Expat Story: Culture clashing with your kids

Expat Story: Culture clashing with your kids

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Bi-cultural couples have much to share and learn from each other – when the kids come, which cultural aspects will you choose to raise your children?

Bi-cultural couples have so much to share and learn from each other — so romantic…Then the kids come and the sharing and learning lead to profound questions like: which is worse to feed your kids, peanut butter or Nutella?

In spite of the fact that I married a man from a country I had never visited before knowing him, whose native language I did not speak, and whose ways might as well have been of martian origins for all I knew about them, our cultural differences have never caused any problems to speak of.

At best, our different ways of doing things and looking at the world were novelties to discover, compare, and talk about; at worst, they made for minor nuisances.

For example, my inability to properly re-wrap a circle of Camembert (how is it that the paper is more difficult to get around a piece of cheese that is technically smaller than it was when I started?) once seemed like a minor, charming quirk — I'm missing that gene, so what? But no more...

From Day One we simply did things differently, and that was that. No big deal. No big deal, that is, until we had children.
Having a child in the house, especially now that he has begun to talk, has made me understand that the cultural gap between mommy and daddy may not be so small nor so insignificant after all.

In fact, it is now crystal clear that nothing — and I mean nothing — will highlight and magnify (and sometimes introduce a sharp note of discord) into an international couple's cultural differences like the raising of children together.

From dressing the children to go outside in April (he bundles them up, I strip them down to practically nothing) to our code-speak when out for a mundane day of grocery shopping, there is very little we do in exactly the same way.

The other day, for example, we're out at Carrefour and I try to indicate to my husband that it might be a good idea to avoid the t-o-y department. But this age-old parenting ploy ends up having the opposite of the intended effect because, while daddy stops to process tee-oh-why (when it's pronounced tay-oh-eegrecque in French), means that our toddler has already had time to discover and entrench himself in the t-o-y department all by himself.

It's the same thing when encountering all my children's various care-givers.

Not long ago, when we were still living in Paris, the 'lecture' I received from my son's nursery school teachers for sending him to school every day with a peanut butter sandwich brought my immigrant status to the forefront of my mind. (Trop gras, n'est-ce pas? Um, excuse me, but what about the Nutella you liberally slather on the other kids' bread, is that what you call health food?)

And it's not just on the French side of the genetic equation that I notice these things; my son is old enough now where I can feel the cultural disconnect even between him and myself.

Recently, I was sitting on the floor putting together a map puzzle of the United States. I caught myself looking at the completed map and saying, 'Look! That's where we come from…' 

Well…actually, no.

That's where mommy comes from. Neither of my two children were born in the United States nor remember ever having lived there.

Here in France, there will be no yellow school buses picking them up each day, they will not store their books in lockers at school, they will never know a pep rally, there will be no prom.

Like an unsuspecting team from a northern state stuck playing a game in Florida's summer heat, my children's mother (that is, me) no longer has the home advantage.

The realisation that I won't be like the other mothers is sinking in. The things I teach them don't — and won't — mesh with what 'everyone else' says.

As they grow, we will share no cultural references, and lately, with my son approaching his third birthday, he himself is starting to understand this.

Yesterday, we were practicing our numbers, and I held up my index and middle finger – to indicate two bugs – but was met with a solemn 'no, mama'…and a toddler holding up a thumb and index finger instead.

Corrected on how to count on my fingers by an almost-three-year-old. How do you like that?

Expat / Expatica

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2 Comments To This Article

  • Lauren posted:

    on 5th November 2014, 03:57:29 - Reply

    Can you still put peanut butter on your children's sandwich for lunch at school in Europe ? Big No No !! in Australia , because of allergies !
  • Jo posted:

    on 2nd January 2012, 06:24:39 - Reply

    You are right - children really do complicate things. That's true even when both parents are, say, American, but the children have spent their entire lives in, say, Zurich. All went well (Mom ruled the home front) until, after four years, Dad learned excellent Schwytsertuutsch (sp?). At the same time, the girls were picking it up at their nursery school. It was thrilling to them to learn that Dad could talk that way! Suddenly, Mom is out of the loop. Can't get into the conversation, because all the Swiss she encountered wanted to practice their English on her or spoke HochDeutsch. That caused a great sinking feeling.