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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Multicultural Parenting (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

Today, many people are raising children in a multicultural home. Multicultural homes can have many different forms. It can be an immigrant family struggling to negotiate between their native and adopted cultures, or each parent having different ethnicity, but raising kids in a new culture, or adopting children from different cultures, or parents and children being in the same culture, but now have to deal with a new situation that exposes them to a different culture, etc.  In our evolving world, the different types of multicultural families are endless and the challenges this presents in parenting are significant.  
Having migrated to the US from Nepal as a child with my family, I know firsthand the struggle we went through not only to understand the American culture, but also to negotiate between the Nepali and American cultures.  We were building the plane and flying it at the same time, so to speak! These two cultures are so different from one another in terms of their values, social norms, parenting strategies, etc. that it was a major transition for us all.  For example, maintaining harmony in social interactions is a major guiding principle in the Nepali culture whereas sincerity is valued in an American culture. Therefore, children are encouraged to suppress their feelings in order to avoid conflicts and maintain harmony in familial relationships in the Nepali culture.  However, in the American culture children are encouraged to be open and share their feelings with parents, especially during conflicts.  If children were to do this in a Nepali culture, they would be seen as being disrespectful to their elders and potentially selfish for putting their needs above their parents’ or family’s needs.  While the Nepalese parents are thinking this, their children may be thinking that their parents are being unreasonable and inconsiderate themselves.  You can see how this would create tension when parents are trying to reconcile the two opposing values from two very different cultures.
In the simplest form, I believe these conflicts are the result of a major cultural gap compounded by a generational gap.  If both the parents and children understand this dynamic, then they will be in a better position in resolving their differences.  So, the big question is: how do we resolve the differences between two cultures?  As a person who was raised in a multicultural home and now practicing multicultural parenting myself, here are some practices I feel are important.

5 Strategies in Multicultural Parenting

1. Take the best of both worlds approach. Every culture has its positives and negatives, and choosing to incorporate the positives into our parenting have been key.  

2.  Do not pit the native culture against the adopted culture. When parents insist that their native culture is superior to the adopted culture, then they are just asking for trouble (a.k.a. Rebellion, Rebellion, Rebellion!).  It is a very tough place for a child to choose between their parents’ wishes and all of the great things the new culture has to offer.   So, why should they have to choose? As parents, we can not afford to feel threatened, but instead have confidence in ourselves that we are doing what is in the best interest for our children and family regardless of the societal pressure that may be pulling us in different directions.

3.   Engage your children in learning about your native culture in fun and meaningful ways.  Introducing them to native music, food, books, clothing, people, and arts are some great ways parents can communicate pride about the native culture and encourage children to embrace it in a positive way.

4.  Do not force the native culture on your child. Like many things with children, they will resist if they feel parents are forcing it on them.  I have heard it too many times from adults that they would have pursued something if their parents had not encroached it upon them. Sure, some kids may appear to embrace their native culture because of parental pressure and do whatever is being asked of them, but at some point in their lives they are likely to rebel against this.  Just imagine all of the hard work that went into instilling the native values only to find later that your child rebels and rejects your native culture. This is heartbreaking, so use your parental authority wisely.  

5. Embrace the adopted culture. Parents are the most influential people in a child’s life so why not provide good modeling by engaging in the adopted culture in a positive and meaningful way. When children see the parents accept the adopted culture’s people, music, arts, food, etc. then they too, will feel comfortable doing it.  Children will be pulled to the positive side of the new culture if the positive side is exposed to them.  If such exposure does not occur, then parents and children both are likely to have anxieties about the adopted culture. The fear of the unknown is a powerful force, do not let it pull you!


  1. The problem comes in when parents and kids can't agree on what's positive & what's negative.

    From my experience, it's not so much about culture, but the moral values that people develop as they grow up. It's definitely true that a person's culture influences him/her but it's easy enough to have two people of the same culture with different values or different cultures, similar values.

    My husband and I grew up in different types of cultures, different types of parents, different races, different... almost everything! But by the time we met, our philosophies & moral values were so similar, it was eerie! Obviously we don't agree on everything, but we tend to agree on politics, religion, how to live our lives, how to raise our children & even good books & other entertainment. Sadly he hates country music...

    But what we hope works is to be consistent in our words & action. It's very cliche. We say what we mean and mean what we say. We don't lie to him. We tell him what we believe and let him make up his own mind, with lots of guiding.

    We can just hope that he sees that our way has led us to leading very happy lives. And that he chooses it over whatever else is available to him. But in the end, as parents, it would be hard to argue with any choices he makes that are healthy and make him happy.

  2. Laxmi13: I'm so glad you raise the issue of what's "positive" and "negative"... these are indeed relative terms. And yes, 100% agree that consistency is very important in teaching kids family values. I would say that consistency is one of the most important and universal ingredient in parenting. When parents are consistent with their kids and with each other, then tackling issues due to cultural differences (or whatever else) becomes much easier. Keep up the good work in your parenting!

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