Living between two cultures – a ‘British’ way of life and the culture your parents or grandparents grew up with, can be a rich and fulfilling experience – but there can also be conflicts and challenges. When teaching our children about their heritage and the traditions we would like to see them continue, it can be difficult to balance these with the more ‘English’ traditions and ways of life that they are growing up with and embracing. Simple things like food through to language show just how complex this can be.
“I need more information in cultural issues, how to blend the two cultures, and still keep your origins.”
Living, studying and working in Britain, obviously shapes some of our values, lifestyle choices and even beliefs. However, for second and third generation (whose parents or grandparents respectively, were immigrants) people of colour (POC), there are countless other factors contributing to our belief systems and everyday way of life.
“Children from different backgrounds are bound to act differently due to religion, race, etc.”
Religion, race, traditions, clothes, language, food, film and music – can hold great significance in a large majority of people’s lives, but for people from a BME background, cultural identity can be made up of influences which are not part of the mainstream society they are living in and can often be misunderstood and misinterpreted.
“A lot of the magazines, TV shows and books don't tend to focus on people of colour. Culture often plays a large part in many households.”
By continuing the practices and culture you enjoy and view as important, in your home, in the way you dress, the language you speak or the food you cook, you are giving your children the opportunity to share, participate in, and value different cultures and by doing so experience a broad, varied and enriched life.
Helping your children embrace their culture
Children will usually adopt the language around them at nursery and school – but this can be difficult for parents who have struggled with learning a new language and prefer communicating in their mother tongue. Treat this as an opportunity for your children to learn your language - being bi-lingual is an excellent skill to possess.
Accept that your children have interests and hobbies that may be different to the ones you are accustomed to. It helps to show you are interested in what they are doing and to find ways of including these in the family-based ones that you’d like them to embrace.
Talk about your own upbringing or stories your parents have told you about their childhoods. If possible, encourage them to spend time with relatives such as grandparents – or even family friends - who can give them first-hand accounts of life in another country and living within a completely different culture to the one they know. This is a good way to help them to understand more about their cultural and racial background.
Talking to your children may show that combining their different cultures comes easily to your children, and that some of the transitional issues faced by you or your parents are not challenges they are having to face. Accept that their experiences may be different to yours and offer support and advice if and when they need it.
Encourage your children to talk about their traditions and your family’s way of life to their friends and peers (such as classmates) so that they grow up proud and aware of their cultural differences and are confident when informing others about them.
Mixed heritage family life
By involving your children in both sides of their racial heritage - such as celebrating both parents’ religious or traditional events - you are helping them reach their own self-awareness of their cultural and racial identity, without labelling them. Rather than focussing on questions around what racial group they belong to, it is important to help them understand that they are part of both or more groups and allow them to ask questions about their background and identity if they need to.
Minimising identity issues
Spending time with relatives from both sides of the family can also aid in educating them about their background, and its diversity. By hearing their aunts, uncles, and grandparent’s stories and accounts about another country, culture or religion, they are developing a greater awareness about another part of themselves, that they may have never experienced first-hand.
Unfortunately, sometimes difficult questions and prejudice can arise. Such as instances where people within their community expect them to categorise themselves as one specific race, not accepting that they belong to two or more. It is this type of ignorance that makes it even more vital for parents to inform their children of all aspects of their racial and cultural heritage, so that they are comfortable with who they are. It can be more difficult to do this in instances of lone-parent families where the non-resident parent does not play a big role in their child’s life, as it is left to the resident parent to fill their child in on a culture they may know nothing about.
Combining both cultures
Reading books or looking at websites with your child about the country of origin or culture their other parent comes from, can help to bridge the gap of information available to them, and also provide you with some knowledge about your child’s heritage. Again, if you do have contact with your ex-partner’s family, it is a great way of helping your child to learn about their mixed background and can help to answer their questions when and if they arise.
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at email@example.com or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.