During the first three years of life, a baby transitions from complete physical dependence to independence with a majority of basic self-help and motor skill. At around 3 years old, the toddler will begin to develop imaginations and language skills. Keep in mind that every child grows and develops at a different pace, and every child carries different personalities; I believe the lessons and challenges we encounter will be changed by parenting style, kid’s growing stage, and character as well. This article is about the experience I have to learn in raising an under three-year-old toddler in a multicultural family.
I am a third culture kid and have a close affiliation with various countries. At the same time, my husband, Daniel, grew up in a Brazilian- Catalan mixed culture environment, we have two toddlers. If having two people interacting with each other for an extended period will experience tension, imagine how challenging it can be to have two different cultures raising toddlers.
In general, there is not much difference in raising a toddler in a multicultural family. For the most part, we are educating our children to do the right thing and develop self-care at this stage of their life.
There is 5 crucial lesson we have learned so far, and we are still learning:
Language has always been an issue. Our families speak different languages. My native language is Mandarin, Daniel speaks Portuguese and Catalan. Daniel and I speak English between us.
We have to spend in-depth research on raising a multilingual child (English, Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish) and also have been advised by several parents multilingual children are often experience delays in their language development or conversational skills. Like the first time parent, we understand that it will be late, but we are always concern about how late?
Not only language development has been delayed, but we are also always guessing if she understands what we are saying. We are in doubt about all the techniques we are implementing, such as one parent one language.
The lesson is children do not become multilingual by “magic.” Yes, in the right circumstances children will naturally grow up to acquire the family languages, but the parents need to practice it consistently and patiently. “Magic” appears after my multilingual kid sort out her “language department,” she begins to communicate and respond to command in different languages.
Dealing with different parenting cultures
It is not easy for people to deal with different cultures, understanding their believes and norms, and now we need to take it even further to be in a marriage and raising a child. Naturally, it creates conflicts.
For example, most Taiwanese will go see a doctor for simple flu. As a first time Taiwanese mom, I always feel more comfortable sending kids to the doctor and make sure to recheck until the doctor agrees to stop the medicine. On the other hand, my husband, on some occasions, will feel like there is no need for all that, children are strong enough to fight minor symptoms without medicine.
The hygiene standard is another interesting point. Baby will reach the oral exploration stage at one point, which means putting everything in the mouth; The Ministry of Health and Welfare in Taiwan is making an effort educating good hygiene from a young age. Taiwanese parents are mostly aware of hand wash and try to cultivate a good habit of cleanliness. On the other hand, Daniel feels that I can let loose a little bit as most germs can stimulate the immune system and is good for children. (Picture me try to clean every toy drop on the floor while Daniel is rolling his eyes)
In this case, no matter it is applying in multicultural parenting or cross-cultural marriage. As parents and a married couple, we need to measure and find our balance to work things out.
Finding the Value and balance
Before moving to Spain, we were living in Tainan City, where most of my family lives, and Daniel’s Brazilian family is rather far away.
Preserve family harmony is the core element of Taiwanese family culture and remain interdependent among family members. However, Daniel was raised to be more independent from this perspective. My family tend to have a significant influence over my decision, I often advise parents for the important decision I make. While Daniel thinks that we are an individual, we can take parents’ suggestions but should not be influenced by them. We certainly feel like the influence between the two families is unbalance.
Many questions pop up when we first started the conversation about this. Wouldn’t it be better to live closer to grandparents? should we leave our primary support system and start a life somewhere else?
I think the biggest lesson I take away from this is I need to pull myself out and ask myself what kind of family I would like to create? It is very easy to get “stuck in” a comfortable situation and not making any changes. We have set our family goals, and we dream about living in Barcelona.
Food of interest
my older daughter has demonstrated a preference for western food while my younger daughter prefers Asian cuisine, such as more rice and noodle. Choosing food at home is a very interesting time of the day.
When my daughter turned 6 – 8 months, which is also a suitable timing to introduce solid food. I remember becoming very stressed about what kind of food I should be preparing to help my toddler develop “international taste.” I search online courses and youtube, trying to make my meal “authentic,” ingredients are generally hard to get, you spend time to debate over “Chinese chicken soup” or “western chicken soup.” In the end, my older daughter still became one of the pickiest eaters. After having my second child, I learn to take things easy and allow her to try almost any kind of “safe” and “suitable” food, stopped trying to categorize cuisine.
The most critical adjustment here is I have changed my approach, instead of trying to prepare a perfect authentic cuisine, I have learned to connect with the ingredients and normally choose seasonal foods. Seasonal foods are usually cheaper to buy when they are in season, and I can train my kids’ taste bud according to my recipe without feeling stress.
Parenting rule to adopt
This is the part we are still learning at this point, and I am sure there are many more to come. Daniel and I raise in two different parenting styles. Latin America versus Asia!
One of my favorite things about Brazil’s culture is how talkative and friendly everyone is, even to strangers. It’s so easy to strike up a conversation anywhere. On the other hand, parents and teachers teach us not to speak to a stranger, accept their food and of course, not to follow them. I have to emphasize my concern to my husband many times that even if I reinforce the consequences. Children usually learn from parents, and they may think it is fine to talk to someone they do not know.
I have a more Asian parenting style, focused more on manner and discipline. On the other hand, my husband is more relax and “let her be herself” parenting style. For example, no eating on the bed!
I want to end this by saying that the experience has been incredible. Multicultural family is also like every other family, we want the best for our children and always seeking opportunities for the family to grow together.