SELF HELP RESOURCE - Parenting / General

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In today's connected world, inter-cultural marriages are common. Many families have a cross-cultural or inter-faith marriage and while this is a phenomenon to be welcomed, it does bring with it a host of new challenges for young parents. This union can be very enriching for the children as their world view widens with their exposure to varied food, culture and language. The flip side is that it could lead to cultural clashes about how the child should be raised. With dialogue and some degree of compromise, this can be worked out.

Here are some tips to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of raising a child in an inter-cultural marriage.

Discuss and Clarify Individual Viewpoints
Make time to discuss issues that are negotiable and those that are not, preferably before planning a baby and definitely before the baby's birth. Contentious issues are best sorted out well in advance. These include parenting styles, disciplining techniques, behavioral and academic expectations, expectations from in-laws and other social norms. Of course you cannot anticipate and cover every topic. There will be many issues you will just deal with as and when they come up. The point is to establish open and honest communication so that you can navigate through the differences.

Religion and Language
These two differences are the ones most likely to cause tension not only between partners but also with the extended family. Discuss with your spouse about the language that you will use to communicate and the customs that you would like your children to follow. It may be a good idea to initially have each parent speak in their own native tongue since children are naturally bi-lingual and can pick up multiple languages without getting confused. Make sure that both of you share this information with your family, especially if you are taking help from them for raising your children. Religion provides people with a core belief system, so it is an important factor to consider and understand.

Food
Food can also cause major differences of opinion. For instance, when your baby starts eating solid food, your mother may think ragi porridge might be ideal while your mother-in-law may insist that semolina is the best! So do think about other likely differences that may crop up due to differences in food habits. As the parents, it is up to you as to what you want to feed the child. You and your partner should come to an agreement between yourselves.

Other Customs
In India we pay a lot of attention to functions like the naming ceremony, baby's first food, ear piercing, etc. If your partner is from another country, then this may seem strange to his family. On the other hand they may have their own customs that are important. So respect the customs from both cultures to enrich your family.

Values
Values may differ quite a bit between cultures. What may be acceptable in one culture is very strange to another. While for some cultures, it is all right to share details about one's personal life, others are used to more privacy. Values influence the parenting styles, gender role expectations, expectations from children, traditions, festivals and personal boundaries within the family. Inter-cultural families have to make that extra effort to understand each other's perspectives.

Foster Close Relationships With Both Families
Be a role model to your children by being respectful of your spouse's culture and religion. Avoid negative comparisons between the families and don't take sides or criticize in front of the children. Keep close contact with both sides of the family by exchanging photos, e-mails and telephone or Skype calls. This will ensure that your children grow up with a strong sense of family and belonging, regardless of the differences in culture.

Qualities a Cross-Cultural Couple Should Have
Of course these qualities are necessary for any successful relationship, but more so for inter-faith families. Qualities like excellent communication, flexibility, ability to accept differences, ability to be forgiving, being supportive and loving, will ensure a deeper relationship.


Couples in an inter-cultural marriage will often have to be firm with their convictions and with each other to counter the challenges that they face from family and society. Of course if both the partners are well adjusted and appreciate each other's differences, then the children reap the benefits and grow up with an expanded awareness of diverse cultures.

 

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