“Becoming a parent challenges you to get to know yourself better, and I think this is the same in all families. Some people may judge you on your choices, but in these situations you just have to be strong even if it hurts sometimes. To live in a intercultural family becomes the norm and you automatically think of yourself and your family members as individuals, rather than representatives of their background.”
“You will be surprised of how many small details (from the way to wash your baby's but to the question whether to buy her earrings on her birthday) can be different in different cultures. Try to find out both cultures habits and pick up the ones you and your spouse like most creating your own family culture.”
COUPLES IN THIS SECTION
This theme will be particularly interactive, as the questions and concepts raised can only be answered by you. There is no such thing as the perfect or ideal parent, and every couple will raise their child in a different way, but by completing the worksheets and listening to others in the same situation it is hoped that you will start to form a more complete idea of the type of parent you wish to be and how you want to handle the various issues that will come your way.
Inevitably, your attention will turn to parenting styles and how you want to interact as a family and as a partner. The intention of this theme is to allow you to realise this by looking at various models and styles, as well as reflecting on the things in life that are important to you. This is an important factor to consider given you will pass these features on to your children through your attitudes and acts.
“I would say that just becoming a parent in general, and in this case becoming intercultural parent, means you have more idealistic ideas on how it is going to be, and you might have ideas which are a bit rigid. However, when it actually happens, you realise that it is just life happening and you have to take it as it comes, by doing the best you can at the given moment. So in that sense it's changed because I think I had many ideas of how it would be before I became a parent and those quite quickly went out the window.”
Duo Project’s Love and Parenthood guide has a succinct and interesting view of intercultural parenting, which is described below:
“When a child is born it turns the parents’ life upside down and changes their everyday routine. The couple no longer exist only for each other, and at first the little baby takes every bit of attention. Combining the romance of a relationship with parenthood and cherishing both in a way that keeps the whole family satisfied is one of the most demanding challenges that a couple will meet in their relationship. The best gift parents can give their child is to love each other, because parents’ mutual love supports and promotes the baby’s development.”
Parenthood is a unique experience which offers countless opportunities to experience joy and happiness. A baby also brings along tiredness and conflicting emotions. Lack of sleep and time alone with the spouse are common experiences for every parent with a young child. Both individual endurance and the durability of the relationship are put to the test in every family with a baby.
“I feel I have grown in a way I never would have had I married an Irish woman, as an Irish wife would simply reinforce the negative side of our culture in relation to parenting rather than providing a contrast for me to see my own shortcomings. I can't really say it is one thing but my greatest success as a parent in general would be that I've started to see my faults as a parent and I'm trying to overcome them.”
Parenthood consists of feelings, responsibility, decisions, information and learning new things. The road to parenthood is personal, and mothers and fathers experience parenthood in different ways and often also at a different pace. A child’s birth sets parents thinking about their own background. “Where do I come from? What were my family and my parents like? What kinds of traditions and values did my family have, and which of them do I want to pass on to my child?” (Love and Parenthood in an Intercultural Family: When two becomes three, pp. 16-17)
People’s ideas of good parenting are based on their own experiences. When expecting a child, the future parents look back at their own relationship with their parents and, through this, build their own parenthood. Their idea of parenthood is significantly influenced by their own childhood families, because it’s the only model anyone knows inside out. The spouses’ models of parenthood are activated after their child is born, and often parents don’t awaken to the differences of opinion, arising from their backgrounds, until then. Typical subjects of dispute include, for example, the way manners are taught, discipline, and the importance of world view or religion in bringing up the child.
The reconciliation of cultures and models of parenthood require parents to be able to discuss matters openly and reach agreement on things. There is no one correct way to act – every family can define a suitable way to be a parent for themselves. A family’s own way to act is easiest to discover when the parents discuss together what are the most important points in parenthood and bringing up children in their opinion. Parents also have to have an ability to find new solutions and make compromises, because spouses don’t always agree on matters of parenting and upbringing.
“It is certainly a challenge and hard work. I am an expat parent and I really want my son to catch the essence of his other cultural side, which is very difficult as he is surrounded by one culture. It has meant working really hard to make sure he learns the language and practises it, making constantly playdates for him to listen kids and others adults speak the language and so that he is surrounded by his second culture. Making him understand why we celebrate something when no one else is celebrating or explaining to others why we are celebrating something when they visit us so that they can join the celebration, etc. Luckily, technology these days helps a lot. But as difficult and busy as it might get it is very rewarding. I feel very proud of my son when he gets his Latin side out and talks about something regarding our culture and I know people also think he is awesome for having two cultures and being bilingual. I couldn’t be a more proud mama!”
As in a functional romantic relationship, the requirement for satisfaction in functional parenthood is that the hopes, needs and expectations of both parents are met. Hopes, needs and expectations are personal, but they are often regarded as self-evident and common to all: because this is important to me, it must be important to you too. Parents may come across surprises, even unpleasant ones, unless they have discussed and agreed on parenthood and their child’s upbringing beforehand. It’s not a good idea to keep your thoughts to yourself, or wait for your spouse to understand you without you having to say anything. It should also be remembered that even the best of plans don’t always come true and changes can be made to them if the situation requires it.” (Love & Parenthood in an Intercultural Family: When two becomes three, pp. 16-20)
“I would ask for more help from other people, especially just when the baby was born, as I tried to manage on my own. I would tell myself and my husband that it takes some time to adjust to new situations in life, and you don´t have to know immediately what to do when the child gets sick or has difficult to sleep. The most important aspect is to take care of yourself (the priority, when the mother is fine, the whole family is fine!) and your partner, as well as your child. Taking care of the baby comes easily, it´s more difficult to remember yourself and your marriage!”
As we have discussed at length, the way you think a child should be raised may well differ from the manner in which you partners believes. While you may agree on the foundations, the smaller issues need to be talked over and it is these points that will make your child unique. Combining the way you raise your child will create an individual parenting style that is without parallel, and cultural sensitivity will play a huge part in whether your style is successful or not. No matter which parent is living in their home country (if either is), both must be sensitive to the cultural beliefs and traditions of the other. It is no good relying on one culture over another, as this will create an atmosphere of resentment and may prevent the child from gaining an equal insight into each of his/her parent’s cultures.
There may be different ways of doing things in different countries and cultures, but the reasons behind the decisions people make and the traditions they follow are usually logical. The most important thing for you as parents is to find a way that suits both of you as a team. However, do not let your child see you disagree, and even if you agree with your child in a certain situation it is essential to promote a united front. Only then will you find a happy compromise which will allow your child to grow in the best way possible. This will also have a knock-on effect with regards to your own relationship with each other, as if you feel comfortable with the way you are as parents and believe in your decisions, the chances are you will feel better about each other and how you have resolved these issues.
“I am trying to learn these softer values from the Indian culture. I would like to raise my son without a lot of forcing and raising the voice, if possible. Instead with patience, and trying to ensure that his security is never challenged. But limits are very important, and they can be enforced without jeopardizing the security.”
“We need to take our own parents more into consideration now, as they also want to spend time with our child. And we need to take our child into consideration all the time, it's not just what the two of us want, it's also what's best for our child - and then we might have different opinions on that, too. A lot of thinking, planning and talking is required.”
Parenthood can be a bumpy ride at times, especially for those of you becoming a mum or dad for the first time. One minute you might feel euphoric, the next hopeless and overwhelmed. There will inevitably be situations in which you find yourselves that have come from nowhere and which you haven’t talked about, but this is normal. If you have been able to sort out all of the initial and major issues as parents, then there is no reason whatsoever you cannot deal with anything life throws at you as a team. However, there may be unforeseen circumstances which affect the family, so having an agreed plan in place will benefit your family.