Take two parents, two entirely different cultures, traditions and perspectives and you get a family with some pretty tough discussions, strong opinions and choices ahead. We can't do it all and we certainly won't do it perfectly when it comes to our mixed heritage kids but there are some things we as parents need to make priority when raising kids of dual or multiple cultures.
1) Speak your language- If one of you speaks another language or originates from another country where English isn't the first language, that means your son or daughter could and should be bilingual. Even if you don't speak it well, passing down any culture often goes hand in hand with language. Your son or daughter may resent having to attend language school every Saturday now but they'll thank you for it later on when they're able to converse with friends and family from your native country.
2) Talk about your history- History can tell a thousand stories and telling your own history as well as that of your homeland will do wonders in opening up all sorts of discussions with your children. The Iranian Revolution marked a major historical upheaval and explains a lot about modern day Iran, its people, its diaspora and its politics. Pre-Revolutionary Iran and the ancient civilisations and dynasties also shed light on who and why Iranians are such a proud people. I don't know if I would understand my Dad's culture and origins if I didn't have this perspective.
3) Emphasise both Cultures- Make sure you talk about both parent's cultures to your children. So easy is it for parents to get caught in the trap of emphasising only the culture that is 'exotic' or foreign that the partner who hails from the country in which you reside or one that is more common, gets forgotten. Make sure both of your cultures and traditions are valued and explained and talk about it with each other to ensure you're both on the same page.
4) Talk about racism- Even if you've never fell victim to racism, this is a must must discussion parents need to have with their children. Your children will have different experiences from you and they may have darker or lighter skin but either way they need to be able to talk about it and understand it even if you're uncomfortable talking about it.
5) Pass on your traditions- Traditions are so important in passing down one's culture. You don't need to do everything your parents did but highlighting the important ones, in discussion with your partner, will help your children again to understand where you come from and the parts of their culture which are important. In our family, we have chosen to continue the traditional Nigerian greeting but have chosen not to pierce our newborn daughters' ears. We have made these choices consciously and with intention about what we wish our children to take from Nigerian culture.
6) Mark your cultural festivals- With so many cultures to choose from, we're never at a loss to have a reason to celebrate. From Canadian Halloween, to Nigerian Independence Day to Nowrooz (Iranian New Year) Festival, we seem to have it all covered. Each one gets as much attention as the next and we even try to ensure we can attend a community gathering to make it is as authentic as it was for us growing up with the real thing.
7) Demonstrate the importance of traditional greetings- Greetings are so important in today's globalised world where countries, people and cultures emphasise different things in their greetings. In Nigeria, greeting an elder is a very formal affair involving a bow or a curtsy along with lowered eyes to show respect. In Persian culture, men and women typically kiss each other on the cheek three times to show affection and respect. It's important that our kids understand how and why we greet each other in each setting so they can navigate their way around each cultural setting when they're older.
8) Visit your home country with your children- Even if you've never been and you're a third culture kid yourself, at least you had the benefit of being raised by parents who grew up there. Your children will need to see the real thing before they can understand your culture (and you) completely. The people, the cultural norms, complexities and weirdisms that make it up. Don't let it become just a vacation spot either. Let your children spend their summers there to know just how you grew up and how you actually lived.
9) Foster close relationships with your children's Grandparents- Grandparents are so important to imbibing your culture in your kids. They carry with them all of the above- history, traditions, language. Developing that relationship and ensuring your children get to know their grandparents will have a huge impact on them in years to come.
10) Give your children the freedom to adapt culture to who they are as third culture kids- Your kids are not you and their experience is going to be different from yours as children of an intercultural family. When they're old enough, allow them to explore their culture for themselves and decide which parts they can identify with and which parts they don't. This may change again when they have families of their own but it's important that you let them be who they are and not decide for them even when they're old enough to decide for themselves.
Fariba Soetan writes a blog all about parenting and mixed race kids. Read more here: Mixed.Up.Mama