blog series · Growing up in a multicultural family · interviews · multicultural families · multilingualism

Growing up in a multicultural family. Multiculturalism as a child and as a mother: Katerina’s experience

Since when I became a mother, I’ve kept wondering how will our multicultural family influence our children’s cultural identity. Adopting our son from India has added a new layer to this. How will R and E culturally define themselves as adults? What actions can I take as a parent to help them navigate through their identity building journey? I am blessed with many friends from other countries and cultures, and some of them were so kind to share their story with me for my new blog series “Growing up in a multicultural family“.

Katerina contacted me from The Netherlands with a rich story about cultural identity. She was born in Switzerland to a Spanish mother and a German father. Her family lived a couple of years in Germany, and then moved to Brussels, which, she explains, “is very multicultural and it’s not Flemish, it’s not Walloon, it’s not German, it’s Brussels“. She attended the European school in the Belgian capital, which introduced her to several different cultures and an underlying message of respecting diversity. That meant also “to put your own national values, the things that make you German, Spanish, to put them aside and adopt broader values where everybody fits in”. She and her three sisters grew up in a neighbourhood she defines as “Belgian and to a certain degree Arabic”. When they lived in Switzerland, her parents used to talk French to each other. After moving to Germany, her mother learned German language and started regularly speaking it at home with her children and husband. While they were living in Belgium, she was the main carer. As a result, Katerina tells me she doesn’t speak Spanish and her main language is German, even though she learned it through a non-native speaker. She describes her situation as “the disconnect of speaking one language [German] and not really knowing what it means to be a German kid”. She feels she missed many key experiences of growing up as a German child, like kindergarten songs, TV programmes, children’s books. At the same time, she didn’t experience the Spanish upbringing or Belgian education, which placed her in the middle of all these cultures: “My parents didn’t think how the different cultures fitted with each other”.

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Katerina and her husband, in Marocco.

While in school she met her future husband, who belonged to an Irish family. They have four daughters together aged from 3 years to 8 years old, all born and raised in The Netherlands. Tragically, he passed away in late 2016. Beside the trauma of losing her spouse, Katerina found herself with many questions regarding the cultural identity of her children. Given her personal history, she is fully aware of the power of roots and strongly feels the responsibility to introduce her children to their father’s birth culture. Katerina and her husband used to speak English with each other and, as a consequence, the family culture leaned more towards the Irish side. She had some strategies in place to foster German culture already and recently she found herself having to set up similar patterns to enforce the Irish cultural roots, which she is little familiar with. “Since my husband passed away, my struggle has been to give the kids enough Irish culture that they can have the roots if they want to, while not knowing anything about being an Irish kid [myself]”. For instance, her daughters have visited their maternal grandmother in Ireland last summer and Katerina is planning to send them to Gaelic camps later on: “the language is the vehicle to be part of the culture”. She perceives her children feel mostly Irish.

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One of Katerina’s girls, during a holiday in US.

Katerina makes conscious choices about exposing her girls to different cultures, maybe also due to her professional background as a researcher in professional and social identity, which includes exploring minorities and the impact of cultural identity at work. “I think that helped me to reflect on what happened”.
Her opinion is that growing in a multicultural family “is an asset because it provides you flexibility to find a place you can call home”. She says sometimes she’s jealous of people who have defined origins, but adds, “[a multicultural family] gives you the tools to build the strong roots you choose to have”. She advises fellow parents to rely on children’s books. I totally agree, that’s our favourite and most effective communication tool.

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The girls meet their youngest sister minutes after she was born.

This interview provided me with plenty of insights about how a child, and later an adult, can feel about growing up in a multicultural environment. After talking to Katerina, I am stronger in my belief that we parents can have a huge impact on how our children feel. Being an expat I’m familiar with the constant discomfort of not having a place to truly call home and I don’t want that for my kids. At the same time, when Katerina shared how her mother put aside her birth culture when raising her children, it didn’t feel like a convenient trade-off. We cannot ignore our birth culture is the one we know the most and can truly impart to our children. I am grateful to Katerina for sharing her unique point of view and also her painful experiences to the benefit of other parents. You can read more about Katerina’s family life and story on her blog, or follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

If you liked this post, you may want to check out the others in this series.
Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Shank You Very Much

12 thoughts on “Growing up in a multicultural family. Multiculturalism as a child and as a mother: Katerina’s experience

  1. I am not from a multicultural background but i actually can see how it will be an asset. Like she said you have options and can choose which one you want to have strong roots in, plus potential to learn about more cultures and languages

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t grow up in a multicultural family! But I love your tips. I’m black and my husband is German American but he doesn’t really have any traditions and neither do I. Your blog gives me interest in finding out a little more on my husband and I background so that we may teach our children. Great read! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree that having a multicultural background is a total asset. My kids are half Dominican and half Polish. They’re getting exposed to two different cultures and languages, which is going to give them a bigger perspective on the world. It’s a big priority to my husband and me that they learn both of our cultures. You made a very important point in your blog!

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  4. Although I am half-French it means little to me having never learned the language and having lived in the UK since I was two (and was born in the UK to a British mother). Even so, I noticed my world-view is so much wider than my wife, whose family is 100% British (Scottish to be precise). My family also lives all over the world: UK, France, USA etc. This has given my kids a much broader world view and a much broader world view. While my French is truly awful, I still insist on teaching the few words I know to my kids. This has put them at a distinct advantage compared to their peers at school.

    Oh, one further thing, if you’re British and can align yourself with another European culture, there’s never been a better time to do so. There’s this little thing called Brexit. if you can raise your children accepting they have a colourful heritage, you should do so!

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  5. My daughter is growing up in a multicultural home with me being Colombian and my husband being of Dominican parents. We both speak Spanish fluently and hope my daughter picks it up. I loved reading your friend’s story. It’s very tragic and unfortunate about her husband but I’m glad she’s found comfort in raising her daughters with them being familiar with their background’

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  6. Good post. 🙂 I think it’s important to try to balance cultures and give your child/ren a sense of both of/all their background/s. I’m mixed race, my mum is (white) English and my dad was (black) Cameroonian. I was born in Southern Africa and also lived in Fiji, but my mum came back to England with me when I was 4 and I didn’t have much contact with my dad. I would have liked to have known more about my dad’s family growing up, but these days I’m in touch with a cousin (originally from Cameroon but he lives in America) who has told me stuff, so that’s been good.

    #brilliantblogposts

    Like

  7. While our family is not multicultural, I have friends whose families are. They have learned so much from each other, in particular, a friend who adopted 5 children from Haiti! Diversity is such a good thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Katherina’s story is amazing and she is making an admirable effort to offer her children all sides of their cultural background. This is a really interesting post. I am Welsh and my partner is Scottish but we live in England. We make an effort to teach our daughter about Welsh and Scottish traditions, but unfortunately we don’t speak the languages ourselves. My husband grew up in England and I notice he is less attached to his roots than I am. I feel my daughter will learn more Welsh heritage than she will Scottish if we carry on as we are, so I will make an effort to address this. #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What an interesting story and a great topic for a blog post! My family has very clear roots in England, but my husbands family is a real mix of cultures and upbringings. I think culture and heritage are really important and do help to define who we are and give us a sense of belonging. It’s important to embrace all parts of ourselves as much as we can, and to pass that on to our children #blogcrush

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  10. I do think exposing kids to the cultures of your family, as well as the world, can help them to succeed later in life and feel a strong sense of connection. And the world would be kinder if people didn’t always hate on the “different” or “strange” cultures that they were not exposed to. I am white, my parents both raised in New Jersey, and I was raised solely in Hawai’i. It gives me a completely different perspective from those around me since I was immersed in so many different Asian cultures growing up AND experiencing all the culture of my own family. It is truly a benefit. #GlobalBlogging

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