Navigating multicultural life with multicultural kids

The other night, my high school aged daughter insisted we watch this Spanish TV-series she has gotten hooked on. She said it was really good and she wanted me to see it. I was thrilled that she asked me to watch with her, and also excited because it was a foreign language show, which is always appealing to me. Way back when, before I had been abroad and before I spoke English, it used to be the English speaking shows that attracted me. Now it’s the Spanish and French ones. I think it’s because of the different sensibilities they offer, and, I just like listening to the languages, trying to pick up words and follow along as best as I can (which is not very well at all). This show proved to be quite the conversation starter — for many reasons.

The show depicts the life of high schoolers in a posh private school somewhere in Spain. The addition of a few students from a nearby “poor” school causes all kinds of disruptions and drama (and murder). While I am pretty sure the show was trying to say something about society, class, power and religion, mostly what struck me was how explicit it was — in its depiction of nudity, sex, relationships and drug use.

I asked my daughter if what they were showing didn’t seem a little advanced for how young the characters were supposed to be, and a little nude perhaps. I asked her, heart in throat, if she thought this was a realistic portrayal of high schoolers anywhere. Her response: “Ahh, well, this is Europe. You’re European, you know how it is over there.”

I do know and this is not exactly how I remember high school life, that’s for sure. As a Swede, I do know however that we have completely different views (compared to the US) on nudity and how one can talk about, and show, sex on TV. I know we don’t blur out “inappropriate” words in songs on the radio. My kids have been to a beach in Sweden in the summer and seen how common it is for young children to sunbathe naked, and for people of all ages to be changing right there on the beach, sometimes not always managing to fully cover themselves with their beach towels. It’s acceptable. No one really thinks about it.

As a parent to cross-cultural kids the “cultural divide” questions are unavoidable, they will come up and navigating them can be both fun and challenging. While Sweden and the US are similar in many ways, there are real differences as well. How the topics of sex and nudity are approached is one of the differences. Personally, I have always struggled with the lax views on Marijuana in California, and then there is the fact that my daughters are growing up in a country where the topic of abortion hasn’t yet been settled. These are real issues that ultimately inform how we go about our daily life.

Coming to terms with your children growing up in a country where the cultural norms are different from your own can be tricky — for your children who have to navigate a parent’s cultural biases with the reality of the society they are living in, as well as for the parent who may be out of his or her comfort zone, struggling to combine cultures into something that makes sense. It certainly adds an extra dimension to the job of raising kids.

I am happy that my children are multicultural, that they are aware of different ways of life and traditions. In spite of some of the hurdles we’ve faced trying to balance differing views and cultural norms, I will always be of the belief that having access to, and knowledge of, multiple cultures can only be a huge positive influence — in anyone’s life.

By: Felicia Shermis

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