HOW PARENTS FROM DIFFERING CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS CAN COMPLEMENT ONE ANOTHER’S APPROACH TO RAISING KIDS
By Dr. Nate Balfanz
Dr. Nate Balfanz is the Senior Clinical Psychologist at American Medical Center (AMC), a comprehensive mental and medical health service clinic for expat children, adolescents, adults, and families living in Shanghai. For more information on clinic services, contact Dr. Nate at: Nate.Balfanz@amc-shanghai.cn.
HOW CAN PARENTS FROM DIFFERING CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS EFFECTIVELY COMPLIMENT ONE ANOTHER’S APPROACH TO RAISING THEIR KIDS?
Culture consists of a myriad of factors, including but not limited to—traditions and customs, morals, language, faith and spiritual practice, geography, as well as generational influences which will in turn shape a person’s behaviors, belief systems, and ultimately the ways in which they interpret the world. When taking into consideration all of these complex variables, it should be of no surprise that the already challenging task of being a parent can be exacerbated when you have two partners whose own upbringing and cultural heritage are not reflective of one another. As a mental health professional working in a multicultural community like Shanghai, I find myself repeatedly encountering parents from differing cultural backgrounds, in addition to witnessing it in my circle of friends who also happen to be parents. As a husband in an intercultural marriage of my own, my wife and I will frequently discuss how growing our own little family will be influenced in large part by the vastly different environments in which we were reared. So how do we as parents find a common cultural ground with our partners by which to raise our kids?
WHAT THE RESEARCH TELLS US
“With so much emphasis on identification of differences among peoples, it is easy to forget that nearly all parents regardless of culture seek to lead happy, healthy, fulfilled parenthoods and to rear happy, healthy, fulfilled children,” notes senior investigator and cross-cultural parenting expert Dr. Marc Bornstein of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.A.). Dr. Bornstein indicates the method by which parents can achieve this is by not only considering their own cultural experiences and upbringing, but more importantly to recognize and understand the modern cultural climate in which their child is living. As he puts it, “Both parents and children are required to be flexible in order to appropriately select, edit, and re-fashion cultural information” in order to become what he calls “culturally competent members of their society.” In other words, while the cultural backgrounds and practices of each parent are to be respected and cooperatively incorporated in their child rearing practices, a greater emphasis should be placed on examining how those traditional cultural elements do or do not fit in with their child’s daily living experience.
TIPS TO SUPPORT CULTURALLY COOPERATIVE PARENTING
1) Increase your personal cultural awareness. Spend some time in thoughtful consideration of your own cultural upbringing and how it has impacted who you are today. What elements of your experience were helpful in navigating the oft-turbulent waters of childhood? Which ones were not? Discuss this with your partner, and consider together how it can positively inform your approach to parenting.
2) Maintain Healthy Boundaries .Whether it be grandparents, friends, teachers, or the many other well-intentioned individuals in your family’s life, everyone seems to have their own insights and advice as to how to best raise your children. And while we can graciously thank those supportive others for sharing their feedback, ultimately it is up to the parents to determine which culturally informed methods are most appropriate for raising their kids.
3) Focus on developing your child’s own cultural identity. A primary struggle for children as they age is in how to develop esteem and a strong self-concept, with culture dictating to a significant degree how that will play out. The aim here is for parents to help their children forge their own unique identities rooted in equal parts of each partner’s cultural heritage, while also considering how this fits in the context of the modern cultural climate.