Lynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH
Finding Common Ground - Sharing Cultural Practices and Traditions in our Multiracial Families Part 2
Our multiracial kids are rooted in a unique cultural environment - the intersection of your traditions and practices and those of your partner.
Think about the cultural rituals, practices, and traditions that are most important to you. For me, we celebrated Dutch holidays, owned and wore traditional Dutch clothing, and heard Dutch spoken by the elders of my community. My family no longer speaks Dutch, but in 2021 I started taking Dutch lessons (Ik ben Nederlands aan het leren!).
Now, what are the cultural rituals, practices, and traditions that are most important to your partner? Do you know?
Just like all things parenting, racial identity formation and rooting our kids in their many heritages and cultures is most effective when you and your partner have shared goals. But first, you need to know what those goals are!
Recent research shares that multiracial/multicultural families should think about the prioritization of cultural rituals, practices, and traditions so that all caregivers know what is important and the role we should play. As parents we often need to learn about the cultural practices and traditions of our partners - we can learn together with our children to nurture their identity development, instill a joy of learning, and emphasize that our children are all of the cultures of their ancestors.
There are some places where we may be the lead role and others where we are the supportive role. In my family, I am in charge of all things Dutch including Sinterklass, teaching my kids to ice skate (which is more a part of my Wisconsin identity), and my love for Cheese, well, because I am a Dutch Wisconsinite. Whereas, I support my husband to share about Nigerian culture, especially food, and I share enthusiasm for new dishes and flavors right along with our kids.
When both parents are an active participant to share cultural practices, traditions, and rituals, our kids will feel the connections from everyone around them. Traditionally, research shows that many people have seen cultural socialization as primarily the mothers role in monoracial families, but when it comes to multiracial families, we stand out as sharing this role in our families. One study participant noted:
“I come from a culture where a substantial amount of men know how to cook, so I prepare the Caribbean food. I don’t expect this Norwegian woman to cook Trinidad food. I handle that myself so that they have access to the cuisine. I think it helps reinforce the culture.”
As multiracial and multicultural families, we also may find contradictions and conflicts between us and our partner - we need to work through these and decide how to move forward together. Most importantly, we need to be intentional to not pass along negative biases we may have about their multitude of cultural identities - there is not one ‘better’ cultural element, they are simply different. This may seem obvious to many of us, but research has demonstrated that many multiracial kids hear negative messages about an element of their culture from members of their own family, which impacts their confidence, beliefs, and ultimately their own racial identity.
When contradictions and conflicts arise, what should we do? One example shared in the article today was from an Italian American woman who expressed reservations about cultural practices of her Indian husband as related to sleeping practices. She wanted their son to sleep in his own room at an early age, whereas her husband wanted their son to sleep in their room. In scenarios like these, it was the cultural practice itself that was the root of conflict, not what cultural practice to teach to their son. In scenarios like this one, partners should talk it through with the aim to understand the others’ perspective, and seek to find common ground. Why does the mother want her son to sleep in another room? Why does the father want the son to sleep in the same room? Where do the parents’ goals align and how could they find a solution that makes everyone feel comfortable?
If you haven’t done so already, reflect on the cultural practices, rituals, and traditions that are most important to you and encourage your partner to do the same. Share your thoughts together so you can be intentional about passing along these traditions to your kids and find common ground when conflicts arise.
Center the joy and curiosity of learning along the way - this will demonstrate to your kids that we all have many things to learn in life and we should seek to learn more about what we don’t understand.
These findings are shared in the January 2023 publication by Seider, et al. which is one of the most relevant research publications to date about multiracial families and racial identity development.
Citation: Seider, Scott, et al. "How Parents in Multiethnic-Racial Families Share Cultural Assets with Their Children." Race and Social Problems (2023): 1-14.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash