Raising kids abroad: Deepti Chadda, Founder & Creative Director, Big Blue Trunk
We're delighted to feature Deepti Chadda who is a proud Mamma, Xoogler & Founder and Creative Director of Big Blue Trunk (www.bigbluetrunk.sg). With the mission of #makeverydaybeautiful, she is one of the most talented & creative entrepreneurs we know. You know, one of those special people whose smile reaches all the way to her eyes and brightens up a room!
Read what she has to say about raising her adorable girl abroad....
When you first got pregnant and realised your child would be born and raised outside of your country, what was your first reaction?
When I found out I was pregnant, I honestly didn’t really have a particular moment where I thought - Oh, she’s going to be raised outside of India! The excitement of pregnancy, all the planning that comes with having a first child, not to mention the morning (or all day) sickness took up most of my mind-space. I think it was a gradual understanding that our daughter’s upbringing was going to be very different from ours and accepting that we would make most of the country we were in, Hong Kong at the time. During my pregnancy, I got asked a lot about where our daughter would be born and if I was going to spend the first few months at my parents home in India. We decided that our daughter would be born in the country where her home was going to be, where her parents were living. And I think that set the tone for how we manage this complex game, of raising a child outside of India.
What elements of your child’s upbringing do you feel would have been easier in India?
“Easier” is such a relative term, so I’m not sure whether there are certain things that would have been easier if we had raised our daughter in India, but I do know the elements that we miss from India which would make any Indian child’s upbringing more full.
Being closer to family, especially grandparents, and our old friends. Learning to speak, read and write our mother tongue, Hindi. Creating a strong cultural identity for our daughter linked to India’s colour, food, languages, geography, history. All the little things like saying hi to the postman everyday, helping the mali water the plants, sitting on the rocker with nanu every morning and dipping Parle-G biscuits in his chai, going for a walk with Ari (our dog in India), hearing the subzi-wallah call out each morning as he sells his wares, playing hopscotch in wet mud…..❣️
What are some of the challenges that you feel in raising your child outside India?
Raising a child anywhere is a challenge! :) We spent the first year of our daughter’s life in Hong Kong, and have been in Singapore for 2 years since then. For most of us in India, ‘the village’ that helps raise your child forms very naturally - family, friends, help, all come together to make it so much easier for the parents. Living abroad, you need to plan and create this village, and it’s never going to be the same as it is in India. We have been lucky that in both Hong Kong and Singapore, we’ve had a great group of friends and not to mention, excellent help. But there are times when you feel lonely, and the distance makes it hard.
The other, more complicated aspect that I think about often, is how and what is the cultural identity that our daughter is developing. Being Indian has played such an influential role in my life choices, confidence and identity overall. For us who were brought up in India, there were no shades of grey with regards to cultural identity. But it’s very different for my daughter - born in Hong Kong, living in Singapore, Indian by birth, goes to a school which is global...It’s hard to figure out the right balance. Managing this additional layer of complexity is challenging.
How do you combat those challenges? Is there anything that you do specifically to help your child connect to his Indian roots?
We’ve been living abroad for a while now and thanks to AIESEC, INSEAD and other networks we’ve been a part of, we’ve always had a great group of friends wherever we’ve lived. We’ve also learned to make new friends (I know, it’s hard!). We try to do our best to nurture our friendships, and be part of a community that makes our daughter’s upbringing more fun and meaningful.
My husband and I are proud Indians and we do whatever comes naturally to us to share this spirit with our daughter.
🎈 We travel back to India often, and make it a point to be present for important family events - one of the benefits of being a 4 hour flight away! Each time, it brings us such joy to see how our daughter’s relationship with people and the environment in India grows and develops. She’s attended 2 big fat Indian weddings, and had such a great time dancing at her masi’s sangeet just a few weeks ago. Our family visits us in Singapore 3 - 4 times a year as well, so our daughter gets to spend time with her grandparents, mamu, mami, bua, cousins.
🎈We love Indian food, and I’m happy to report that our daughter’s favourite meal is dal chawal with ghee or idlis with ghee and jaggery!
🎈Bollywood shaped us, and we share this love of drama, singing and dancing with our daughter. Shahrukh uncle is her buddy, and she loves singing Lamberghini and all the DDLJ numbers, Zoobi Doobi is her most recent favourite.
🎈We love Tulika books, and now of course Indigrow! The bilingual Tulika books are such a fun and interesting way to teach some basic Hindi to our daughter. At bed-time we always add one of these to the mix that we read to her. And ofcourse, whenever we read A to Z of India to her, she has to listen to the song at least once before and once after we read the book.
🎈We enjoy celebrating the big Indian festivals with our friends here in Singapore - Holi, Diwali, Navratri, Onam! We bring out our Indian outfits, mithai, bindis, bangles, decorations and music. It’s a great way for the children to learn a little more about the beautiful traditions of our country.
🎈We have a great community of Indian friends here who make it so much easier - whether it’s celebrating festivals, or having a Bollywood dance party or sending us food from their home-state - it does take a village and we are so grateful to have one here.
I’d say we do what comes to us naturally and that makes it fun for everyone!
What do you love about raising a child abroad? What do you dislike about it?
Raising a child in India means succumbing to the chaos of everyday life, where so many things may not be in your control. While I’m sure that has its charm and benefits, I’ve enjoyed raising my daughter in a more predictable environment where we spend less time in traffic and more time together.
We’ve also enjoyed having a greater level of influence in our parenting choices, living independently. It’s hard for me to imagine bringing up a child in a home where everyone has a say in everything - what the child eats, when and where the child sleeps, whether it’s OK for the child to watch TV, etc. And so yes, I think it suits our personalities to be able to make these decisions independently.
It’s been an adventure for all of us to grow as a family in Hong Kong and Singapore - exploring the land, culture, traveling to new places. We’ve loved the bustle of HK, it's beautiful landscapes and food. And we really enjoy sunny, green, clean Singapore with such amazing facilities and learning opportunities for our child.
What have you come to terms with, on learning to accept the difference in how you were raised and how your child will be raised?
I think I’m still coming to terms with this - I spent my entire childhood in one home, going to the same school and with the same group of friends. In fact, I met my husband in kindergarten and here we are now. Our daughter’s upbringing involves transitions and many of them - including moving countries and homes, saying goodbye to friends, switching schools. It’s hard for me to think that she won’t spend her entire childhood growing up in the same home with the same people! :)
I also miss giving my daughter the opportunity to experience and overcome the daily struggles of life in India - no electricity, or not enough hot water for a shower, not enough place to sit on the bus… the many things that we take for granted here in Singapore. Part of who we are came from how we learned to wake up and hustle our way through the day in India. We’ll have to teach our children to be hustlers in a different way I guess!
We do our best each day, and know that this is enough. Home for our daughter is where we are, and as long as we give her the love, comfort, freedom and guidance she needs, she will thrive.
What tools do you use to support you in raising your Indian child abroad?
🎈Books - Tulika books, English and Bilingual, are a fantastic tool to not just teach your child an Indian language, but also a little bit about Indian culture and stories. We’ve also found some great books about Indian festivals such as Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth, and Hurray, it’s Diwali. And now we love Indigrow too - both the A to Z of India and Colours of India are a hit not just with our daughter, but with us too!
🎈Music and Bollywood - We find that Bollywood music is a great way for our child to connect back to the India we grew up in and learn Hindi, dancing and all the drama that is inherent to us! So we end up doing a lot of Bollywood singing and dancing together as a family.
🎈Travel - Immersive experiences are the best way to learn about a culture, so we make it a point to travel back to India at least a few times a year with our daughter. Time with grandparents and family is the best way for her to understand our India. We also make sure to FaceTime at least once a day with grandparents and family.
🎈Food - We eat a lot of home-cooked Indian food, at least one meal a day if not more. I’m happy to report that our daughter’s favourite meal is dal chawal with ghee or idlis with ghee and jaggery, and ofcourse any kind of mithai!
🎈Traditions - Every time we travel to a new place or go back to India, we collect a few things that remind us of the adventures we had such as shells, or leaves, or a card someone gave us and this goes into Maya’s treasure chest for beautiful memories to look back on. On Diwali we make halwa, decorate the house, light diyas and do our Ganesh and Lakshmi puja, on Holi we play with water and colour, on Christmas we decorate our tree and leave some treats out for Santa.
🎈Art - we try to explore Indian art forms together, such as making wrapping paper or cards with paint and wooden block prints, or making jewelry with beads and ghunghurus. As our daughter gets older, hopefully we’ll be able to share with her the beauty and diversity of Indian arts and handicrafts.
Do you have any advice for moms raising their kids outside india?
I’d just say that our kids are not going to be raised the way we were, so let’s make the most of where we are and what we have, be ourselves and do the best we can for them and for ourselves! To each his own - look inside your heart and your family, and if you see joy then that’s all that matters. And never be afraid to reach out and ask for help - we are the best support system we have, let’s cheer each other and not judge!
Thank you Deepti - That was a delightful read. And for the folks who live in Singapore and have not been to Big Blue Trunk, you're missing out! Go check it out to #makeverydaybeautiful!