Raising a family in a multicultural setting can be really hard. There are so many potential pitfalls and opportunities for misunderstandings. Getting to a point of comfort and agreement with your partner, your children and your larger community, takes work and compromise. You are likely to have to take a serious look at what you want out of your multicultural arrangement: what are you willing to live with, what can you give up, and what can you absolutely not do without. But, if you are proactive and open-minded, being multicultural has all the ingredients for making you a stronger, more flexible and tolerant family.
A friend of mine who grew up in India and who is married to a Scandinavian has experienced both the good and the bad of being a multicultural family. Visiting her parents in India has often been fraught with tension as they have not been particularly happy about the matchup in general. Early on in the relationship, when she wanted to come visit her hometown with her spouse and children, her parents said “no”. Social pressure made them feel like they may not be accepted if their daughter was married to a white man and had children with him. They just could not bear the scrutiny of their town and instead asked to meet in a big city where they could be anonymous.
While her parents’ decision upset her, she also knew that she wanted her children to have a relationship with their grandparents. So, the family decided to accept the “compromise” and meet elsewhere. As is often the case, time has helped my friend and her parents come together and now, some ten years later, they have a good relationship. But, it has required many small deliberate steps in order to get to a point where they have an understanding and acceptance for each other.
When my friend’s children were young, the family decided to move to Scandinavia so that they would have a family network to rely on. There, the hurdles were different. The immediate family welcomed them with open arms and couldn’t be happier. However, society as a whole had a harder time accepting their blended family. They stood out and the language barrier added to the feeling of not fitting in. In the end, they stayed only a couple of years. They decided to move back to Silicon Valley where being multicultural is perhaps more the norm than not, and fitting in is easier. The tradeoff is that they live far from any family support network. It was a compromise they felt they had to make in order to feel at home and at ease as a family.
It is important for family members to discuss how you want it to be and what your expectations are. What will be the role of extended family? What about language, religion, cultural traditions and holidays — how will your family approach these issues? How will you make them into your very own multicultural family blend? How you deal with these types of situations, will determine what experience you’ll have.
By: Felicia Shermis