Couples and families immigrating to Canada have many changes to adjust to, and challenges to face.
For many, it is an exciting time and opportunity to have a fresh start, while for others it may also bring feelings of isolation, anxiety and confusion.
With time, families begin to adjust to the local culture. With children attending school, parents may start to see behaviours in their children that are different than those typically seen in their native country.
This can cause a number of feelings for parents, as they worry that the children are forgetting or undervaluing their cultural heritage.
There are a number of reasons why this happens. Exposure to a new culture can cause confusion for some children, as they feel torn between the local culture and their heritage.
The culture at home may be one that the children only remember through the actions of their parents and family members, or it may be one that they grew up in before moving to Canada. Either way, it can be difficult for children to determine which aspects of each culture they choose to adopt for themselves.
This feeling of having two cultures can cause identity issues for children and youth as they struggle to find themselves and how they fit into each culture. Some children will find themselves more easily than others. Some children may adopt a mainly Canadian identity, while others may adopt the lifestyle of their parents; primarily that of their country of origin.
It is common for older siblings born outside of Canada to maintain more of their previous culture than younger siblings who have less memory of life outside of Canadian society.
What can parents do to help their child find this balance? Although the process will be different for each child, there are some things that parents can do to support their child through this life change.
Parents may want the child to maintain their culture and traditions, and may sometimes come across as strict and judgmental.
Parents can try to keep an open mind and be understanding of the decisions the child has to make. This will help maintain open communication so the child will feel comfortable to come see you as they need help and guidance.
It can also be helpful for parents to encourage children to become whoever they want to be. Many children from immigrant families feel pressure at school to become completely “Canadian” or pressure at home to maintain all of the customs of their birth country.
This can cause children to feel pulled in too many directions and may result in confusion and stress.
To ease this, parents can explain that we love them no matter what, and that we love them for them. Remind them that they get to be a blend of both cultures, in whatever “flavour” they choose.
Every parent, regardless of cultural background, at some point faces the generational struggle regarding what is acceptable behaviour for a child today, compared to what was acceptable during our youth. Immigrant families face this struggle with the added challenge of conflicting cultures.
Parents need to find a balance between what is acceptable in their culture compared to what is typically acceptable in today’s Canadian culture.
By working through these challenges as a family and trying to be open to compromise, families may be able to find a balance to help their child thrive in a Canadian society.
By being open and understanding, you can help your child overcome adversity and succeed in becoming who they want to be. Their whole future lies ahead of them and they have the support of two cultures to get them through obstacles to come.
Positive Parenting appears every week in LIFE. This week’s column was written by Jessica Hartel, lead of the Road Home project with Family Services of Central Alberta. Hartel can be reached by calling 403-343-6400 or www.fsca.ca.