Victoria Gill shares what Britain can learn from Brazil about bringing up babies, as she travels the country with her 14 month-old-son, Ché.
I’m lying on my sun lounger picturing the time that a ferry reversed into port so that I could transport my ailing son to hospital. Or the near-miss flights where we’re ushered straight to the front of the queue and chaperoned onto the plane. And the time we arrived via horse and cart to our guesthouse in Caraiva to find two grinning, gap-toothed girls waiting to carry Ché to his room, their teenage brothers later teaching him to stand.
Meanwhile, out the corner of my eye, I can see Ché embroiled in some serious bucket and spade transactions with some pre-school children in the shaded paddling pool of my favourite beach as the devoted nanny watches over him. The waiters deliver endless refreshments – because I’m a mother, right? – and then I think back to parenthood in London, battling through the concrete jungle’s prohibitively priced baby activities, crippling childcare costs and bankrupting taxis. “Need a hand luv?” the cabbies would mutter through gritted teeth as they threw resentful backward glances towards the pram.
Brasileiros are so infatuated with, and accommodating towards, babies that when I take mine out I feel like the Pied Piper of Brazil. Shopkeepers walk him, old ladies entertain him, waiters mark him, couples fawn over him, parents play dollies with their babies in the street and matchmakers to their children at the beach, “Lindo, lindo!” Soothes the ubiquitous, echoing coo. Respite is everywhere, because everyone wants a touch of Ché . As one friend explains: “Babies have a special place in the hearts of Brazilians, we think of them as angels, untarnished creatures.” Ché knows full well how to capitalise on this weakness: it feels like we are drowning in the nation’s love.
Commercially, the happiness of babies (and their parents) are very much prioritised. On beaches and in restaurants there are special baby playgrounds, menus, toys and loos. Babywear and baby boutiques are their own industries here. The rise of Brazil’s middle class has seen parental provisions in the ubiquitous malls becoming ever-more accommodating – children’s stores now come furnished with nannies who tour kids through the toy displays as you peruse the grown up shops elsewhere, and games centres that are heavily supervised – paid for by the hour or in lieu of the purchase of a toy. Children’s departments are taking over entire floors of shopping centres.
The adoration even reaches to officialdom – mothers with babies go straight to the front of priority queues in airports, post offices and banks. Kidnappers never target children because the publicity – and search efforts to retrieve them – is too high. No one would think of attacking a mother with a child here – if that were to happen the public would unhesitatingly protect them. I have never feared for my safety in Brazil while with my son, conversely I feel that he protects me.
The approach to childrearing in Brazil is magnanimous. The entire extended family is involved. People start young and the grandmother plays second-mother to the child: that’s right, you do the childbearing at the age you’re meant to do it – in your twenties – and the childrearing at the age you’re actually ready to do it – in your forties.
Brazilian families tend to be large and parents somehow pull off the incredible feat of empowering older children to take pride in caring for their juniors – a mentality that extends to school and play. The ubiquitous condominia – gated residential developments – house pools and playgrounds, allowing children to play safely and freely with their peers without ever having to leave their environs to enjoy a stimulating, fun-packed, socialised day. Nannies are commonplace. Parents go out, all the time.
They say it takes a village to raise a child: in Brazil you can depend upon a nation.
Read more at Victoria’s brilliant blog Baby Does Brazil