Cultural parenting as an immigrant parent

Neha B

As many would think, that we move countries for a better life, job opportunties and some greater value to life that comes with a change. What we don't see behind an immigrant life, is the struggle of an immigrant parent that does not necessarily come easy. In fact, it can be an opposite of what immigrant parents change countries for. There is a lack of support system, a "village" that helps model a belief system for the kids and it has a huge unseen effect on decisions parents make for their kids. It is often a constant battle between moral values vs social values.

Cultural parenting influences a lot of traits embedded under our skin. They flow in us like genes, passed from generation to the next, making us who we are.

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Parenting in a country where very little is known about the culture we follow, often invokes a lot of doubt in me.
As any immigrant parent would agree with me, culture has an above and beyond impact on the way we shape our child’s life and it is imperative to teach these kids to distinguish between the need of regulating from the cultural philosophy versus the outer world philosophy, to switch between the two for the betterment when desired. We need to nourish them in a way they have a feeling of belongingness and a belief system to fall back to.

Belonging to a minority religion that not many people know of in the country you live, makes it hard for the kids to relate to their roots. For example, I don’t want my kids to be shy of eating the food that we eat because it smells different among other kids. I don’t want them to feel left out on the zest of celebrating different festivals than the rest of the country. I want him to learn his culture as a TOOL to shape him towards becoming a better human being, to instill the values that will help him in life. Because this is the only culture I know and I am capable of teaching him, I want him to embrace it the way we do.

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I see parents like us making more efforts than they would in their own countries. Because it does not come naturally like it would in their countries of origin with the people of same religious beliefs. But it becomes important for kids to know their roots and yet thrive on the beauty of diversity!

Here are a few ways that can help with cultural parenting and help our kids understand our roots:

1. Cultural play:

Introducing toys that are the core of our culture, that relate to most talked about things in our family and extended family and friends back home It helps forming a common ground of how they perceive things, common things to talk about and to relate to.

2. Learning Activities:

Learning activities offer a great opportunity to open a cultural dialogue. You can answer their questions, have them see the beauty of their culture and let them connect to it in a fun way! Some of the examples include coloring God pictures, holy scenes, making/ coloring costumes, etc. Playing games that are culture focused like bingo, flash cards, etc.

3. Reading books/ story telling:

Books are the best approach to teach kids about various aspects of our culture and honestly, anything. There are such amazing books available that have beautiful illustrations to make it easy for kids to understand and to catch their interests. Some books are informative while some teach them through story telling. But seeing the same culture or even a character represented in a book by your culture will fascinate them and make them feel included! I came across a really good book by author Becky Cummings, My Magical Foods. All her books are pretty diverse in the illustrations. This particular book had a character dressed in our traditional dress and my toddler immediately pointed it out to me. He was excited to see what was in the book and he felt so included.

4. Celebrating cultural festivals:
I know that life gets busy and the spirit of our cultural festivals might not be the same. But I encourage you to do as much as you can at home, make the delicious festive dishes, decorate your home, dress up, get together as a family and worship, meet your friends, attend the cultural fairs, participate in any festivities happening in your city, buy gifts for each other, etc. Do all you can to make it feel like a festival.

These festivities bring the cultural spirit at home and bring positive changes in the atmosphere. Kids learn to bond, spend quality time with family and create memories when we have traditions at home. Experiencing and learning the importance of these festivities at home has far more impact than simply reading books. Most importantly, they live a small part of our culture, that is followed back home and that is also a part of our childhood and upbringing.

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5. Talking:
This is an old school way that our Grandma used to instill values in us. As simple as it sounds, conversations about our experiences back home, stories from our childhood, answering their questions with our best knowledge, values that our culture teaches us and lastly, asking them questions to know what they think. I also recommend using some old tales like not touching books by your feet, respecting teachers (gurus), etc. because they are the core of our culture.

6. Language:

If kids can learn even one common language that we speak back home, they will connect with people so much more. Speaking in a mother tongue at home can help them have a better, deep, meaningful and heart to heart conversations with their grand parents, cousins or anyone they like speaking to back home. I know that many parents find it more convenient to teach them English first, but living in an English speaking country, they will eventually pick up. If we teach them English first, the chances of learning a mother tongue language then are slim, especially when nobody outside of home speaks in that language.

7. Food:
There is not a single culture that I know of, that doesn’t celebrate food. Food is the essence of our culture. And luckily it is the easiest cultural parenting tool there is!

Its important that our kids learn to love our food and celebrate its variety from diverse areas of our country. Its important that they see the difference between the food from our land and the food from country we reside in. Its important that they learn to respect the differences, know where it comes from, which will further instill confidence in them to eat what they love, to introduce their food to their friends and be proud in their culture. We cannot have our kids be reluctant in making food choices on the basis of smell, appearance or the way of eating.

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8. Extra curricular activities:

Enroll kids for an activity that they are interested in that is in its finest form the essence and the spine of any culture- dance, singing, playing instruments, etc. We are so fortunate to have so many diverse, multi cultural learning classes in many major cities from some of the best artists. And we are also very fortunate to have virtual classes now a days that we can avail literally from anywhere in the world.

9. Day to day:

Lastly, kids learn a lot from what they see their adults practice and the routine we make at home. Simple things like how we greet people, playing/ singing a prayer in the morning, taking them to the place of worship often, singing a lullaby in your own language, how we treat our guests, etc can make a deeper connection culture- wise.

Cultural parenting is a way of life that we live and teach to our kids. It is a way of teaching them values that we have learned from our ancestors, parents and experiences in life. We use it as a tool that can be used in shaping our kids to be better humans. It is NOT about teaching them a particular religion and coercing them to follow it. That is a choice they make. 

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I like to connect my readers to local community. I write on topics including home décor and organization, parenting, lifestyle, entertainment, local and more. I am a huge advocate of supporting locally owned small businesses. Find me @the.momhood.tales on Instagram where I like to share my passion for home décor with motherhood in the mix.

Dallas, TX
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