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Parenting in a cross cultural environment

  1. #1
    mummymoo is offline Registered User
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    Parenting in a cross cultural environment

    I have a three year old DD who like other toddlers her age is acquiring her vocabulary like a sponge, and as I work full time, I can't always be around to police what she hears, and sometimes only am able to deal with it once it has become somewhat ingrained.

    The issue arose recently when I was chatting away on the weekend with my DD, and suddenly she comes up with 'they are so stupid' talking about people leaving their lights on, because I have told her we need to switch off lights because electricity is expensive and it hurts the environment. Well I picked her up almost immediately and told her that it was NOT NICE to call people stupid as it hurts their feelings, to which she cried immediately and said sorry. Hugs and ****es later, it was over but it did leave me wondering about where she learnt that sort of language from.

    Fast forward a few days, and I catch her freaking out at our maid, as the maid had mended her 'security blanket', and told her 'you are stuuuuuuuupid, you made my putz (the pillow has name) ugly'. I pulled her up immediately but was completely SHOCKED by the exchange. I never raise my voice at the helpers, and don't call anyone stupid, so I asked her where she learnt this as it was NOT NICE, and she tells me 'mama (MIL) calls L** (the helper) stupid'. Obviously I corrected my daughter and wrung an apology out of her to the maid.

    The problem is, I discussed the issue with my hubby, and he was against confronting his mother with this issue as it would cause her to lose face, so we opted for the softly, softly approach, and we told her and my FIL that our DD had started to call people stupid and aggressively freak out at them, so we had all be careful what language we use in front of her, and how we act towards people.....to which my MIL replied that she would NEVER call anyone stupid, and that she would NOT use that sort of language, and that she ALWAYS treated people with respect (it was a real show believe me)....sigh........

    So far, I've not heard my DD say the stupid word again, but I don't want to manage problems after the fact. I do not live with my in laws, but they care for my DD 2 days a week. This is not the only issue, my in laws are typical Chinese, who really look down upon hired help, and those poorer than themselves (particularly my MIL, although only privately) and have made what I consider unsavoury comments in front of me, which I challenge occasionally, but have not taken any further but now the attitude is rubbing off on my DD. I want my DD to grow up in some ways, like I did in Australia, respecting people for the good job they do irrespective of their station in life and embracing people from all walks of life. It's a tough one and I'm wondering how I should handle this to minimize the impact on my husband AND DD.

  2. #2
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    That's a pretty tricky one, I think, mummymoo. I've noticed that many people in Hong Kong, both young and old have a cultural/internal bias against people, as you said who are "hired help, and those poorer than themselves." Often this comes out very subtly.

    So far, my Chinese parents-in-law haven't taught (by example) my 3-year-old son anything like calling people stupid and he also spends at least 2-3 days/week with them. From past experience, I know that talking to them directly about such matters does no good and they either do what your MIL did and deny things or they nod their heads and say "yes" but then keep on doing whatever they were doing or they go on the defensive and say things like "you are acting like we're trying to kill your child!" Basically, we will never change them and they are not open to discussion about their behavior with our son--in the hierarchy we are still the "children" and we should just respect them unconditionally and never question them in any way. They are wonderful people but do not, in general, respect us as equals.

    So, when push comes to shove, the only thing we can do is limit my son's exposure to them, unfortunately. It makes me sad that we've had to do this in the past and I often think that there will probably come a day when we'll have to do it again. But, the bottom line is as his parent, I have to be careful who I give authority to in his life.

    Naturally, he loves and admires his grandparents who do a great job of taking care of him and spoil him so when it comes to a situation where it's what mama says vs. what grandma says it's an unfair and confusing choice for a child to make and I refuse to be in competition with them. There can't be too many voices giving input into his little life so the best solution is to limit his exposure to their influence.

    Now, if it were my own (western) parents we would sit down and talk as equals and adults and my parents would most likely agree to abide by my wishes when it comes to their conduct around my child (no matter what their own personal beliefs/feelings are) because they respect me as his parent and realize that being a parent is tough. Also, we happen to share the same worldview. Like, you, my father taught me that the people who deserve the most respect and praise in society are the people who are serving you--the garbage men, the construction workers, the waiter--because often they do a thankless job. Everyone should be respected.
    “Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a
    spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware …
    To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory.
    She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon.”

    ~ Grantly Dick-Read (Childbirth Without Fear)

    Mother of Two
    JMW, boy, born November 29, 2007, 9:43 pm, USA
    MJW, girl, born March 17, 2011, 4:14 pm, HK

  3. #3
    mummymoo is offline Registered User
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    thanka2, I really appreciate your comments and insights, and many of your feelings mirror my own. I don't feel my in laws are bad people per se, just that they are not open to their own short comings and as such since there is never any acknowledgement that there is a problem, can not change.

    You hit it right on the head in your phrase
    "From past experience, I know that talking to them directly about such matters does no good and they either do what your MIL did and deny things or they nod their heads and say "yes" but then keep on doing whatever they were doing or they go on the defensive and say things like "you are acting like we're trying to kill your child!" Basically, we will never change them and they are not open to discussion about their behavior with our son--in the hierarchy we are still the "children" and we should just respect them unconditionally and never question them in any way." The first 2 mechanisms are reserved for foreign me, and the last one for my hubby!

    My husband always tells me that its not my job to try and change the culture in HK (when I come up against issues like this with his parents), and I don't believe that it is either, more I wish to take away the best of both worlds....as evidenced by comments in the Chinese mothers are superior thread, about Chinese perseverance, family structure ect and add them to the western values of (genuine not just to your face) tolerance and acceptance of individuals and individuality, and a healthy respect for authority, but not blind respect for hierarchy i.e you are children and you will follow no matter what. I would also hope to get to a point where later on when my DD is a mother herself (if she so chooses) that she could openly talk to me and we could still have a mother/daughter relationship, but one where there was more equality, and the existence of true negotiation, discussion.

    I think you are right, the only way may be to limit the time spent with the grandparents.......but my hubby is really resistant to this firstly (he feels it is already down to 2 days), and secondly, as they live nearby, my MIL sees my DD almost everyday (for 15 minutes before she leaves for school and 30 minutes on the ride to school) on the pretext of taking her to school even though we have a driver and helper to do that.

    Anyway so far no further comments from my DD, but as to the bigger issue, unless we move back home, the in laws are still in the too hard basket.....

  4. #4
    thanka2 is offline Registered User
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    Quote Originally Posted by mummymoo View Post
    I think you are right, the only way may be to limit the time spent with the grandparents.......but my hubby is really resistant to this firstly (he feels it is already down to 2 days), and secondly, as they live nearby, my MIL sees my DD almost everyday (for 15 minutes before she leaves for school and 30 minutes on the ride to school) on the pretext of taking her to school even though we have a driver and helper to do that.

    Anyway so far no further comments from my DD, but as to the bigger issue, unless we move back home, the in laws are still in the too hard basket.....
    I guess that maybe my own husband doesn't fit quite as much into the "filial pious son category" as some other Chinese sons in Hong Kong. I think the main thing we have going for us is that we're on the same page (for the most part) about what we see as acceptable behavior from both my parents-in-law and our son. And in the times when we've had to limit my son's exposure to the grandparents it has been a mutual decision. In fact, I would say that my husband in many cases is harder on his own parents than I am.

    I think that when he spent his university years in Australia studying he started to see things different. He realized that "Hey, I can be a good son but that doesn't mean I lay down and let people walk on me." I guess his view (and mine) is that whether the grandparents understand it or believe it or not, the truth is that we are adults and we are responsible for our own behavior--that means that the decisions we make concerning our son are our responsibility and in the end we have to own up to them.

    So, sometimes it honestly has felt like we have "shared custody" of our son and that the grandparents see themselves as his true parents and we are just the "parents-in-training" (this is the impression the grandparents have given us). At times we've had to reign in the authority we've given them with our son. Sometimes it has been, "give them and inch and they take a mile." But, as I have always said, "I am the one who carried that child around in my body for 40 weeks and then spent 2 days in agonizing labor pushing him out" so no matter what anyone says or thinks, I am his mother and on the authority scale, I'm at the top (along with my husband).

    So, with good conscience we can't stand by and let them (or anyone else) do things we fundamentally disagree with when it comes to our son. There have been times when we cut off contact completely for 3-6 months at a time because they were unwilling to listen. Sadly, this is the only way to communicate with them sometimes.
    “Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a
    spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware …
    To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory.
    She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon.”

    ~ Grantly Dick-Read (Childbirth Without Fear)

    Mother of Two
    JMW, boy, born November 29, 2007, 9:43 pm, USA
    MJW, girl, born March 17, 2011, 4:14 pm, HK

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