“Why is Santa (or Papa Noel) coming on Christmas Eve and not Christmas Day? Why aren’t you celebrating Kings Day like in France? Is he going to play football or cricket?”
Where we live, family and friends automatically assume our child will be raised as identifying to only one culture. That is—the culture of the country where they were born.
Subtle (and not so subtle) jokes and remarks are made about the other culture. In our case, “Of course he loves cheese —he’s half-French!,” or, “He sounds like his mother with her nasal Australian accent.” They also begin to link their concerns about the child and our parenting choices to the other culture, whether it’s our pronunciation of their name, what language they speak first or even their growth trajectory.
Even with our shrug-off mode constantly turned on, these jokes can begin to hurt and slowly degrade our parenting and family relationships. The persistent flow of uncalled for comments makes us feel like we have to choose one culture over the other. One of us over the other.
But our child is not just one of us. He is both of us. He is both our cultures. And as a family, we are both cultures together.
And yet, all of this is just the surface of navigating raising a child in two or more cultures. Underneath it all, one of us may feel judgment for embracing their partner’s culture, while the other may feel guilt for not doing enough to integrate their culture into family life. And what if our child is not fluent in either of our languages? Every day, millions of people across the world grow up with more than one culture, but we don’t seem to talk about it. We’re just expected to fit into the norms of where we live and be okay with any differences being pointed out as if they are a negative against the culture we “should be.”
Being a new parent already comes with a host of new challenges, but there’s even more when you’re trying to parent across two cultures. My husband and I constantly have to navigate our different upbringings, opposing family values and even family holidays. We not only co-parent two sons from my first marriage but have to thoughtfully navigate both cultures into their lives, as well as our new baby’s life.
This type of experience can provoke the negativity bias of the human conscience, but we need to privately encourage one another to look for the positives in each other’s cultures. So we choose to be inspired by our favorite childhood memories and intertwine these into creating our new family moments. We cook crepes, we have friends over for BBQs, we prioritize learning to swim, and we play the music of both languages that we remember our moms loved while we grew up in their homes.
We may have been brought up differently. Our opportunities and experiences may have been different. But we make the most of what unites us and most importantly, acknowledge we’re not just one culture. We’re both.