Raising Children in a Multi-Ethnic Family
We still live in a time when we tend to teach our children that their culture is the best! They should be so proud to be Indian, Greek, Polish, Mexican, etc.! It’s harmless, right? They SHOULD feel proud of their heritage, no doubt. However, it’s a ying without a yang. This is the seed sowed early on, that inadvertently makes our children feel that they are better than others….in fact, the best!
The way I have approached this is by telling my children that their culture is indeed wonderful and amazing, but that other cultures are EQUALLY as wonderful and amazing. We normalize our traditions and rituals and cultural mores by immersing ourselves in them. Diversifying our friendships at an early age allows us to immerse our children in other cultures as well, thereby normalizing other cultures. We live in an age (thankfully) when it’s OK to promote others, and, not only is it OK, it SHOULD be done. It is our lifeline for peaceful coexistence. And who wouldn’t want that??
I married outside of the culture I was brought up in, thereby making my kids multicultural. I’m not going to lie; at first it was scary. The ride was bumpy. Not when we initially married, but once the kids came into the picture. Despite all the conversations we had, nothing prepared us for the gravity of having kids until they were here. The question I kept asking myself was, “where’s the blueprint??” No one (at least no one that I had known) had ever flown the coup. I was riding solo, which had never ever jived with my personality. However, with time, I learned to turn my situation into an opportunity. I had the gift of writing my own blueprint. I had a blank slate. I could take the things that had worked for me growing up, and leave behind the awkward, confusing remnants that came along with assimilating to a new culture/country. God, were they immeasurable. Thankfully, I am able to appreciate them today but on countless occasions I had wanted a large sinkhole to form under my feet and swallow me whole.
I often hear, “Oh, you married an American?”, forgoing the irony in the question seeing as how I am one too. And, invariably the thoughts that are being channeled my way seem to signify their next thought – “was there a shortage of men from our own culture to settle down with?” They may not verbalize it, but they are channeling it louder than if they had been shouting it from the highest rooftop. Notwithstanding their own marital failures, sticking to tradition and culture has always been more important than the statistical success rate of marriage between people even within the same culture.
I am unequivocal in my support for retaining culture and traditions and passing them down, whether first generation or tenth. What gives me such optimism and “spring in my step” as my husband says, is a renewed focus that what has been handed to me is an opportunity to handcraft my future from scratch. I don’t second-guess myself as much as I used to. I look at my children and think they are lucky to experience richness in the number of holidays they celebrate, the number of religious houses they are comfortable in, the diversity of foods they enjoy, and the number of languages they feel at ease in. I see the way they don’t bat an eye when wishing others “happy diwali” or “eid mubarak” or “merry christmas” or “shanah tovah” and my heart bursts at the seam.
I am not threatened by other traditions the way I remember my parents having been. The way I remember my friends’ parents being. The way we were all told not to wish others a blessed “you-name-it” so as not to normalize it. But now I see that was entirely the wrong approach. I don’t for a moment blame my parents. Kuddos to them for envisioning and actualizing a new life, far from the one they grew up in. That takes bravery beyond what I can muster. Naturally, they wanted to control the one thing they knew how to. But luckily for me, I can expand on that and allow for my children a platform to assimilate as much as they want to, and in as many cultures as they want to. The biggest gift I can give them is richness of experience and a broadened tolerance of others. And the best part? Most of it can be done for free. Who wouldn’t want to cheers (slainte, salute, prost) to that?!
Until next time,
Brainy Chick Serene