Exploring Parenting Styles from Other Countries
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Johner Riehl : The recent statistics are troubling, US children continue to lag behind their international peers on test scores, happiness indexes, physical health, independence and emotional well being, making today's parents more anxious, more confused and desperate to find solutions. The good news – Americans are ready and eager to embrace what works, regardless of the country of origin. Today we're talking to author Christine Gross-Loh, author of “Parenting without Bonders”, about surprising lessons parents around the world can teach us. This is Parent Savers, episode 52.
Johner Riehl : Welcome to Parent Savers everybody, we're broadcasting as usual from the lovely Birth Education Center of San Diego. Here at Parent Savers, we are your weekly online support group for parents of newborns, infants and toddlers. We got a couple parents in studio along with myself to talk about experts on topics that you care about. I'm your host, Johner Riehl, thank you so much for joining the Parent Savers Club and listening to us. For those of you who joined the club, you know that you get bonus content after each new show, access to all of our archived episodes, and plus we have special giveaways from time to time and discounts. For those of you who just subscribed to our newsletter, you can get more information from there or on our site. We are also offering a chance to win free membership for all you newsletter subscribers too so keep an eye open for that. And I think, as you all know, there's another great way to stay connected with us Parent Savers and that's by downloading our app, you automatically get the new podcasts whenever their posted, and you can listen to them pretty easily on the go, you can get that at the Google play store or an the app store for Apple users. So let's go around the room and introduce ourselves, as I said my name is Johner Riehl, and I have three boys, one that is about 22 months-old, one that is 4-years-old and one that is 6-years-old and we are definitely willing to try anything and listen to what's going on in other countries as well. And Chelle's in the studio too.
Chelle Roman : Hi! I'm Chelle, I'm 28, I am the owner of The Swaddled Sprout, a natural parenting resource here in San Diego, and I have two boys, Cyler is two and a half, and Rook is 14 months.
Amy Asking : And I'm Amy, I have three little girls and I am a blogger here in San Diego, it's belovedatmosphere.com. My daughters are 8, 3 and I have a newborn who's almost two months.
Johner Riehl : And on the phone we have Christine, hi Christine, tell as a little about yourself.
Christine Gross-Loh : Hi! I'm Christine Gross-Loh, I'm 44. I'm a writer, I'm an author and I have four children. I have two boys, they're 12 and 10, and I have two girls who are 6 and 3.
Johner Riehl : Nice, I like how that spaced out for you.
Christine Gross-Loh : Yeah.
Johner Riehl : Alright, before we start today's show, we have a news headline that I'm going to handout around the room and I'll just read it to you, Christine. A family went to a restaurant and on receipt they got a discount of 4 dollars after a meal of about 16 dollars for having well behaved kids.
Chelle Roman : Oh, I love that! That's kind of hilarious.
Johner Riehl : And it's kind of in reaction to I think – and this was happening a lot earlier this year – people were writing kind of mean things and there was one that went around where a preacher had given no tip to a waitress and there was a huge Internet backlash about it. And then this one made the rounds and everyone was really happy to see it, and what this server did, did their own discount, the bill was 58 dollars and they did an open discount and they typed in “well behaved kids” for 4 dollars.
Chelle Roman : It's hilarious!
Johner Riehl : What do you guys think about that? That's great, right?
Amy Asking : Well, you know, I think it's a huge thing because we have always taken our kids places, and we've lived in foreign countries, and it's a huge thing. Americans? This is a broad statement, but Americans are in large very very intolerant of children in public places, whether it's an airplane or a restaurant or whatever.
Johner Riehl : We just went to a restaurant and I didn't feel bad. Our kids were a little bit crazy
Chelle Roman : 'Cause their kids!
Johner Riehl : Right, but I felt bad for the other people that were there, because they weren't signing up for the experience to have my kids be obnoxious.
Amy Asking : But when you go into public you are signing up to experience people of different ages and places and types.
Chelle Roman : Yeah! And the reality is that you got to get out there and do it. How are you supposed to teach your children to behave at a, let's say, ceremony of any type? 'Cause now people are not inviting the kids, you're invited but then you got to find a babysitter and it's 80 bucks just to go for a couple of hours. My point being – the more we as parents take our kids out to kid-friendly places, than you evolve to the nicer sit down dinner. I think it's awesome that people are given a well behaved kid, because my kids would get that, they are, they're expected. My older, and the other 3-year pulls it every once in a while.
Johner Riehl : If you went to a restaurant that said, “If you're kids are well behaved, we'll take you 10% off, but if they're not, we're going to add 10%”
Amy Asking : Adding 10%?
Chelle Roman : I'd be living the moment someone would say that, pull my chips right now.
Amy Asking : Yeah, I wouldn't go to a restaurant that taxed you for having... children.
Chelle Roman : A kid tax.
Amy Asking : It's not even ill-behaved it's just how kids are.
Johner Riehl : Had this gone the other way though, if someone would've taxed them for having not well-nehaved kids, I think the firestorm would have been unleashed.
Amy Asking : I would be really upset if I got a bill like that!
Johner Riehl : Alright, so today's topic is international parenting perspectives, we're going to look a bit closer at parenting strategies and tips from around the world and how they may be especially helpful for America. Joining us on our Parent Savers hot-line by phone is author Christine Gross-Lohl, who's book, “Parenting without Borders” is available on May 2nd. So by the time you're listening to this, that means it is available now. So welcome Christine!
Christine Gross-Loh : Thanks!
Johner Riehl : So tell me how the idea for this book came about, did you live abroad or where did it come from?
Christine Gross-Loh : I lived abroad, I lived in Japan for five years with my children, I lived there before that as well. I was raised in an immigrant family in America and so I've noticed a lot of differences about parenting from the time I was young. But when I had my own kids, my two boys, and I was raising them in the States, I was parenting them the way I saw parents around me raising their kids. And then we moved to Japan when they were 5 and 3, and when we first went there, there were things that I saw that I thought were really startling to me. There were things that I saw that I thaught were actually wrong. I saw a lot more tolerance there, the parents were sort of not intervening as quickly and I just thought that these kids are kind of running wild, I thought things like that. But at the same time I also saw more strictness in other areas and I thought, at first, that my way was better than they way. And then I started to notice that the kids were really nice, well behaved, very self-reliant, that was a big thing that jump out, they were solving disputes on their own. And so I began to think about it. My husband and I started to gradually adopt a more hybrid approach to raising our children, using the best of what we saw in Japanese parenting and the best of what we saw in American parenting. I thought that it was so interesting to sort of discover that these two cultures have their own very specific and very different views and ways of defining what good parenting is, and I wanted to learn more. So I started to investigate other cultures, and that turned into my book.
Amy Asking : So, starting here in the U.S., what are some of the problems that you think were seen specifically in America, like helicopter parenting or spoiling our kids, eating habits, such things?
Christine Gross-Loh : Well, I think certainly all of these are problems at least some parents can relate to in one way or another, and there is sort of a general wide spread. I think that a lot of this, and this comes from sort of comparing the way we do things generally, this is of course very broadly speaking, with the way parents in other countries might do things. On the topic of eating, for instance, I think we get a lot of advice about giving our children lots of choise, and lots of initiative, we tiptoe around the idea of teaching them how to eat right deliberately, because we worry about being overcontrolling. But the result is that we worry about making them feel self-conscious about their weight, or causing a food disorder, and I just didn't see this sort of thing when living abroad in Japan. And parents in other countries that I talked to also take a more sort of structured approach introducing children to food and to eating and to what meals are like, and it's a sort of more traditional approach which I had rejected when I first had children, because I thought that it didn't give children enough choice. But I realized that actually what these parents were doing was teaching their children life skills of other children would have more choice, these children that I saw, there was no sort of concept really about eating, and I heard parents in other countries say that. Of course children have likes and dislikes, it's just a matter of how you approach that, are you going to accept it and say, you know, “My child eats white food”, or are you going to sort of try to broaden their horizon. And it really went against the way that I thought children should be fed at the beginning, but the really nice thing that happened for us was that our children's friends would influence them really positively. They were like, “You should try that”, and then the schools were in on it, everyone was in on it, and so there was just no sort of, you know, here sometimes if I want my child to try something I might have a well-meaning relative or somebody say, “Oh, if you don't like that you don't have to eat it”, but I want them to try things, and I want them to know that you may not like everything at first, but that doesn't mean that you're not going to later. But if you don't try it all you're never going to be able to learn that. So I think that it's very helpful when we sort of switch our mindset and have other people on board too. And that's why I think that having a more cultural wide mindset about food that is a little bit different can be very helpful.
Amy Asking : We lived in Asia as well and had the same experiences, Christine. I think we call it a “yes please” portion instead of a “no, thank you”. If we call it a “yes please” and they still turn off their noses and “no”, than darn, we have to try it. But they do try it. And when you don't have a choice, it's hard. When they don't have a choice, when you're living in Korea or Japan and all you have around you is a certain type of food, you either go hungry or you abide.
Chelle Roman : Right, and you know, even our pediatrician has told us it can take up to 12 times offering the same food for your child to even take a bite of it and enjoy it. For example my son, from day one first time he tried carrots spit them out, spit them out. He hated carrots. That's his favorite vegetable now, at two and a half, you just got to keep offering.
Amy Asking : Christine, you had a great point when you talked about how... I was exactly the same way when I was a teenage, I had eating issues when I was a teenager and I'm so concerned about it with three little girls. And I think the most important thing is what you said, just to expose them to that different way of thinking, be a little more structured about it and then, ok, if you want more you can have more of your favorite thing, or whatever, just culture them in a different manner, that's a great idea.
Christine Gross-Loh : Right, I think that one way to take the high approach to eating which we try to do now is, in Japan for instance, people would plate the portions, other people plate the portions for you, and children are expected to eat it all. That really just felt like it wasn't quite right for our family and the way we have been raising our children until then. Even though that was a normal school and they kind of knew that, what we try to do at home for instance is we will put the food on the table, they serve it themselves, and as long as they try a bite of everything, that has served the goal of trying it without sort of taking an overly structured approach, which I think takes choice away for children. So I think there is a middle ground to all of this, that has worked well for us.
Amy Asking : And sitting around the table is a huge thing that we're all getting away from.
Christine Gross-Loh : That's a very huge thing and that's the whole component of it, that eating is always communal, it's always a shared experience, and that is part of how children learn to eat, and they're always eating the same food, there is no separate kids meal, if you go to an restaurant you don't see kids menus, and that's really why, it's just an alien concept.
Johner Riehl : I'm still surprised even here but I know that happens a lot, when I hear about some of our friends they'll feed their kids dinner and then eat their dinner.
Amy Asking : They'll eat three dinners! Daddy wants this, mommy wants that.
Chelle Roman : I have a super picky kid and we still don't do that, we're just, “Oh, well, you can have more of your favorite thing”, like you said, if you don't want to eat at all, fine, you can have carrots, I don't care. That's on your plate already, but yeah, I'm not going to make you chicken nuggets if you're not going to eat your dinner.
Johner Riehl : I'm sure we can write a whole book about food issues, right? But I think that the book covers more than that too, so what are some other things, whether helicopter parenting or something else that's in the book?
Christine Gross-Loh : Well, this whole issue of self-esteem for instance, there is this idea in our country that is really a very recent one, 'cause it wasn't like this when I was growing up, that the best way to raise confidence in kids and to sort of prevent all sorts of emotional problems was to praise them, a lot, and that that would boost their confidence. Now we know that there's plenty of research that shows that praise actually given in this way can undermine children, it can actually have the opposite effect of what we hoped for them. And I think that research is out there and I think a lot of people are starting to understand this but it's still a sort of a reflexive thing. I saw somebody the other day praising their child for drinking water...
Amy Asking : … I love how you hold your fork!
Christine Gross-Loh : And I think that just getting some sort of reasonable praise, it's not that other parents in other countries don't praise their children, we actually found that they do that much, but they praise them and encourage them for different things and I think the one big thing is to praise them for a good effort, it's not even for accomplishment, it's for trying hard.
Johner Riehl : Yeah, so there's nothing wrong with praise, I love praise, it feels really good to praise your kid, it feels better to praise your kid than it does to punish them, which is a reason to never punish them and always praise them, but it feels good as a parent to praise your kid, the issue is what are you praising them for.
Amy Asking : Yeah, I was a teacher and a daycare provider for a long time and it's not like, “You're a good girl!”, or “You're a good boy!”, “Good job!”, and it's like, “Good job, I like how you pulled up your pants!”
Chelle Roman : “I can see you trying so hard to do that! You must be so proud of yourself!”
Amy Asking : Well, they think that that's OK, but the more specific you are, the more you're giving genuine praise, and that's the difference I saw in leaving in Korea. In Korean in particular, it's almost the opposite, it's a deprecating sort of culture, and so you have to live to highest standards, and so for us, we had to really juggle doing it correctly, or doing it worse. Very specific praise. So, “I love how you took time to read, I know that's not you're favorite thing to do, but you did a really good job reading for 30 minutes today”, or being as specific as possible, because than you are generating self-esteem, and bring that into your child's life and it becomes part of your family culture.
Johner Riehl : We're going to take a quick break, when we come back, we're going to talk more about some of the surprising lessons that are in Christine's book, as well as talk about if there's anything that other cultures can actually learn from Americans, if we're doing anything write over here.
Johner Riehl : Welcome back everyone, we're talking on the phone, on our Parent Savers hot-line, with author Christine Gross-Loh, author of the book “Parenting without Borders”, surprising lessons that people around the world can teach us, it's available now if you want to pick up a copy. Christine, writing this book, is it anything that really, I mean, it's in the title, “Surprising lessons”, what are some things that surprised you? It's not necessarily surprising for Americans to learn that we have food issues, and our kids are doing like the wrong things, but what were some of the surprising things that you uncovered in the book?
Christine Gross-Loh : Well, lets see, there are just so many things. I think one that really jumps out at me, because I tended to be a little more cautious about my children's safety, was that the best way to keep kids safe is to let them take risks. And it's not like you go crazy and they can just run around doing any risky thing they want, but apparently children have their own... they are craving the chance to develop a sort of sense of judgement for what their bodies are capable of, and what they are capable of. And when we stay in their way and tell them to be careful, don't climb that tree, don't climb to high, don't do this, don't to that, we're sort of becoming that voice, that inner voice that they should be developing and that they are really wanting to develop. And so one research that I talked about from Norway is saying that in her research she found that the best way to keep children safe is to let them take risks. And it was really very helpful for me. It was also hard to, I think this is sort of against my instincts, but what I discovered is that it was hard to do that when others were only judging me, or would even come over, I had one situation when my daughter was climbing a slide by herself and she was doing really well, she was concentrating very hard and climbing it and I was standing a little bit far away 'cause I knew that she was trying to do that herself, and another person, another mother scooped in looked at the slide and encouraged her to step down, and it sort of took that chance away from her, and I also felt, I don't know, when that is happening she is questioning my own judgement, but I know my daughter best and I knew what she was doing and I trusted her, and she was really loving the chance to climb that by herself. I wasn't yards and yards away, I was actually very close, but I wasn't... you know, just quitely watching so I wouldn't interrupt her concentration. And so it is hard, because even if there are things that you believe that are good ways to raise your child and research shows that it's good, it's hard when the culture around you sort of undermines you, or can give you a message that you're not being a good parent by doing what you are doing.
Chelle Roman : My 2 and a half old is very rambunctious, he's a climber, he's a jumper, he' also very... he knows he's body, he's confident, and he rarely falls on his face. When he does things that a lot of kids, my friends' kids don't do, and we posted a little video of him not so long ago, jumping off the couch, on a trampoline shooting a basket and jumping on the floor. And I had several friends going, “You let him do that? I can't believe you let him do that!”, it was like I just won the “bad mommy” award for letting my kid jump on the furniture, but it's like, you'd be amazed to see the things I don't let him do, he's fine, he learning.
Amy Asking : It's awesome that you do that.
Christine Gross-Loh : Yes, he is, he's learning what he's capable of.
Johner Riehl : But we have a friend that lives, she had moved back in with her parents. And she has, I think she moved back when her daughter was three. And my wife and I would always talk about, “Can you imagine the constant parenting that you're doing, but then to have it under the judgemental eye of your mother, right there”. So I think that's an interesting thing that you talk about. In a way, it feels like some of the international parents decisions you can make and feel empowered to after reading the book, that you've got to have the confidence to be able to do that.
Amy Asking : And I think two things are at play here. One, when we were in Asia it was, it takes a village. I had never seen so many men as hands on helpers, because they are older, they're older siblings of younger, and it's expected in their culture that everybody pitches in. And so I needed to step back and say, “It's not about you Amy, it's about them trying to help”. In their perception, they're actually helping you and embracing you, and I needed to just process that for a while. That took me a while. And I think the other part you were saying, experiential learning, you have to be yourself because everybody else is taken, if you are truly doing, nobody goes out and says, “You know, I'm going to hurt my kid today, that's exactly what I want to do”. You're doing what you are doing best, and if you mess up, you mess up together, you're saying, “I saw you fall there, I'm very sorry, let's pick it up, dust it off and we'll be better next time”. But if you don't let your kid fall, as it were, figuratively or literally, how are they ever going to learn and grow that self-esteem?
Johner Riehl : Does that sound to you, Christine, like any particular culture, that idea of really setting kids off on their own?
Christine Gross-Loh : Well, I think that it's interesting. I heard from a Swedish family something very similar, children were encouraged to take greater risks and I think a lot of American parents would be comfortable with 3-year-olds climbing trees, that sort of thing. The idea is the same, that is sort of how they learn what their capable of and there's a greater trust that they're able to do this. I think that we sort of lost touch with that idea. I think that in our country there is a very strong idea that very involved parenting is what good parenting is, and that's pretty recent idea, and it's very good in some aspects, clearly involved parenting is better than uninvolved parenting, but it's all a matter of degree, and I think that puts and enormous amount of pressure on parents and on children, when you feel like you do have to be so closely attending to everything that your child is doing.
Amy Asking : Turning the table I guess, do you think that there's anything that we do as Americans that other countries could kind of stand to?
Christine Gross-Loh : I definitely do, I mean, the fact is that we came back to this country, it was a deliberate decision after five years away, though we were enjoying our time there very much, I knew that there were things our children could benefit from here as well, and I wanted them to be able to benefit from that. I really love the way that we express our love to children, that is a way that resonates with me. It's not that other parents in other countries don't love their children, they express it in ways that are culturally appropriate, and everyone in the world loves their children, you know, that's not what it's about. But the way that it's expressed in this country to our children really is the way that I like to express to mine, so that was something that I liked being able to do. I also think that we are really wonderful about trying to teach our children about tolerance and inclusiveness, I think that this is something that we are amazing about compared to many other countries. We came back, we went to a library, we open any book and you can see portrayals of different people living different lives, people who live differently, children who look differently, and when you're seeing this all the time, when your parents and you teacher tell you as part of the conversation, I think it really is the most important way to raise a children who can grow up to be very accepting and inclusive of diverse people and diverse ways of being, and I think that that's something a lot of other countries should learn from us.
Amy Asking : Awesome point, Christine. I have a second question. What do you think are the cultural stereotypes when it comes to parenting and how do you embrace them or how does that play out in your family, what do you think about that?
Christine Gross-Loh : It's interesting. Of course I know what a lot of these stereotypes are, I tried very hard not to let them guide me in my investigation, and what I found was some of them may be sort of true, but for reasons that are different from what we might think, and others are not. But I visited China for instance, it was six months after the book came up. A lot of Chinese parents told me, “You know, that book is not about Chinese parenting, it doesn't really represents us” and certainly they resonate with some parts, but as a daughter of Asian immigrants and somebody who is very familiar with Asia, I know the parts that resonate. But I also think it's very important to remember that she was writing a very specific memoir about her own specific immigrant experience in America, and actually in China apparently, or in Taiwan at least, I'm not exactly sure, but an overwhelming number of books, more parenting books there that I read and saw are Western translations than local ones. They read more books from the West about parenting than they do read books about parenting written by Chinese. So I think that's very interesting. There's a great interest in the way that we parents, and in learning about how other cultures' parents – and that I think is actually really nice to see, other cultures are interested in how other cultures are parenting, and we can do that as well.
Johner Riehl : What are some of the common threads you see among other cultures. We talked a lot about the differences, but what are some of the things that you see a lot of cultures have in common?
Christine Gross-Loh : The number one thing that unites parents everywhere is that they all want their children to succeed in their society. Succeed just means thrives, make it as an adult, and have a good life. What makes it look different from culture to culture is that what it takes to succeed is different in each society. But the desire that their children would thrive is common everywhere. So even if parents in other countries as a whole seem to do things that we may find a little startling or unenlightened, or worthy of emulation, it's very important to remember where it comes from, it comes from very particular cultures, and very particular cultural goals. And we have our own goals as well, that's important to remember when we're talking about parenting across the cultures.
Johner Riehl : And it's not that there's necessarily a right way or a wrong way, it's like if you are going to drive from San Diego to New York, there's a lot of different paths you can take to get there.
Christine Gross-Loh : Yeah, I think actually that's one of the things that we have the most freedom to do in our country, it's also what makes it hard, because it is absolutely harder to raise your children when you don't have a lot of like-minded people around you helping to sort of reinforce what you are trying to do. When you're doing it alone, that's harder. But we do have a sort of freedom and an open-mindedness to look and see what might be working for someone, what might be a solution for common problems at a lot of parents , and look further into it, adapt what works for you and leave what doesn't.
Amy Asking : You mentioned earlier that we all love our children and share in love, however you do it, I think all parents have children to love and to perpetuate and have that - for a lack of a better word – the caring on of your family line and stuff, and caring for your elders, I found too is always, everybody does it differently, but these are things that I think are common threads, uniting all cultures, how do we care for our elders and what does that look like and how can we be sure that we give them the respect and dignity they deserve.
Christine Gross-Loh : Yes, very similar I think.
Johner Riehl : Well it's a fascinating subject, and I can't wait to dig more into the book and I'm sure that our listeners can't as well, again, it's called “Parenting Without Borders – Surprising lessons parents around the world can teach us”. We'll have a link to it on our website, on the episode page. Thanks so much, Christine for joining us,
Christine Gross-Loh : Thanks so much
Johner Riehl : Thanks Amy and Chell, and baby Al, again, as always, we need to get her picture on our website as well.
Amy Asking : Thanks for having us!
Johner Riehl : Alright, so all this information is on our website, we're actually going to continue our conversation with Christine right now, for members of our Parent Savers Club, we're going to talk to her about more lessons she thinks Americans can try right now, and I have to ask her a question that I have about international mother in law to see if she has any perspective on that as well.
[Featured Segments: Protecting Your Children]
Johner Riehl : As we are nearing the end of today's show, here's detective Damien Jackson with some great ways to better protect our children.
Damien Jackson : Hi Parent Savers! This is detective Damien Jackson, with the Police Department Family Protection Unit, and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force here in San Diego, California. As part of the Police Department's ongoing series of community outreach education to help families enhance their personal safety, I'm here today to talk to you about family tree stickers on the back of your car. You know the ones I'm talking about, why on Earth do you have them on there? Every time I'm driving behind someone that has those stickers, I want to get out of my car at the next red light, pull out a razor blade and scrape those things off the window. Of course you're proud of your family, who wouldn't be, they're the most awesome people in the world, and they're your pride and joy. So what's the harm in having these stickers? Let me paint a scenario for you to ponder. Let's say a local child predator spent some time driving behind you, studying the names below those stickers on your back window. I mean you have them all conveniently listed, right down to the family dog. Then they happen to chance across one of your children and has this little exchange with him, “Billy, Billy! Oh, I'm so glad I found you! Your dog Rex got hit by a car and your mom Jennifer had to go and get your sister Alice and take her to a veterinarian, hop into my car real quick and we'll call your dad Bob on our way over there!”. Well, as you can see, what might seem like an innocent set of stickers on the back of your car can help you and your family out to be victimized by predators. If a stranger walked up to you somewhere, and asked you what your children's names were, would you tell them? Of course you wouldn't. So why would you openly advertise it to hundreds of strangers every single day on the open road? Scrape those things off and protect your family's privacy. For more information on how you can help keep your family safe, visit us on Facebook or Twitter at /Escondido Police. With the Escondido Police Department and the San Diego Internet Crimes against Children Task Force, I'm detective Damien Jackson, reminding you and your family to be smart, and be safe.
Johner Riehl : Alright, that wraps it up for today's Parent Savers, we appreciate that you are listening so much, don't forget to check out our sister shows, Peggie Palls for expecting parents and the Boob Group for moms who are breastfeeding. Next week, we're going to be revisiting a topic to make sure we got all of the angles covered, it's going to be an interesting show to say the least, we're going to look again at circumcision, and this time we've got an expert who's going to be talking about it from the intact point of view. Last time we had a doctor who performed circumcisions, and this time we have someone on who's called an “intactivist”, who advocates against circumcision. This is Parent Savers, empowering new parents!
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