Lately, I have been thinking about ways that I can be a more effective parent. There is no doubt in my mind that I am doing a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong. Afterall, parenting just like life is an experiment. And during this journey, one must be willing to learn, grow and evolve. However, with the increasing number of diverse ethnic groups in America, I have always wondered what role culture and ethnicity play in parenting. How can we better understand how differences in parent-child contact considered “favorable” by one culture are viewed as “unfavorable” by another? Culture influences our ways of thinking and perceiving and is not isolated in discrete activities. Cultures are mental models or paradigms developed by communities over time to make sense of their physical, emotional and social environments and to best determine how best to operate within them (Mindful Parenting, 2010).
Immigration is hard on parenting. The process of learning a culture – acculturation – is an “additive” experience, and immigration personally for me is a brutal experience for the mind. It is far more difficult than simply learning new things. The culture shock when I traveled from Nigeria to the United States in 2005 can only be described as a brain shock. As a child, I woke up to a community and I spent my first few minutes kneeling on any floor in front of me as soon as I saw an adult or anyone remotely older than me by 2-3years. I immediately had to turn that switch off when I got to this country as I passed by other people smiling and muttering a heartily good morning, only to be shunned, ignored or receive a half-hearted “hi” in return. After a month of understanding my new reality, I quickly switched off my morning ritual.
So, here I am 12 years later, and I have learned the American way of doing things. When my daughter was born, I named her Omotayo, a Nigerian name meaning “A child is enough joy”, however, I also chose another name Camille, meaning “someone of unblemished character”. I wanted an English name for her, afterall my first name was Blessing, even though I was born in Nigeria. However, my daughter is widely known as Camille outside of the house. At home, we call her Tayo. It is somewhat confusing but she understands that these are all her names. But, what really tugs at my heart lately is the realization that I am raising an American, even though in my heart I long for Nigerian values. I want her to wake up every morning respectfully greeting adults, and friends/family who walk through our front door. I want her to do her chores without complaining, listen attentively when she is been spoken to, engage respectfully with any and everyone no matter the situation. I want her to cook, clean, play, read, travel and have fun at an early age because truly those years are extremely important for building character. And we are slowly getting there, however, I can’t help but wonder if our story would be different if I wasn’t so assimilated into the American culture. I can’t help but think that she may be better off in Nigeria. I sometimes feel scared that I am not doing enough, that I am not engaging with her the same way my parents did with me.
There are so many reasons why this is not possible. We are a transplant here in America, and our extended families are far away. We make time to visit them when our finances can allow it, however, it is simply not enough. Extended families are extremely important in most cultures outside of America. The average Nigerian child has both fictive and real parents. We had Big daddy, Small daddy, Small Mommy, Big Mommy, all different from out real Mom and Dad. These were family members that would feed us, send us to school, accommodate us whenever our parents were not available or unable to. We had cousins that lived with us that till this day are known as brothers and sisters because there was simply no room for us vs. them. We were one family. There was nothing like afterschool or playdate, because the community was always there and available at any time we came back from school, or anytime we needed a friend to play with.
I fear that my daughter is missing out on the rich, fun and disciplined childhood I grew up in.
You see, in this country, immigrant parents are competing with other parents/kids of diverse ethnic backgrounds and culture, teachers, environmental factors, media – Disney, TV, Video Games, Youtube, Netflix, iPhone Apps, Music and others. These activities exposes the child to a new reality. And balancing this reality is one of the major dilemma of the immigrant parent.
So, how do we combine the two cultures we currently live in with a multicultural perspective. One where we can effectively be Nigerian and American. One where we can learn from our American friends and families and where we can properly incorporate the American culture into our Nigerian culture without stifling the child or risking a rebellion?
Friends, please share your perspective. What are your experiences with parenting as an American or an immigrant? Do you find it simple or difficult?