Parenting in Panama

What do the Royal wedding, a traditional Wounaan wedding and a school dance have in common? They have all taught me about parenting.

If our girls were a few years older, I would have woken them up in the wee hours of the morning to have tea and scones and watch the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and his bride Meghan. In my birth family we are royal watchers. And so I told our girls about this real prince marrying a girl who is now a real princess, because it’s part of my family tradition. I want our children to value the traditions of my family.

Here in Panama the traditions to which our children are exposed are vastly different, yet rich and beautiful. At a recent celebration of an indigenous Wounaan wedding, our girls were mesmerized by people dancing to the rhythmic music of flute and drum. As the final seal of the marriage, the Wounaan pour a bucket of cold water over the couple’s heads. Our daughter vehemently reminded us - for several weeks - that she absolutely did not want that at her wedding! But if she grows up here, who knows? I want our children to value the traditions of the Wounaan people, who have loved them and accepted them into this community.

The tradition celebrated at our daughter’s multi-ethnic school presentation was also very different: neither Western nor Latino nor indigenous Wounaan. It was a startling cultural experience to see my daughter, the only white girl in the group, trying to dance to African music. She obviously stood out from the rest her exuberant schoolmates, with no make-up and only one tiny attempt at hip shaking. I was fine with that, but wondered – will she grow up feeling like the odd one out? I want to teach our children to value every culture’s traditions, but also to know that it’s ok to be different.

I wish I could shield our children from the broken parts of all the cultures with which we interact. I wish I could give them all the wonderful experiences of my own childhood. But here they are learning to take risks, depend on Jesus for their identity, and value kingdom culture above all. In my heart of hearts, I want this life for them.

By Sarah Brown