Ever thought about how you and your partner’s different cultural baggage can lead to interesting discussions about what your children will or won’t be allowed to do? I am convinced that your own childhood sets the stage for what you will let your children do. In multicultural families, that can be a pretty complex mix.
If both parents come from a similar cultural background, they will likely have similar ideas on raising children. Of course, mum and dad might have wildly different characters. One might be cautious, the other wild. One might be artistic, the other more pragmatic. All of that influences your children.
Managing the degrees of freedom for your children depends on how your characters complement each others. I guess that’s pretty obvious. But there’s another, more profound influence at work: social standards.
Monocultural partners will have similar social standards, a foundation that is rock solid. They will argue about details, of course, but there is no need to question the underlying assumptions. No need to discuss the big picture as they’ll likely agree on it.
Most couples are not aware of any of this. It just works, much like gravity.
It takes a multicultural relationship to realise that sometimes no common ground exists. Compatibility of social standards is no longer a given if your partner’s background is different from yours, which leads to a lot of discussions about seemingly basic things.
One example that will come up soon and that my wife and I will have to discuss is sleepovers. For her there is no such thing, whereas I am pretty sure I had sleepovers at the age of four, if not earlier.
Where I would expect a discussion about when and how exactly our six-year-old daughter might stay with her best friend, my wife first has to establish whether that will happen at all. Our different backgrounds mean that we have to discuss and sometimes defend the values or judgements that most of our peers never even think about.
I find it really hard to rationally discuss the pros and cons of whether our daughter should be allowed on a sleepover, mostly because, well, of course she should! I mean why not? In my world, children sleep at their best friend’s place. It’s just totally normal. Also in my world, parents can generally be trusted. I never had to really question any of this.
My worst case scenario would be our daughter waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to go home, in which case I would pick her up, no big deal. But my wife has a different worst case scenario in her mind, one that I cannot possibly guess. And because there are no sleepovers in her world, she doesn’t ask “why not?” but “why would we allow that?”
Where I approach the question from the “of course” angle and then think about whether there is any reason why she shouldn’t go, my wife comes from the opposite direction: “Find me a good reason why she should.” Tricky.
And then there’s the outside pressure as kids at school will start having sleepovers soon. Although, if I’m totally honest, I don’t know how these things work in the U.K. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. If anything it’ll be interesting…