Whoever believes that babies are just the offspring of their parents, has never been to Greece. In this country, having a child is a process that involves the whole Greek family. Even long before the child is conceived.
The whole family wants your child
I stopped counting the amount of times yiayia, mother, and sister mentioned it was time for me to contribute to the Greek family. It started one year into the relationship with my boyfriend and continues till today. In every conversation I have with them, the future baby is mentioned.
But not only the Greek women closest to me won’t stop pushing me to procreate. Uncles, friends, cousins, nona. Everyone in Greece seems to get impatient when it comes to my motherhood. Even a Greek two-year-old keeps asking me when my baby will arrive. Him, I can simply answer, saying that the stork didn’t arrive yet. But to the rest of the Greeks, it is difficult to explain.
The whole family will be there when your child is born
Let’s say I agree with the Greek family on having this much-wanted baby of theirs. Let’s say I am pregnant, and the family is pleased with that. This will not be the moment the Greeks will back off and let me have their soon-to-be new family member in peace. No. Involvement only gets worse from here.
My family-in-law has a whole plan ready for when I will have a child in the Netherlands. Mother will come over at least a month before I will give birth. Father and sister, including her two children and husband, will follow as I am about to give birth. Together they will ensure we will not be alone with the child. At least for the first year of his or her life.
Having my potential child in Greece will not make things less of a family project. Here, the people who will come to support me while giving birth will not be limited to the 6 closest family members. Instead, like with any other Greek baby, excluding the ones during COVID restrictions, the whole family will be there. Yiayia, pappous, aunts, uncles, and friends will all be at the hospital. Like a crowd at a concert, they will cheer when the baby enters the stage.
The whole family has to agree on the name of your child
When the baby is born, the discussion about the name will start. Naming a newborn is something valuable to the whole Greek family. You can not just pick the name you want your child to have. Instead, the family expects you to use the names of the child’s grandfathers and grandmothers. Wanting something different results in endless discussions and arguments.
My sister-in-law, for instance, wanted to break with Greek traditions and give her daughters more international names. But not naming them Ierini and Argiro, the names of their grandmothers, was perceived as a shame to the whole family. In the end, they agreed on Rene and Iro, still referring to the grandmother, in a slightly more modern way. Unfortunately for my sister-in-law, it was a compromise. She wasn’t able to name her children as she wanted if she liked to remain respected by the Greek family.
The whole family raises your child
Raising the child will continue the be a shared job, done by the whole family. Especially the grandmothers will fight over who gets to spend the most time with the child. It is rare for a Greek child to have a day without meeting at least one family member. And if something happens to the child, everyone will be there to help. While in other countries they say, ” it takes a village to raise a child”, the Greeks just need their families.
Feeding the child, picking it up from school, and taking care of it when it is sick, are all done by the entire family. When the child grows older and is about to go to university, the father and uncles will discuss what option would give the child the best future. And later, when the child grows up and needs a job, it is often a family member who will provide one.
The whole family loves and supports your child
As a non-Greek who might, at one point, become a mother in a Greek family, the whole family involvement seems quite overwhelming. I want my child to grow up carrying the name I find suitable. I want to be in charge of how the child is raised and what he or she will learn about this world. Every Greek mother is overprotective towards her child or grandchild. While I have more of the Dutch laid-backness, which I would love my child to have. But is that possible when yiayia and aunts teach him or her to be scared instead of curious? When the whole family is involved in raising your child, it is difficult to stick to your own beliefs on how to do this.
On the other hand, Greek children get so much love, care, and attention when they grow up. They learn how to care for others and the importance of social connections in life. They always have someone to talk to. The family provides an extremely safe place from where they can discover the rest of the world.
Being a mother in Greece and having the help of everyone around you, does sound better than being on your own, having to rely on expensive daycare and schedules. Although the Greek families are overwhelming, they are there to make your life less challenging, and your child more loved. Which both result in you being a better parent.