The face of family in 2012 is constantly changing. Not only do we have more single-parent families, blended families and same-sex parent households, but we also have more diverse families. This diversity may come in the package of race, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language and on and on. Since many of the previously mentioned don’t fit into the stereotypical box of what family is supposed to look like, these couples and families often find themselves making up their own rules as they go. For my purposes, I am going to focus on the multicultural couple and family.
I have experienced firsthand both the joys and challenges of being part of a multicultural family. Subsequently, I have developed a great interest in working with individuals, couples & families from such diverse backgrounds and specialize in working in this area.
It can be a wonderfully enriching and exciting experience to be part of a multicultural couple or family; varying traditions, ideologies, values, cuisines & languages all coming into one home. But what happens when these couples or families hit a speed bump? Oftentimes, differences in culture can become a source of conflict and even a divide in these relationships.
In an effort to better serve our diverse community by promoting awareness, I have highlighted 10 issues/questions unique to multicultural couples & families from both my clinical work and personal experience.
- Roles: Who has what responsibilities? Who has a job? Who cleans the home? Who makes dinner? Who makes the rules?
- Loyalty vs. independence: How much time is appropriate and comfortable to spend with family of origin? How much money is appropriate and comfortable to spend on family of origin? How much time do we spend away from family of origin?
- Hierarchy: My culture is patriarchal. My culture is matriarchal. Whose opinion is most valued and respected in the family?
2. Raising Children
- Names: What kind of name do we give our child? Will our child have a middle name?
- Religion: We have two different religions, which one do we choose for our children? Do we choose one, blend them? Will we attend church, mosque, temple, etc?
- Language: Can I preserve my native language and share it with my children? Do the children learn multiple languages? We both speak different languages, how will the child learn all of this? If the children learn my partner’s language, I won’t understand.
- Rules: Who is the disciplinarian? We have different views on how to discipline. We have different views on rules for boys and girls.
- We are very close with my partner’s community, but what about mine? The community does not accept me/us, where do we go?
- To be spent only when necessary? To be enjoyed?
- How do sexual attitudes and beliefs affect intimacy and affection in the relationship? What does each person feel about talking about intimacy, displaying it and expressing it?
6. Emotional style
- How do I live happily with someone who expresses him/herself so differently than I? My culture is reserved and restrained. My culture is expressive, loud and intense.
- Which holidays and traditions do we observe? How will we spend those holidays? Whose family will we spend them with? Do we have to spend holidays with family?
8. Racism, prejudice, discrimination
- We lack family and/or community support. Can you turn to your partner for support? Historical conflict between our cultures detracts from our support.
9. Intergenerational issues
- Acculturation: Parent and child have different levels of acculturation (defined as the process of cultural and psychological change that results following meeting between cultures). My parent(s) don’t understand the “American” way.
- Identity: Child identifies more with one culture over another. Child rebels against culture.
- Values: Differences in values among child, parent and relatives.
10. Attitudes towards therapy
- Keep the problems within the family or share with others? It is embarrassing to share problems and emotions with a therapist or sharing feels natural and comfortable?
It can be challenging to navigate these questions and issues for many couples & families. However, being part of a multicultural couple or family can also be quite rewarding, as each person is able to be nourished by both cultures.
If you are from a multicultural family:
- What issues have you faced?
- How were you and your family able to negotiate those differences?
- What has been the most rewarding part of being part of such a diverse couple or family?
“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”- Baba Dioum
As always, your feedback and sharing is greatly appreciated!