Navigating parenting in multicultural families: intentions and reflections

A writer spoke with three multicultural couples on their philosophies and experiences on parenting, family, and identity.

The faces of North American families no longer look the same as they did a century ago. They are becoming increasingly more multicultural. Not only are ethnic groups on the rise, multiracial Americans are growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole. By 2045, the multiracial population in the US will outnumber white people.

Currently, we are immersed in a time of increased racial awareness and tension. Exposure to a wide spectrum of culture, especially at a young age, can break down barriers and foster inclusion and acceptance. Many multiracial individuals see their personal background as a bridge to openness and understanding of different groups of people.

As the cultural landscape becomes more colourful, parents have an active role in shaping the next generation. Cold Tea Collective sat down virtually with three multicultural families, each at a different stage of their parenting journey. We discussed how they are connecting their children with their heritage, navigating cultural differences, and helping the next generation to build a strong sense of personal identity. 

Nancy & Kris Cueto, Parents to Jayden (7 months)

Toronto, Canada

Multicultural family: Filipino dad with Taiwanese mother holding their young son on her lap. A dog is next to the father.
Photo submitted.

Passing down family traditions

Fam jams are a huge part of the Filipino culture. Kris’ extended family used to get together every weekend. There’s always a ton of people and food. Everyone brings Tupperware containers and packs them in at the end of the night. We hope the next generation – Jayden and his cousins – can maintain that tradition.

We want Jayden to have the affection from his Filipino side and the language from his Taiwanese side. Our families are very different. I [Nancy] grew up with a traditional Taiwanese mom who bickers about anything, whereas Kris’ parents rarely argue in front of the kids. His family is bigger than mine and they are very affectionate with each other, which was a huge culture shock for me. As Kris says, Filipinos are very expressive people. He hugs and kisses all his aunts and uncles. 

Even though I didn’t celebrate all the Taiwanese traditions or spoke a lot of Mandarin before, I am doing all of that now for him. I am learning more about the two cultures, so I can be a good role model for him.

Best of both worlds

We really have the best of both worlds. Because we have different upbringings, we can pick and choose what we like, especially when they are opposing. My parents like to give us lots of advice, and we listen out of respect but we take whatever gold nuggets of wisdom and adapt them to our style. As first-time parents, we make informed choices together.

Choice is a luxury our parents didn’t have. Our families grew up poor, so talking to you and learning about how to parent you was not their priority – it was getting you to school. I don’t have any resentment since that was a different time, but we need to reprogram ourselves to break out of these toxic cycles.

100% Canadian

To us, our son is always going to be half Taiwanese, half Filipino, and 100% Canadian. When it comes to navigating his identity, I would like him to know that he has both sides and not take things too seriously when it comes to defining who he is.

See also: Ketchup and Soya Sauce is an intimate exploration of interracial relationships in Canada

Nathania & Sheldon Bernard, Parents to Claire (4)

Cleveland, Ohio

A multicultural family: a Jamaican father, Chinese mother, and the daughter sits on the father’s lap.
Photo submitted.

Values over cultures

Culture isn’t so important to us, but the values we instill in our children are. I [Nathania] think most people will want to be remembered at our funeral as the most compassionate or most humorous person others have ever met, and not the most exemplary Chinese or Jamaican person.

When we look at it that way, struggling with differences in our cultures and how they fit into raising our child isn’t a huge issue anymore. It’s more about what aspects of the two cultures fit into the value system we want to instill into our daughter.

For instance, the ethics of hard work runs in both cultures. Jamaicans are known to have more than one job, just like Chinese people. Both cultures have a career trinity where you are expected to enter into a career in law, engineering, or medicine. So this cultural ethic of hard work and academia would be something we would want to teach our daughter. 

Creating your own family culture

There were more challenges when Sheldon and I first started our relationship and when we were newlyweds. Introducing him to my family was a stressful experience, even more so than the wedding. Luckily, grandmother loved him and my dad was cracking jokes with him by the end of the night.

There is this subtle insinuation in the Chinese culture that you should not marry a Black man, but instead, you should marry someone of your culture. The assumption is that you would have similar values if you married someone with the same culture, which is not true at all.

We had a conversation about raising kids pretty early on in the relationship. What we resolved to do was to create our own family culture. From the very beginning we’ve been teaching our daughter to not worry about fitting into one particular box, because no one ever does. Both Sheldon and I struggled with fitting in growing up. It is to our daughter’s benefit to know that she should not place “fitting-in” high in her personal expectations.

Identity journey starts from self-esteem

The most important thing is to provide Claire with a solid foundation of her value system. We want to help her to see that it isn’t the skin tone or the curliness of her hair that matters. I also try to point things out and explain that they are normal. I tell her that her hair is curly like daddy’s. Recently, I even found her a Black artist Barbie doll. Ethnic Barbies are really hard to find!

It’s going to be a journey of helping her with her identity. It’s not just a talk here and there at a certain age, but giving her the much-needed self-esteem by encouraging her in what she’s talented in.Being open to sharing our own experiences growing up will be important in helping her to tackle these experiences as well. 

Oftentimes, parents may feel that they have to look perfect in the eyes of their children, but Sheldon and I often wished that our parents had shared more about their earlier life so we could have learned from their perspectives and understood their reasoning.

See also: Identity through the eyes of a Black Asian: life at the crossroads

Tricia & Jeffrey Joseph, Parents to Marley (21), John (20), Christopher (17), Mikey (16)

Richmond, BC

Parents: a Filipina wife with her white husband.
Photo submitted.

Mixing Filipino and the white ways

I [Tricia] found a partner who is different culturally but has the same family values. My husband is white – his mother is Italian and father was Irish German. He is the youngest of 6 and I was the youngest of 4. That big family dynamic is very similar. It’s family first and family all the time.

I am close to my parents, because they live in the same city. They will just show up at my house without asking first. I’ve even given them a key to our house. Thankfully, that’s okay with my husband! His family lives in the US. Since the kids don’t see that side of the family as often, they make an effort to sit and spend quality time with them whenever they visit.

In our family, we joke that there is a white way vs. a Filipino way of doing things. After spending time with my family, my husband has adopted more of the Filipino culture. For example, we let our kids stay up until midnight at family gatherings.

Normalizing diversity

Richmond is so diverse. One year, we counted a total of 19 cultures in our school. Our kids don’t look at race or relationships in the same way as our generation. For example, they don’t look at us as interracial couple; they don’t put labels on relationships.

We think that what is lacking in racial conversation is equality. You can distinguish the differences and still treat everyone equally. We make an effort to point out ethnicity in their true nature. Seeing family cultures that are different and similar to their own normalizes diversity for them. For example, my sister is married to a Greek [person], whereas my older brother married a Filipino.

Building resilience through family connection

A mixed family: Filipina mother in between a son and daughter on the left and two more sons on her right.
Photo submitted.

My kids feel closer to the Filipino culture than the Canadian white dominant world, because they are best friends with their cousins (their total age gap is six year). They have a group chat, and they relate good times and love with family.

Kids are witnessing so much racial tension. They are experiencing racism and learning about history. I know they are appalled by it. They are blessed to grow up in a time where the young people within their immediate communities do not feel the division. Having a deep family connection will help them become resilient to challenges that may come their way.

See also: hot for food’s Lauren Toyota on her career journey, racial identity, and new cookbook

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