Madrid resident and expat coach Denise Suarez gives readers of the Madrid Metropolitan some top tips for raising intercultural families
What is an intercultural family? With all the differences our family has, how can we raise our children to thrive?
If you’re reading this article, then chances are you are part of an intercultural family. An intercultural family can be:
- A family where the parents come from different cultures.
- A family where the parents come from the same culture, and are living in a different one.
- A family where the parents come from the same culture, are living in the same one, and have spent time elsewhere that they also identify with another culture.
There’s no doubt that there are many, incredible benefits when it comes to raising an intercultural family. And with globalization, it won’t be surprising if intercultural families soon become the norm all over the world.
However, intercultural families also have their share of difficulties. Miscommunication, misunderstandings, missing your family… Raising an intercultural family can sometimes feel lonely and frustrating.
Here are some tips to help your intercultural family thrive.
- Make the implicit, explicit.
Be aware of the cultures you identify with and what their core values are. Have a conversation with your partner about this. Assume nothing and define everything. Both of you might agree that “family” is very important, but have different ideas of what that looks like. To one person, it may mean spending lots of quality time together, while to another it may mean working a lot in order to be able to pay for everything the family needs and desires.
Once you are clear on the features of the cultures you identify with, decide in advance where you want to be aligned with them. In what ways do you want your family to be a part of this culture? Also decide which aspects you will be working against these cultures. How would you like your family to not continue certain traditions? For example, one of the cultures my family identifies with is the Spanish one. One way I want my family to fit in with this culture is how kids are welcome everywhere. One way I don’t want them to fit in is their relaxed view of time.
- Know your non-negotiables.
When you know the ways you’ll be working against certain cultures, the next step is to think about how they may come up in your life. Perhaps you’ve decided that you want to raise a child who is able to listen to their body and stop eating when they’re full, not when their plate is empty; but Grandma insists that your child finishes all their food. How will you respond?
This depends on your non-negotiables. Decide in advance what they are for you, and where you are willing to be more flexible; so that you do what you want to do, not what you think you should do. Once you know your hard boundaries, you can plan how to respond when they are crossed. This allows you to be more intentional with what you want to teach your child. Then, when you’re stuck between teaching your child to respect elders (following Grandma) or eat intuitively (stop eating when full), you know exactly how you want to respond.
- Get on the same page as your partner.
When it comes parenting with a partner, differences come up. Add in culture, and there may be explosions. One thing to keep in mind when speaking with your parent is that everyone’s experiences are valid. One is not wrong, while the other right. They’re just different.
When having these conversations, begin with your partner’s point of view. See what values and needs they have behind what they’re saying and sharing. Let’s say you are asking them to spend less time with work and more time with the kids. Why do you think it’s so important for them to spend that time in work? Perhaps they think that they contribute more to the family by working than by being with the kids.
Then, share your own perspective. Say “I-statements” that focus on how you think and feel, not what you think your partner should think, feel or do. Instead of saying “I think you should spend more time with the kids,” focus on yourself: “When I am alone with the kids in the afternoon, I feel overwhelmed and would like time to myself.”
Together, decide on solutions that work for everyone in the family, even though they might not be what we expected. When it comes to parenting, a lot of us think that our partner has to be doing the exact same thing as us, lest our kids get confused. It’s okay to do things differently. When we are clear on our long-term goals and family values, we can trust in our partners, and in ourselves, that we are all moving toward the same direction.
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