Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reverse Culture Shock

We have been here in Dallas for over two months now and I've been gradually realizing that my transition to living back in Texas is going through some rough spots.  I was jokingly doing a little research on reverse culture shock (like when an expatriate or a study-abroad student or a missionary returns to their home country after extended time away) and I half-seriously think I am going through that, exacerbated by the fact that I am pregnant and a bit on the emotional side.  The first stage of reverse culture shock is disengagement where you mentally separate from the culture you are living in, which is followed by euphoria where you are so excited to be "home".  The third stage is "irritability and hostility" where you are quick to be critical and judgmental of your home culture and the people in it.  That is me right now, irritable and hostile about so much of what Texas is like.  Part of me wants to pick up and run back to the Northeast right now, or maybe Austin would be good enough.

Parenting issues have been a particular touchstone, probably because as a stay-at-home parent this is my full-time job right now and a lot of the people I have been interacting with are also SAHMs.  There is a spectrum of parenting styles even here in the reddest of red states, of course, but often parenting and discipline practices here are not consistent with my values and beliefs.  Parenting here typically tends to the ├╝ber-conservative, traditional, and authoritarian-- so much negative speech about and to children, so much spanking, so much cry-it-out sleep training for young babies, so little kindness, respect, and dignity.  I've left at the end of playdates feeling so awkward and isolated, or sat in the middle of them feeling like I am an entirely different species of mother than the women sitting around me.  I don't think it is so much that living in the Northeast changed my choices significantly (we were on the crazy hippie side of things even in Connecticut, and yes, I was in the minority there for breastfeeding Grace past her 2nd birthday and using cloth diapers) so much as getting accustomed to being surrounded by people with different perspectives and attitudes than is prevalent here.

Speaking of which, I'm sure part of this is missing my mama friends from Connecticut (Hi there! I miss you guys!) and I know that all this cultural readjustment is made more difficult by being pregnant right now and full of the crazy-making hormones.  On a day-to-day basis I am still emotionally even-keeled but when something is upsetting, it REALLY upsets me.  I can't listen to someone tell me she spanked her son 35 nights in a row with equanimity right now.  Normally I think I would be more "everyone chooses their own path for their family blah blah blah", and no doubt that would be better, but right now it makes me all queasy and teary to be around people who talk volubly about purposefully hitting their child to the point of pain like it's no big deal.

The parenting issues have been at the forefront but what has really struck me is how different people's perspectives and worldviews are in general.  As a whole, there really is less awareness and appreciation of other cultures, more anti-intellectualism, and less concern for social justice.  And I am so afraid one of these SAHMs is going to come out as a global warming denier and I will flip my lid.

I was talking to Rob about this and wondered aloud why he wasn't going through anything similar (besides the fact that he is, you know, male and not filled with RAGING PREGNANCY HORMONES) and he reminded me that his daily cultural milieu has not changed that much.  He is still surrounded by research-oriented physicians at a big academic hospital; the people he interacts with on a day-to-day basis are still this highly educated, culturally diverse pack of science-y geeks (no offense meant at all, seeing as how I am amongst the geekiest of science-y geeks).  I'm sure there are subtle differences and a more conservative bent compared to being in the Northeast even among his fellow MDs and PhDs, but it's nothing like the mind-bending contrast between the people I was interacting with before our move and after.  Women who are staying home with their children in Texas-- different from those doing the same thing in the Northeast.  Hmmm, maybe this shouldn't have come as such a shock to my system?

So the last stage of reverse culture shock is adaptation, where one supposedly incorporates the positive aspects of having been away into one's current life.  Although someone who has actually lived abroad for an extended time is probably mocking me right now, I'm still waiting for that; probably it will happen sometime in the sleep-deprived haze of the newborn months when I'll get less focused on myself and more centered on the absorbing details of a tiny new life.  In the meantime, I have so appreciated some friends who have expressed solidarity or just encouragement when they've noticed me quietly flipping out.  And I think I'll pull back from some of these social interactions that are leaving me upset and sad.  And somehow I need to find a way to meet a few crunchy hippie moms to be my friends.  Then I can get a taste of my own medicine when they judge me for vaccinating our children on the CDC-approved schedule.

8 comments:

amydove said...

A friend of mine here in Austin went through a similar process of trying to find like-minded mothers when she had her baby. She started a yahoo group and connected with other online mothers (through groups and blogs) and now seems to have a few playdate groups that she likes. I'm sure you'll find the right fit - there are still islands of sanity even in Dallas :)

angie.a said...

Aw Julia! Wish I were closer! I'm not a SAHM anymore, but I'd still hang out and rant with you about the authoritarian parenting around here! I entirely get where you're coming from. When I didn't remarry right away (the horrors) I faced a bit of stigma for it. I don't really fit any niche anymore, because around here people don't stay single, even if they're perfectly happy. It's not done. I never have adjusted to that mindset.

Kathy said...

This is very interesting. As one who has regrettfully never lived outside of Texas as an adult, I would suggest that some of these "limited" perspectives may be innocent. I pride myself on being pretty darn "forward thinking" and yet I know there are attitudes and views that I've never even considered given my lack of exposure to them. Therefore I might be guilty of exactly what you describe here although it would certainly be out of ignorance rather than intention.

Kathy said...

And I'll add.... I can CERTAINLY relate to the pain of having a social reference group with whom you have little in common. Where, oh where, are all the working Moms? It is increasingly hard to be surrounded by SAHMs who can not relate to my choices. The best I can do is to stay close to the ones who at least don't judge me.

botanyhead said...

Golly...I am sure I'd feel the same if I tried to move back to Michigan. My family, for instance, is part of that wacky global warming denying group. Long distance love to ya! I hope you find some crazy, crunchy moms soon. Have you tried looking for information on the bulletin board of a local health food store?

Emily said...

Oh, Julia, my heart goes out to you right now. Making new friends is hard, especially when you add in parenting styles. Unfortunately, I have bad news for you. There are parents just like you described even here in the land of intellectual elitism and political awareness (aka Washington, D.C.). The good news is that I have met several hippie crunchy mothers in Dallas while at home. They are there! Seek out La Leche League and Attachment Parenting International groups. There are also several cloth diapering stores in the area, so there is a market for moms like us.

Eva said...

I am not a parent, and I haven't been under the influence of pregnancy hormones, but I wholeheartedly support your reaction against spanking children 35 nights in a row, or disbelief of global warming. I am sure there is a niche there in Dallas for parents like you two, it just might take some time to find it. Good luck!.

A Friend said...

Those whom you lambast can also read this blog...and do. Perhaps it is time you recall another "Texas-ism": mending fences...