When parents from different cultures come together, love rules.
I am a South African of Scottish descent married to a South African of Indian descent. We’ve been together for 20 years, but we survived the Immorality Act and managed to live (together) through the Group Areas Act. We worked out ways to accommodate religious and cultural differences in our relationship. We had Christian and Hindu wedding ceremonies. I learnt to tie a sari and make a good curry and my husband has worn tartan and even eaten haggis on occasion (more than I do!). We thought we’d mastered the art of celebrating and embracing differences. Then we became parents.
The first big parenting issue was sleeping arrangements. In my Western family, babies sleep in their cot in their own room. In my husband’s more Eastern family, babies sleep with their parents in the family bed. So, what about our child? We decided to co-sleep, not because we wanted to follow my husband’s traditions, but because we felt it was right for us and our child. It was also practical. I was breastfeeding and it was much easier to just roll over and plug him on instead of getting up in the middle of the night and stumbling down the passage.
The second big parenting issue was feeding. I was a bottle-fed baby and so were my sisters. My husband and all his siblings were breastfed. We decided to breastfeed. Again, it was our choice, not influenced by my in-laws. I wanted to nurture our baby by breastfeeding him and felt it would help us to be close. I am delighted to say that my family were very supportive of our choice to breastfeed.
However, that choice raised the question of the length of time that it is culturally acceptable for a mother to breastfeed her baby. In my husband’s family breastfeeding happens until the next child is on the way. My family felt that babies with teeth should no longer be breastfeeding. Then when our son passed that developmental milestone and still continued to nurse, they felt that a child who could ask to be breastfed should no longer be breastfeeding. Well, our son had “babboo”, as he called the breast, until he was 3 ½ which meant that from when he was 2 every conversation with my family started with “Have you got him off the breast yet?”
I’m making it sound like cross-cultural parenting is full of obstacles. It also has advantages. One advantage of cross-cultural parenting is that naming the grandparents is easy. Mummy’s parents are Granny and Grandpa and Daddy’s parents are Pathy and Thata. Granny and Grandpa spoil your child with tablet (a Scottish sweet) and a toy Loch Ness monster and Pathy and Thata spoil him with moorkhoo (an Indian snack) and a baby tabila (an Indian drum).
And that brings me to the most important lesson I’ve learnt about cross-cultural parenting, it doesn’t matter what your culture is, East or West, parenting with love is best!
How do you honour different cultures within your own family? Does this cause conflict?
Tracy Blues is the proud 40-something-year-old Mummy of a boisterous 4-year-old son. When she's not parenting or being a wife, she is a freelance editor and writer.