Surprising Challenges in Our Intercultural Marriage

In my last post I talked about ways my husband and I found intercultural marriage easier than we expected. Today I’m tackling the inverse — the hard stuff! As I was thinking about this post. all sorts of disclaimers came to mind. I kept procrastinating writing this because 1) I don’t want to generalize or stereotype any experience and 2) it’s hard to balance honesty with privacy. So after some brainstorming on my own, I asked my husband what he would include without showing him my list and both our lists included the same categories below! Always a good sign!

  1. Food: Before our marriage, I knew we would have differences in our experiences with food, but I never knew the extent to which those differences would matter! I will never forget one of our first major arguments of our young marriage 9 years ago. I came home from work and made soup from scratch with bread and salad on the side. I served it with great pride and smiled when my new husband said it was delicious. Then he asked, “what’s for the dinner?” I burst into tears because in my family soup and salad was often the main dinner. His mother, on the other hand, routinely makes 2 or 3 different meat dishes always with noodles or rice and vegetables. In my family, we didn’t focus as much on the food part of dinner as much as the conversation. It was the opposite for in my husband’s Taiwanese American family where the delicious food played a central role. In fact, I was surprised at his house with the lack of conversation during dinner. They were all focused on eating or talking just about the food! It’s obvious that communication is key. After the Soup Incident we talked about what our expectations for a meal included. (And honestly my hubby started cooking more!) and we talked more during dinner time!
  2. Health and Medicine: I mentioned in the earlier post that my husband and I have different experiences and cultural views on medicine. This has been a positive in our marriage because I have learned so much about a brand-new category. It has also brought some surprising challenges that we work through intentionally. I have found that for me when it comes to my health or my children, I can become very defensive about any suggestions or comments. It is a personal subject and I have learned patience and perspective in listening to my husband or his family’s comments. I know that they have our best interests at heart. I used to feel offended at an auntie’s suggestions for my family but my husband encouraged me that it is a way that they show they care. Now after 9 years of marriage and living in Taiwan for a year, I find myself doing the same and offering unsolicited comments and suggestion to my girlfriends!
  3. Role of Extended Family: Like the first category about food, the role of our extended families is something that I was aware was a cultural difference in our marriage but I don’t think I fully understood at the beginning. I grew up in a very close immediate family. We moved nearly every year overseas and across the States. As my mom would say, the only thing that stays the same is God and your family. We visited extended family including grandparents every couple years in the summer. My husband’s family is, again, the opposite! His grandparents lived with him his entire life. He had aunts and uncles and cousins also live in the home at various parts of his childhood. And as the eldest son of 3 children, the expectation is that his parents will live with us if they want, someday! (Although full disclosure my sister in law cooks much better Chinese food so they may pick her!) I thought these differences growing up would be a burden in our marriage but it has really been a positive. It has been a challenge that we have had to communicate clearly.

I would love to hear about your experiences in an intercultural marriage as well! Positives and challenges alike! 10399248_511380204688_5628_n

Our wedding favors: Chinese hong bao 紅包 with European candies representing our multicultural marriage! 

 

3 Ways We’ve Found Intercultural Marriage to be Easier than Expected 

During college, my boyfriend and I (now husband of 9 years!) attended an interracial dating seminar. I called my Dad that weekend and excitedly told him about the seminar. My Dad interrupted me and said, “Wait, why did you go? You’re not in an interracial relationship. He is Taiwanese American and you are Dutch American!”

I explained that while our citizenship may be the same, our experiences and cultures were very different. After a couple specific examples, my dad started to realized more and more what my husband and I were learning about each other!

While there are lots of unique challenges with intercultural relationships, I wanted to first write a post about the ways we’ve found intercultural or interracial marriage to be easier than we expected. Not better or worse than monocultural marriage, just easier. (I’ll next post a post about ways we’ve been challenged!)

**I would love to hear from those of you from intercultural or interracial marriages. Do you relate to our “findings” or have different experiences?**

  • We start with the assumption that there will be differences. All relationships have differences between the two partners because everyone is unique. Everyone comes with a unique set of experiences, cultural norms, and ways to relate to the world. In an intercultural or interracial marriage, we just assume we will have differences. We know we grew up very differently so when a disagreement arises we can quickly pinpoint if its a matter of a different approach to something. I’ve seen some friends and family in monocultural relationships assume that the other person has the same approach to an issue as they do. They may have very different ways of looking at an issue but they don’t realize that at the beginning.
  • A wonderful bonus to falling in love with a person from another culture is the joy of learning intimately about their culture. You may have seen this diagram of culture depicted as an iceberg where the visible parts of culture are above the surface (I.e. Language, food, holidays). But the majority of the cultural markers are below the surface such as expectations, family roles, biases, beliefs and assumptions. It’s easier to ask questions in a loving intercultural partnership because you are coming from a place of genuine interest and curiosity. 
  • There is an openness to try new things and new approaches. Both my husband and I are first born knowitalls. But through our experience in an intercultural marriage, we’ve taken a very open approach to working through issues. For example, my mom is a registered nurse and I never had any experience with traditional Chinese medicine, accupuncture or herbal methods. My husband on the other hand is the opposite, and my MIL will fill capsules with powders from the Chinese herbalist and use medicinal teas before he grabs the Tylenol. If I wasn’t in a relationship with my husband, I don’t think I would ever had found the incredible benefits of TCM. However I still have my medicine cabinet 🙂

What does a Culturally Aware Child Look Like?

About a month ago my 4 year old daughter started to tear up out of the blue. So I asked her what was going on and was surprised at her response. “I’m sad I’m not Indian and can’t dance Bollywood!” she said. (I’ve talked about her slight obsession with Indian dance before) I immediately hugged her and smiled saying, “I have great news for you! You can learn Indian dance even though you are Chinese and Dutch and American! Everyone can learn things about other countries. We all get to share!” Thankfully, that answer satisfied her and she started dancing!

This got me thinking about how I talk to my kids about other cultures and countries. One of our family goals is for our children to be culturally aware, but what does a Culturally Aware child look like?

Here’s my first take at an outline:

  1. Culturally Aware children know and celebrate their own HERITAGE: We talk a lot about how Baba is Chinese and our family is from Taiwan. I’ve started to introduce my own Euro American heritage and experience living in Germany and the Netherlands for elementary and high school. ways. I want my children to know both sides of their heritage (more to come soon in an upcoming post on creating a Family Heritage Treasure Hunt!)
  2. Culturally Aware children are CURIOUS: Encouraging your children’s curiosity is as easy as asking questions and seeing where they lead! Are any of your friends from other countries? What country would you like to visit? For more specific examples for the younger crowd, check out a previous post “4 Ways to Encourage Culturally Aware Preschoolers.”
  3. Culturally Aware children EXPERIENCE other cultures. Ideally this exposure is in person in your own neighborhoods, schools and communities. We specifically chose our neighborhood based on the diverse demographics of the neighborhood elementary school even before we had children. However in places where diversity and multicultural experiences are hard to find in person, never underestimate the power of travel even for very young children! You can also explore with your kids from the comfort of your own home through diverse media (check out our 4 Favorite Multicultural Kids showsimg_1243
  4. Culturally Aware children have a vocabulary to talk about DIVERSITY. Honestly I need to think, research and talk with other parents more about this last one. I read a great article dismissing the ‘diverse environment theory’ (ie if we just put kids in diverse places, they will be tolerant. No! We need to discuss and appreciate differences with our kids!) The article has some great suggestions at the end. Growing Character: Raising Culturally Aware Children by Serina Behar Natkin

What about you? What do you think should be added? What have you found useful? These days I am mostly on Instagram so come over and let me know your thoughts!

Defining Terms – a draft!

Last week I posted a first draft of the diagram below on instagram after seeing some confusion on the internet and in real life over some terms. Some people use these terms interchangeably but they are indeed 3 separate concepts. Would you suggest any changes? Have you found these to be confusing for you or others?

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I drafted the first version on a napkin and then received some great feedback from other moms on instagram and revised above. Melanie made the insightful comment that the term ‘multicultural’ can apply to people too! (Of course I should have thought to include that important point as it’s literally the name of my blog…!) Jennifer had another great addition that ‘intercultural’ can be between two or more cultures. Thankful for a community of parents to help revise ideas!

As parents we know the words we use for our children matter. Their own identity journey matters greatly. It is ultimately not up to me to say how my children should or will identify (whether in our case as Asian American or Chinese American or Chinese Dutch American or mixed or hapa or some other term I haven’t thought of!) For our family, the most important part of this conversation is that they have positive experiences celebrating and exploring their unique cultural heritage and learning and appreciating other cultures around the world.

I want to end by sharing my friend Katie’s short video about the question she receives the most, “What is your ethnicity?” I relate a lot to her father’s comments to her, “You’re not half of a human being! It makes you 200%!” To which she replies, “that seems a bit dramatic…but…powerful.” I hope and pray my bicultural kids grow up to know they are powerful in small and big ways too! 

Our 4 Favorite Multicultural Kids Shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime

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After writing three kinda serious posts, I wanted to share a fun list of our family’s favorite multicultural kids shows. All are on either Netflix or Amazon Prime Video and I would assume to purchase on iTunes as well. One quick note: I never realized before compiling this list, how many children’s shows are “token diverse” with a white-lead. Shows like Little Einsteins, Ready Jet Go, Super Why, and Strawberry Shortcake all have some diverse characters but the leads are all white!

I would LOVE to hear your child’s favorite multicultural and diverse TV shows in the comments! What do you like? What shows do your kids enjoy?

#1  Justin Time – Netflix (2 seasons plus a 3rd Netflix original version “Justin Time Go!”)  This show is just a gem! It follows a Canadian bountitleday named Justin as he travels back in time with his shape changing pal Squidgy and his imaginary friend Olive. They solve real life problems (like teamwork or sharing) in a different historical setting and then return back home “just in time!” The settings range from Ancient Mexico to 17th century India to the Swiss Alps in the 50s and Ancient China in the 8th century! You might even find yourself watching an episode or two. And at 11 minutes an episode, I don’t even feel bad about agreeing to one more adventure!

#2   Go, Diego, Go! – Amazon Prime & Nickelodeon (8 seasons free with prime) My daughter loves Diego more than Dora; and for a pgo-diego-go-go-diego-go-34420627-1024-768reschooler who loves princesses and pink, I couldn’t understand why. Until I watched it! Go, Diego, Go is a wonderful show that not only talks about different animals around the world, but also their habitats. Diego meets friends all over the world in his job as an ‘animal rescuer’ and they teach a word or two in each language of the country they visit. Also introduces concepts like conservation and protection

#3   Sesame Street – Amazon Prime & PBS (12 seasons available, 5 free with prime) Classic show that’s been a delight to find streamisesame_street_wallpaper_1278413620ng on Amazon Prime and introduce to my children. All episodes reflect a diverse cast (of humans and monsters alike!) and encourage kindness and acceptance. Some fun celebrity guest appearances in the current free seasons include: Season 36, episode 1: Lang Lang, Season 36, episode 9: Maya Angelou, Season 36, episode 12: Alicia Keys, Season 37, episode 12: Trying a new food day

#4   Sid the Science Kid – Netflix (1 season and a movie) While not specifically multicultural or international in theme, I could not pasid-the-science-kidss up sharing with you a wonderful show on Netflix about a very inquisitive multicultural cartoon character. I cannot think of another mixed lead character (although his hair is purple!). According to the wiki about the show, Sid’s mother is of African descent and his father grew up Jewish. Sid’s mixed heritage is not a focus of the show but #representationmatters. Episodes cover basic scientific principles while Sid and his =friends ask questions and solve problems.

**Honorable mention: Ni Hao Kai-Lan (Nickelodeon & Amazon to purchase) Great show very similar to Dora the Explorer but takes place with the Chinese userimagecharacter of Kai-Lan. I would have put it in the above section but it is not a part of a subscription streaming service.

 

4 Ways to Encourage Culturally Aware Preschoolers (ABCDs!)

Earlier this week, I took my 4 year old daughter to preschool and she asked me if I was half Chinese. I started to laugh and said “no, my family came from the Netherlands and Ireland a long time ago, why do you think I’m half Chinese?” She replied, “Because you don’t know all Chinese words like Daddy!” Well she is definitely right about that!

This conversation surprised me and got me thinking about the ways we talk about cultures and language and identity with preschoolers. My husband and I had a great conversation this week about ways we can encourage our daughter and I wanted to share them here. (Since 3 of the 4 started with the first letters of the alphabet, I cheated and made the second one a two word phrase to make a tidy A, B, C, and D list!)  

Has your child surprised you with their comments about culture? How do you encourage your children to be culturally aware? I only have experience up to preschoolers so would love your ideas and suggestions for older children! Please comment or head over to Instagram @multiculturalmama

  1. A – Aware: As you know, preschoolers are sponges and are aware of the world around them in ways that astonish us! My daughter can differentiate customs from her time in Taiwan when she was 2 even now living in the US. Research shows that babies as young as 3 and 6 months old can distinguish faces based on race. Instead of being concerned that our children are not colorblind, we should be aware of their curiosity and invite questions. It’s a great opportunity to teach our children about the things that all humans have in common as well as the beautiful ways we are different!
  2. B – Be intentional about bringing up your family’s cultural heritage. Whether you are in a multicultural family or monocultural family, there are so many wonderful ways to celebrate your family’s cultural heritage. I plan to spend more time on this in future posts but for now one idea is to try to think about ways to celebrate throughout the year, not just at specific holidays. 
  3. C – Connect your child’s interests to other cultures in fun ways. My daughter loves to dance so this summer we went to a wonderful event at our library with Rhythmaya, an Indian dance instruction and performance group. We learned all sorts of dances from South Indian classical dance (which I believe is called Bharatanatyam) and dramatic dance and of course Bollywood! Since then my daughter has been obsessed with “Indian princesses” which is her term for Bollywood dancers! We watch tons of youtube videos and dance with our friends from Bhutan and Afghanistan. My daughter started crying one day that she wasn’t Indian. I told her that the exciting thing about the world is that everyone can share special parts of their country with others!14012383_925532001168_9434698_o
  4. D – Diverse books and media. If you’re reading this blogpost, I don’t have to tell you much about the importance of diverse books. Representation matters. I highly recommend Pragmatic Mom’s vast collection of diverse children’s book lists including:

The Weight and Gift of Raising Multicultural Kids – #RaisingMCKids blog series

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The photos for this blog series are from a beautiful centuries old mountain road in Yanmingshan National Park 陽明山國家公園 just outside of Taipei.  My husband’s Taiwanese relatives planned a wonderful weekend on the mountain during the Mid-Autumn Festival. We packed into two vans and hiked and smelled the sulphur of the dormant volcano and ate and ate some more. This well worn road was used for hundreds of years by Taiwanese fisherman. They would walk from the coast at the very north of the island (seen in this photo in the distance), and over the mountains to trade their fish with neighboring towns.

Standing on that mountain, sweating profusely with my toddler on my back, I felt the weight of my husband’s cultural heritage stretching back generations. His family has a dozen red hardback books in their dining room china cabinet that includes their family’s genealogy going back centuries! My own family is not as close to their cultural heritage. I know my great grandparents names but that’s about it.

I continue to feel this responsibility to pass down, along with my husband, the language, history and culture to the next generation. It sometimes feels like a burden and I can get anxious that we aren’t doing enough or doing it right as a non-Asian mom (especially in the language department!)

But then I realize that the parts of our cultures that I love most and want to pass down the most are all GIFTS. They are not burdensome at all! It is a joy to teach my daughter Mandarin and have her face light up when she connects a new word with its meaning. I am so proud when my daughter tells a stranger, “did you know I’m Chinese?” and then proceeds to tell them about how she lived in a skyscraper in Taipei (It was not. We lived on the 12th floor!) I am delighted to see her offer anyone older than her a snack first and then eat it herself last (when she remembers!)

Being a multicultural family has always been a gift. Keeping this perspective helps me temper any feelings of being overwhelmed and encourages me to continue to CELEBRATE our family’s cultural heritage any chance we can get.

 

Practical Application Idea:

Consider planning a play date with a friend or two that is centered around one of the family’s cultural heritage. Make it simple and low key! We just joined another family for a play date around the Lunar New Year. The kids colored Year of the Rooster coloring pages and helped us wrap dumplings.

  • If you are hosting, its a great way to show your child the gift of their heritage. They can take pride in sharing a part of themselves with their friends. And what child doesn’t love Show and Tell?!  Invovle them in planning a simple craft or preparing a simple snack that want to share with their friends.
  • If you are participating, this is a wonderful opportunity for your child to learn from their friends about other countries and cultures and increase their curiosity in the world!

 

Would love to hear from you in the comments or on Instagram about your own experiences with the gifts that come with being in a multicultural family! 

 

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