Being a parent is hard. But, raising your child in a different cultural environment is harder still. It brings its own share of challenges that we need to navigate with respect to their identity and sense of self.
Here’s 6 things to keep in mind when you’re raising an Indian kid in a global world.
1.Being Indian Is Who We Are, Everyday.
Our ‘indianness’ is not restricted to a few festivals a year. It’s a part of who we are and impacts the way we look, think, eat, speak, dress and act. If we only refer to ‘being indian’ once a year, it can be confusing for our little ones.
- Talk to your little ones about what makes them ‘indian’ - it could be how they look, what they like or even who they are related to.
- Talk about the similarities and differences they notice in themselves and people around them. It helps them make sense of their environment.
2.Cultural Differences Exist. Talk about it.
Our little ones notice cultural differences all the time. “Robbie doesn’t eat with his hands.” Mary doesn’t take her shoes off outside her door. Jim’s mom lets him put his shoes on the bed. Donna doesn’t bend down to touch her grandparent’s feet. Eliza goes to church on Sunday. She doesn’t have a puja mandir at home.”
- Discuss it. Don’t wait for your little one to ask a question.
- Explain it. Tell them why. “We leave our shoes at the door because we don’t want to bring dirt into the house.”
- When we acknowledge the differences we see, it normalizes it for our little ones. The explanations help them to share the reasons with their friends.
3. We Can Have More Than 1 Cultural Identity.
Their identity is impacted by all the cultures they are influenced by. Whether it's where you live, a close friend circle or an interracial family. By limiting ourselves to being only Indian, we negate our little one’s lived experiences of the other culture(s) that they interact with.They are Indian and American or Indian, British and Scandinavian.
- Discuss all the cultures that your little one is influenced by. Our cultural identity is influenced by many factors- how we look, where we stay, what we speak, how we act, who our parents are.
- As they grow, acknowledging their different cultural identities will empower them to feel more comfortable in their own skin.
4. Speaking Their Mother Tongues
We want our little ones to be fluent in their mother tongues. But, teaching it to them can be tricky. We may feel we are not capable of teaching it. Both parents may come from different parts of India/world and not share a language in common.
- Focus on exposure and not fluency. Whether you think you’re fluent or not, use your language at every opportunity. Insert words and phrases in daily speech.
- Don’t worry about your little one mixing languages. It’s how they learn.
- Even 10 minutes a day can make a difference.
- Make it fun. It’s okay if they make mistakes. If we keep correcting them, they’ll become self conscious.
- As an adult, even a basic understanding of their mother tongue will help them feel connected to their roots.
5. Instilling Traditions
Traditions can be hard to pass on especially when we don’t live in India. Celebrating Indian festivals away from friends and family is not easy. Some of us may not have access to a larger community or resources for traditional festive celebrations.
- With so many traditions and festivals, it’s impossible to do it all. Choose the ones that matter most to you.
- It may not be the way your mom does it, but that’s okay. It’s the thought that counts. Do what works for you.
- Involve your little one. If you want to pass it on, they need to do it with you. For example: do the rangoli together. It doesn’t matter if they make a mess.
- As adults, if they have fond memories, they will want to recreate the experiences of their childhood with their kids.
6. Eating Indian Food
Food reminds us all of home and is an integral part of our identity. But, surrounded by fast food choices, it can be hard for your little one to develop a love for Indian food. Peer comments on food, “That looks yucky! It smells” can also affect your little one’s appetite.
- Introduce it all. Spicy, tangy, sweet, sour and umami. They need it to be exposed to it before they learn to love it.
- Keep introducing even if they reject it the first time. Each time, their palate and taste buds become a little more accustomed to the taste.
- Cook with them. Name all the ingredients. The cooking experience increases the familiarity with the food.
- Teach them phrases like, “ I smell with my nose but I eat with my mouth. My mouth says its yummy. Do you want to try some?” to help counter the comments.