, especially since taking time off work for a new baby isn’t always easy in the Balkans. It’s completely normal for grandparents to be greatly involved, right from the start.

balkan celebration of birthday

Sure, this can sometimes be confusing to kids as to grandparents and parents don’t always have the same parenting tactics, but it also means they grow up with a really strong connection to their whole family.

Cultural Heritage and Identity

In the Balkans, passing down our rich culture is a big deal for families. We’re talking about everything from the languages we speak, the faiths we follow, to the special ways we celebrate life. It’s all about giving kids a solid place to stand in the world, knowing exactly where they come from.

Religion is a big part of life here. It’s not just about going to church; it’s about keeping our culture alive. When kids join in on religious ceremonies or celebrate the big holidays, they’re getting a live lesson in what their community believes in and the stories that have shaped us.

Then there are all the festivals and traditions, some as old as the hills. These are times filled with music, dancing, fancy outfits, and amazing food. Getting involved in these celebrations teaches kids to love their culture and enjoy being part of a community.

Speaking of food, our Balkan dishes are something else! Cooking and sharing meals isn’t just about eating; it’s a way to connect with our past. Kids learn not just how to make a tasty dish but also get to hear the stories and histories behind those recipes. We are sure you all found your old grandma’s recipe book which also had the names of people who shared their recipe with them – “Krempita recipe by Slavica”, “Goulash recipe by Zdravka”, etc.

balkans apple pie

This deep connection to our roots does more than just teach kids about where they come from. It gives them a strong sense of self and a confidence that comes from belonging to a rich, vibrant community. Growing up with this kind of cultural grounding means kids are ready to step out into the wider world, knowing exactly who they are and where they belong.

Resilience and Adaptability

Life in the Balkans has thrown its fair share of curveballs at us, from tough economic times to historical upheavals. But you know what? It’s only made us stronger and more ready to face whatever comes our way. This knack for bouncing back and making do is something parents here are keen on passing to their kids.

It’s all about teaching the young ones to keep going, to adapt, and to be clever with what they’ve got. Whether it’s stories of grandparents overcoming tough times or finding creative ways to make ends meet, these lessons in resilience are gold. Inheriting most of the clothes from older siblings was completely normal, and as kids we couldn’t care less about the fashion at the time.

growing up in balkan the good and the bad (1)

With jobs and money sometimes being hard to pin down, Balkan families have become pros at thinking outside the box. Maybe it’s finding different ways to earn, going abroad for work, or getting creative with the budget—whatever it takes to keep things stable.

And let’s not forget about schooling. Parents here put a huge emphasis on education as the ticket to a brighter future, sometimes making big sacrifices to give their kids the best shot at success.

Then there’s the mix of cultures, languages, and religions we live with every day. Growing up here means learning how to navigate and respect this diversity, giving our kids a leg up in today’s global mash-up.

So, resilience and adaptability? They’re more than just buzzwords in the Balkans; they’re the secret sauce that helps us keep on keeping on, no matter what life throws our way.

Disadvantages and Challenges of Balkan Parenthood

Now let’s discuss this in a more serious matter since this is something that we find to be really important.

While we already mentioned the advantages of growing up in Balkan , let us look at the disadvantages and what we can do to help parents in these regions build a better world and better relationship for them and their children.

Traditional Gender Roles:

In the Balkans, old-school gender roles are still pretty strong, and they’re shaping how kids grow up in ways that aren’t always great.

Boys are often told they need to be tough and hide their feelings, as if being sad or scared is something to be ashamed of.

And girls? They’re nudged towards being caregivers first, sometimes at the cost of their own dreams and confidence.

  • Impact on Boys

From a young age, boys hear they’ve got to be the strong, silent type. Showing emotions? That’s seen as a no-go, a sign of weakness. This kind of mindset makes it tough for them to get good at understanding and sharing their feelings, which is extremely important for getting along with others and handling life’s ups and downs. Emotional intelligence is something that every child needs to learn from their parents and is crucial for every aspect of life.

Growing up like this can make it hard for guys to open up in relationships or to deal with stress and worry because they never learned how. It’s like they’re missing some of the tools they need for the emotional side of life.

So, while trying to stick to these traditional ideas of being a man, boys might end up feeling more stressed out and less connected to the people around them. It’s a tough spot that calls for some changes in how we think about raising our boys. Being masculine isn’t about being stoic without showing emotions, it is about being supportive, direct, grounded, decisive, confident while being able to show vulnerability and compassion.

  • Impact on Girls

Just like boys, girls in the Balkans are feeling the weight of old traditions, but in different ways. Society often expects them to stick to roles like caring for others, keeping house, and putting motherhood at the center of their lives. From when they’re little, girls might hear that these roles should come before their own dreams, education, or careers.

This kind of pressure doesn’t just put a cap on what girls think they can achieve; it can also mess with their confidence, self-worth and sense of freedom. It’s like being told your worth is all about how well you fit into these traditional roles.

And when girls step back from chasing higher education or their career goals because of these expectations, it not only hurts them individually but also keeps those outdated gender stereotypes going strong. It can lead to them depending on others financially and narrow their chances to find their own path and voice.

Encouraging boys to express their emotions freely without fear of judgment can lay the foundation for healthier emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships.

Similarly, supporting girls in pursuing their interests and ambitions, both within and outside traditional roles, can empower them to build confidence and independence. Whether a girl dreams of having a big family, no kids, or anything in between, that choice is hers and it says nothing about her value.

Breaking down these barriers doesn’t just help girls and boys find their own paths; it helps build a world that’s more about what you bring to the table as a person, not just fitting into an old-school mold.

Corporal Punishment:

Although decreasing, the practice of corporal punishment still exists in some areas, with lasting negative effects on children’s mental health and well-being. Moving away from physical discipline towards more positive parenting strategies is essential for the healthy development of children.

Corporal punishment, a form of physical discipline that has been traditionally employed in various cultures, including those in the Balkans, continues to be a controversial issue.

Despite a global shift towards more progressive parenting practices, the use of corporal punishment persists in some areas, often justified as a means of instilling discipline and respect in children.

corporal punishment and negative effects it has

However, a growing body of research highlights the detrimental effects of corporal punishment on children’s mental health and overall well-being, underscoring the urgent need for a shift towards non-violent forms of discipline.

  • Negative Impacts on Mental Health

The negative repercussions of corporal punishment on children’s mental health are well-documented.

Children subjected to physical discipline are at a higher risk of developing a range of psychological issues, including increased aggression, antisocial behavior, and depression. Such punishment can instill fear rather than respect, leading to a breakdown in the parent-child relationship and affecting the child’s capacity to form healthy relationships in the future.

Additionally, corporal punishment can lower self-esteem and increase anxiety, making children more susceptible to external influences and less likely to engage in open communication with their parents or caregivers.

This can create major core wounds that can imprint deeply into their unconscious minds such as being unsafe, being defective, not being good enough, being helpless, feeling unimportant (like their needs don’t matter). Later it can create issues in their relationships with other people and the need for therapy.

  • Impairment of Cognitive and Emotional Development

Beyond the immediate psychological effects, corporal punishment can also impair cognitive and emotional development.

Children who are physically disciplined may exhibit decreased executive functioning, including problems with attention, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.

The stress and fear induced by corporal punishment can interfere with learning and memory, potentially affecting academic performance and social interactions. Moreover, experiencing or witnessing physical discipline can normalize violence as a means of conflict resolution, extending cycles of aggression and undermining the development of empathy and emotional regulation.

In response to the evidence against corporal punishment, there is a strong advocacy for positive parenting strategies that focus on understanding, communication, and non-violent forms of discipline.

These strategies include setting clear expectations and healthy boundaries, using natural and logical consequences to teach lessons, and employing positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.

Positive parenting also emphasizes the importance of modeling respectful and empathetic behavior, fostering an environment where children feel valued, understood, and empowered to express themselves.

Parents need to educate themselves and learn healthy ways of disciplining their children. Know that your child has their own needs, feelings and thoughts that should be expressed freely and without fear in order for them to grow up into a healthy functioning adult.

Guilt and Punishment-Based Parenting

One frequent issue is the reliance on guilt and punishment as primary tools for discipline. This approach often involves instilling a sense of guilt in children for wrongdoing, suggesting that their actions directly harm their parents or family’s standing.

While the intention might be to teach responsibility and accountability, the method can lead to an internalization of shame and a belief that love and acceptance are conditional upon behavior.

This can undermine self-esteem and hinder the development of a secure sense of self-worth.

Shame and Social Compliance

Similarly, parenting styles that emphasize shame and social compliance — “You must behave so others won’t say anything bad” — prioritize external perceptions over the child’s feelings and thoughts.

Such an approach not only suppresses genuine self-expression but also instills a fear of judgment that can be paralyzing.

Children raised under this specter of shame may grow to value others’ opinions over their own, leading to difficulties in decision-making and a lack of personal conviction.

shame in children

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Conditional Relationships and Filial Obligation

Another concerning aspect is the concept of parenting based on conditional relationships and filial obligation.

The notion that children owe their parents for their upbringing, encapsulated in attitudes like “I birthed you, now you have to take care of me,” treats children as investments rather than individuals with their own rights and identities.

This perspective can burden children with undue responsibility and guilt, affecting their ability to pursue personal goals and happiness. It also risks fostering resentment rather than genuine care and respect in parent-child relationships.

Religious and Ethnic Intolerance

While this is decreasing in some regions and it is not the case in some families, religious and ethnic intolerance remains an issue in the Balkans, a region historically marred by conflict and division along these lines. In some families, there is a pronounced emphasis on their own ethnic and religious traditions to the exclusion, or even diminishment, of others.

This approach not only prolongs historical prejudices but also delays the development of a more inclusive and harmonious society.

The roots of this intolerance can often be traced back to the Balkans’ turbulent history, where ethnic and religious identities have frequently been mobilized for political ends, leading to cycles of conflict and mistrust.

The impact of this upbringing on children can be profound. It limits their ability to interact with and understand people from different backgrounds, fostering a culture of segregation rather than integration.

Children taught to distrust and diminish others based on ethnic or religious differences are deprived of opportunities to learn from diversity and to develop empathy and social cohesion skills. This not only affects individual relationships but also perpetuates societal divisions.

Parents can teach children about history and respect for diverse cultures by encouraging curiosity, providing balanced historical context, and modeling empathy.

Highlighting stories of cooperation between different groups and engaging in cultural exchange can foster appreciation for diversity.

Open discussions about stereotypes and critical thinking about media help children understand and challenge prejudices. Through these strategies, parents can equip their children with the understanding and respect necessary to navigate a multicultural world.

Moving Towards Healthier Parenting Practices

For Balkan societies to cultivate an environment that nurtures emotionally intelligent and psychologically healthy individuals, a shift away from these traditional parenting practices is essential.

This involves:

Emphasizing Emotional Intelligence

Encourage children to express their emotions freely and without fear of judgment. This involves actively listening to their concerns and feelings, validating their experiences, and offering support and guidance on how to manage emotions constructively.

Parents should model respectful and empathetic communication, demonstrating how to express needs and emotions in a healthy way. This helps children learn effective communication skills, empathy, and emotional regulation.

Encouraging Individuality

Parents can nurture their children’s interests and ambitions, regardless of gender, by providing opportunities for exploration and learning in areas that fascinate them. This encourages personal growth and self-discovery.

Actively challenge traditional gender roles by sharing household responsibilities equally among all family members and encouraging children to pursue activities and careers based on their interests and abilities, not their gender.

Adopting Positive Discipline Strategies

Use positive discipline strategies that involve setting clear, age-appropriate expectations and boundaries. This helps children understand the consequences of their actions and the importance of respecting others’ rights and feelings.

Instead of resorting to physical punishment, use natural and logical consequences that are directly related to the child’s actions. This approach teaches responsibility and problem-solving skills.

Acknowledge and reward positive behaviors through praise, attention, and encouragement. This reinforces good behavior and motivates children to continue acting in socially desirable ways.

Example:Handling a Broken Window

Situation: Imagine a child, Alex, is playing soccer in the backyard and accidentally kicks the ball through a window, breaking the glass.

Physical Punishment Approach: A traditional response might involve scolding or physically punishing Alex for being reckless or careless, focusing on the act of breaking the window as a deliberate disobedience or lack of care.

Natural and Logical Consequences Approach:

Instead of resorting to punishment, the parents sit down with Alex and discuss the incident. They explain that playing soccer near the house can lead to accidents like this. The natural consequence is that the window is broken and needs fixing, and the logical consequence is that Alex is involved in the solution.

The parents decide that Alex should contribute to the cost of the repair from their allowance or if Alex is still not getting the allowance to take on extra chores around the house to understand the financial and labor implications of such accidents. This teaches Alex about financial responsibility and the value of taking care of one’s belongings and surroundings.

Together, they brainstorm safer places to play soccer in the future, such as a nearby park or a more open space away from breakable objects. This involves Alex in the problem-solving process, helping them understand how to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The parents encourage Alex to reflect on what happened and how their actions led to the broken window. This reflection helps Alex develop a deeper understanding of cause and effect, encouraging more thoughtful behavior in the future.

If the broken window affected someone else in the family or a neighbor, having Alex apologize and explain what they’ve learned from the incident can be a powerful lesson in empathy and social responsibility. This helps in understanding the wider impact of our actions on others.

In this scenario, the focus is on learning from mistakes rather than punishment. Alex learns about the consequences of their actions in a direct and meaningful way, gains insight into solving problems, and understands the importance of taking responsibility. This approach fosters a supportive environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth rather than just misdeeds requiring punishment.

Cultivating a Non-Judgmental Family Environment

Recognize and celebrate each child’s unique qualities and contributions to the family. This fosters a sense of belonging and self-worth that is not contingent on meeting external expectations or roles.

Make it clear that the child’s feelings and thoughts are important and valued, even when they differ from those of the parents or the broader community. This promotes critical thinking and self-esteem.

Education and Self-Improvement for Parents

Engage in workshops, read books, and seek resources on positive parenting techniques. Continuous learning about child development and psychology can equip parents with the tools needed to raise emotionally intelligent and well-adjusted children.

Parents should reflect on their own upbringing and consider how it affects their parenting style. Being aware of one’s biases and emotional triggers can help in making conscious choices that benefit the child’s well-being.

parents getting educated about parenthood

Mixing Positive Balkan Parenting Tactics with Modern Parenting Practices

Respecting Elders Integrated with Self-Respect

Teaching children to respect their elders does not have to exclude lessons on the importance of self-respect. Children can learn to value the wisdom and experience of the older generation while simultaneously developing self-awareness and self-esteem.

For instance, parents can teach their children to listen to the advice of elders but also encourage them to ask questions and express their own opinions in a respectful and constructive manner.

This approach helps in balancing the traditional value of respecting elders with the modern emphasis on individuality and self-expression.

Discipline Balanced with Expressing Needs

We already discussed this but let me say it again. Discipline is crucial for developing responsibility and self-control in children, but the method of its implementation is key. Rather than strict or authoritarian discipline, parents can adopt positive discipline strategies that promote cooperation and understanding.

This means setting clear rules and expectations, while also providing support for children to understand why these rules are important and how they can express their needs and feelings in an acceptable way. Positive discipline focuses on teaching children the consequences of their actions and encouraging them to make better choices, rather than simply punishing bad behavior.

Keeping Strong Family Bonds but Encouraging Your Child’s Individuality

The encouragement of personal growth and exploration helps children develop a sense of individuality and self-confidence.

Allowing children to make choices appropriate to their age and maturity level teaches them responsibility and helps them develop their own voice. This could range from choosing their extracurricular activities to making decisions about their future education or career paths.

Autonomy in decision-making reinforces their individuality while still being supported by the family structure.

Recognize and celebrate the unique qualities of each family member, including children, within the family unit. This can be done through family traditions that highlight individual achievements and characteristics, fostering an environment where everyone’s individuality is respected and valued.

While recognizing individuality, it’s also important to cultivate shared family values and goals. These shared values can act as the common ground that unites the family, providing a sense of identity and collective purpose.

Teach children to balance their personal needs and desires with those of the family unit. This includes learning to compromise, consider others’ feelings, and work together as a team, which are valuable life skills that enhance both individuality and family cohesion.

By emphasizing both individuality and strong family bonds, parents can raise children who feel secure and valued as unique individuals while also being deeply connected to their family. This balance is key to developing well-rounded individuals who are confident in their own identities and understand the importance of familial relationships.

Balancing Resilience and Compassion

Let me explain this through some examples:

Imagine a family that embraces the resilience and adaptability characteristic of Balkan culture by regularly sharing stories of their ancestors who overcame significant hardships.

During family dinners, parents recount tales of their grandparents’ resilience during difficult times, highlighting not just the struggles but also how they maintained hope and kindness toward others despite their circumstances.

This practice instills a sense of heritage and resilience in children, teaching them that challenges can be overcome with perseverance and a positive attitude.

In addition to these stories, the parents also focus on developing emotional intelligence in their children. For example, when one child feels upset after losing a school competition, the parents don’t dismiss their feelings. Instead, they sit down with the child, acknowledging their disappointment and discussing the emotions they’re experiencing. They emphasize that it’s okay to feel upset, but it’s also important to learn from the experience and move forward. This approach helps the child understand and manage their emotions, fostering resilience.

To encourage kindness and empathy, the family participates in community service projects together, helping those in need. Through these activities, the children learn the value of compassion and understand different perspectives, enhancing their emotional intelligence.

By combining the storytelling of past resilience with practical lessons in emotional intelligence and acts of kindness, the children learn to navigate life’s challenges with strength, empathy, and adaptability.

They grow up understanding that resilience isn’t just about enduring hardship but also about maintaining a kind heart and an open mind, ready to adapt to the world around them with confidence and compassion.

To Conclude

The cherished aspects of Balkan family life, such as strong familial bonds, rich cultural heritage, and the resilience and adaptability imparted by parents to their children, offer invaluable support and a sense of identity.

However, these positive elements are counterbalanced by more challenging practices that stem from traditional gender roles, the use of corporal punishment, and parenting strategies that rely on guilt, punishment, and conditional relationships.

As Balkan societies continue to evolve, there is a growing recognition of the need to transition towards healthier parenting practices that foster emotional intelligence, encourage individuality and personal development, and adopt positive discipline strategies.

This shift is asking for required effort from parents, educators, and policymakers alike to prioritize the well-being and holistic development of children.

By embracing these changes, Balkan families can nurture future generations who are not only grounded in their rich cultural heritage but are also emotionally resilient, empathetic, and prepared to thrive in a diverse and changing world.

The journey towards adopting these healthier parenting practices is not without its challenges, but the potential benefits for children’s mental, emotional, and social development are immense.

It calls for a reevaluation of deeply held beliefs and practices, a willingness to learn and grow, and a commitment to creating a supportive environment where children can express themselves freely, learn from their mistakes, and develop a strong sense of self-worth.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that children growing up in the Balkans today can enjoy the best of what the region has to offer—its strong sense of community, cultural richness, and resilience—while also being equipped with the skills, emotional intelligence, and self-confidence needed to navigate the complexities of modern life.

In doing so, Balkan societies can lay the foundation for a future where the next generation is capable of contributing positively to their communities and the wider world, fostering a cycle of growth, understanding, and mutual respect that transcends generations.

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