Category Archives: Inter cultural relationships

Celebrating the Holidays in a Multicultural Family

I love Christmas (if you haven’t guessed that already) and just as much as I love the lights, the tinsel, Santa and all the decorations, I also love the intensity of it all.

But I recognise this can be challenging and sometimes painful for families where, seeing each other once or twice a year is not always easy. Throw in a couple that have multiple heritages, traditions and backgrounds and it’s grounds for some pretty intense conflicts- if it’s not managed well.

More often than not couples from similar backgrounds can master the main events together easily. Not so in mixed-culture couples. Holidays steeped in tradition- often religious- and mountains of relatives in close quarters, can result in intense emotion from all sides and high expectations of what and how things should go down.

While my partner of Nigerian descent and I of Iranian/Canadian descent have been lucky to find acceptance from both sides of our families, it doesn’t mean we’ve not had our fair share of conflict around festivals and traditions.

Children bring out a new angle to building on and passing on tradition in a multicultural family. And what can follow can be intense feeling about what and how you should celebrate.

After 15 years of being together and 3 children later, my partner and I are gradually learning to let things go, reduce expectation and build our own unique family traditions outside of what we grew up with.

Celebrating the Holidays in a Multicultural Family
Celebrating the Holidays in a Multicultural Family

Like a lot of multicultural families, we spend most of our travel budget on visiting family. The yearly trips to visit my family in Canada and my husband’s family either in various parts of England or even Nigeria (if we can stretch it) are steeped in expectation and an idealised version of ‘homecoming’. 

The pressure to create the kind of atmosphere you remember fondly  can be stressful, especially if it’s at odds with how your partner may feel about it.  I feel that I could or should do more for my girls or they will miss out on an important part of my cultural heritage. What kind of pressure is that?!!

Take last year for example. The intensity of my excitement to be coming ‘home’ for Christmas in Canada was endearing but nerve-wracking. The pressure to ‘do’ everything, see the lights, make a snowman, visit Santa and decorate the tree with the right Christmas album playing in the background (yes, I’m sure everyone has a favourite that was continually played while growing up) can lead to overload fast.

My partner, on the other hand, is much more relaxed when it comes to Christmas. Growing up in Nigeria where the weather is warmer and perhaps schedules looser, has different ideas and both our versions of how to ‘enjoy’ the holidays as been at odds.

The Holidays can also split a multicultural family down the middle…

For multicultural families that have had to endure prejudice from one side or both because of their union, the holidays can be even more painful. The pressure and desire to spend it with your loved ones, hoping against hope that they will have gotten over their racist ideas and accepted your relationship for the sake of the kids or just because ‘it’s 2018!’- is heart breaking when it doesn’t happen.

Social media has made many of these stories real to me, particularly after big political events such as Brexit and the US election when I read about many mixed couples planning to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving with family they knew had voted to leave or for ideas symbolised by the Trump campaign which represented deep rooted prejudices. Their fear and sadness that their partner would never be accepted, despite the love between them, was harrowing to read.

For lone parents in a multicultural family, the struggle is even greater…

Not at all surprising, all those times throughout the year where families feel separated, abandoned, rejected or deep in conflict become even more intense in December. In instances of lone-parent families where the non-resident parent doesn’t play a big role in their child’s life, it’s left to the resident parent to fill their child in on a culture they may know nothing about.

For many, the fight isn’t worth fighting because as a lone parent, it’s probably easier to just do it your way. And yet, the void children may feel as a result of the other parent’s absence makes it even more vital that they know about all aspects of their racial and cultural heritage. Even more so, so that they are comfortable with who they are, recognizing that they belong to two or more cultural and racial heritages.

Release expectation…

All parents do things with their kids based on what they have known and learned throughout their lives. Their own parents gave them some of it, but a lot came from the culture in which they were immersed. 

Looking back, I realise that what made the holidays so special wasn’t the Christmas album, the gifts or the right coloured lights. It was having our entire family round for a big meal celebrating our unique traditions, beliefs and cultures- in whatever form that took. It was spending time together and making memories that strengthened our bond as a family.

Releasing expectation about reliving your childhood can be what’s needed at this time of year. Your heritage cannot be exactly relived because it’s relevance becomes diluted when you have two cultures to merge in a multicultural family.

Perhaps that’s what will make our Christmases in a multicultural family more interesting and more memorable. Our Christmas turkey now sits alongside a giant bowl of jollof rice and plantain. And snow lined walks in the afternoon will be replaced with games. Either way, I’m hoping that that’s the part my children will look back on and remember- our unique heritages that blend together to make Christmas so special.



 

Where is ‘Home’ in an Intercultural Multicultural Marriage?

Are you in an Multicultural Marriage / Relationship?

Ten years ago I would have bet my left lung that we would never  move to Nigeria. Sure my husband is Nigerian but we met in England and his whole family was here at the time. ‘Home’ was here in England and the idea of settling anywhere else just a nebulous reality.

Perhaps that’s the clincher though for people in an multicultural marriage. When you marry someone who originates from somewhere else, the concept of ‘home’ represents different things to you and your partner and moving back always remains a possibility.

Finding Home in an Intercultural Relationship

Three years and two kids into our marriage, my husband started to get those itchy feet that many of his friends and siblings had already succumbed to. The desire to return ‘home’ again, to embrace his identity and show his own children where they come from. The economic opportunities were nothing to turn your nose down to either. So off we went. Sure, it wasn’t my home but I was all for an adventure. I just didn’t have a clue what I was in for.

Where is Home in an Intercultural/ Multicultural Marriage?
Soon after we arrived in Nigeria

We moved to Nigeria in 2013, full of hopes of better opportunities in  what was (at the time) a growing economy and a supportive extended family waiting for us.

The latter proved more than I could have asked for. The former, much less promising and harder work than we’d anticipated.

With two young children in any relationship let alone an multicultural marriage/ interracial relationship, it was tough.

I had been used to being quite independent over here. Although England isn’t my home country, it was similar enough to Canada that I’d been able to find what I needed, had formed a community around me and could function, for the most part, independently.

In Nigeria however, I felt very out of my league. It’s not that I hadn’t travelled before. In fact, I’d lived in Ghana for six months, years earlier following my undergraduate degree. But this seemed different. It wasn’t just me anymore, I had kids to take care of, a husband to consider and in-laws living in close proximity. None of this was a problem in itself, but the context was so different, I remember feeling so alone.

My husband was busy jump starting his business and although he was supportive, he did need to be at work- that was the whole point of us being there. As I contemplated each day’s activities for the children, I was struck by how helpless I actually felt. You couldn’t just look up the local playgroup on the internet, there were few parks and open spaces where you could hang out (and even if you did, the height of the afternoon was too hot and the malaria-carrying mosquitoes were often a concern). In any case, much of what I wanted to do I couldn’t because it either wasn’t safe (Nigeria is plagued with many security issues and going out as a foreigner with little knowledge of where I was going and by myself would have been a recipe for disaster), too far or it was too hot to go there at that time of day.

I began to get swallowed up into that hole of despair, uniquely identified as stage 3 of the culture shock pendulum.

I blamed my husband for everything that went wrong. When the temperature hiked to plus 40 degrees, when the rain flooded our compound so we’d have to drive through water that came up to our side mirrors, when my girls got mosquito bites and we thought there was a threat of malaria, when they got a runny tummy, when the driver left and started sending us threatening texts asking for more money, when we couldn’t recruit another so I took to driving myself (which, if anyone knows anything about Lagos driving, is tough), when we found rats had somehow found a way into the car and had chewed holes in the girls’ car seats, when I couldn’t find a school for my daughter that wasn’t insisting that two year olds should be able to count to 100… the list went on…

I was frustrated, angry and ‘stuck’, feeling as if I’d never find happiness over there and it would never feel like home. I knew something had to change or I’d lose it and for the sake of my relationship with my husband and for my kids, I had to make a change.

I realised that in moving to a different country and one as different as Nigeria, I was still comparing it to England. And for that, I was paying the price. It wasn’t my ‘home’ but it could be.

Slowly, with this realisation, I stopped trying to compare my life in Nigeria to my life in England. I began to appreciate what Nigeria could offer me instead of what it couldn’t. Instead of crying over a £12 punnet of strawberries, I began to buy local fruit and relished the sweet organic taste of fresh watermelon, pineapple, papaya, mangoes and oranges.

In our multicultural marriage, ‘home’ began to take on a new meaning.

Crucially, I met a group of women who became my lifeline. They called themselves Nigerwives: foreign women married to Nigerian men who’d found in each other a sense of sisterhood for the very reasons I’d described. They recognised that they weren’t expats and they were far from local, even though some could have traced their roots back to Nigeria at some point in their gene pool. Instead, all these women had in common was the fact that we all identified with being foreign and were married to Nigerians. But that was all we needed.

In them, I found an outlet for all that I had been feeling towards the country and its differences. They not only understood my feelings but most of all, they were able to offer me community. Eventually, I found a couple of local parks which we frequented almost everyday and playdates became our daily dose of fun. I learned that to find something, it was really through word of mouth so I had tapped into a local community of knowledge. I was now, never lonely.

Eventually, I found a part time job at my daughter’s school. This too, gave me great solace and a community which was my own. When you move to one or the other’s country of origin, it’s hard for the foreign partner not to feel at a disadvantage because nothing is ‘theirs’ so to speak.

In my job, I had my own friends, community and even a little extra money in my pocket so that I could buy those strawberries and not feel guilty. I had made my new ‘home’ a reality.

Eventually I settled into life and discovered that Nigeria’s people and its social life were its main attractions. Not its tourism industry or the cuisine you might find at the local market. It was the people. Our social lives were crammed with invitations to birthday party after birthday party, each one topping the other for the outlandish display of fun for children of all ages. Invitations to weddings, baptisms, engagements and birthdays flew in.  It didn’t matter if you knew the bride and groom or not; so long as you knew someone close to the family, you were free to come, bring as many as you like, eat a good meal and dance the night away.  Our family was happy.

The experience for us in our multicultural marriage has brought my hubby and I closer, not just because he knows that I can live in his country and survive but because I got an insight into who he is, his family and a lot of understanding into his ‘isms’. I know exactly what he means when he talks about home.

When you meet your partner abroad, it’s easy to think you know him/her because of who they are when they’re in that country. But inevitably, when your partner returns home, another part of them emerges. It’s not to say that my hubby became entirely Nigerian, his experience was fraught with frustrations as well, having lived abroad for almost 20 years and this being his only experience living in his home country as an adult. But it is and remains where he calls ‘home’.

We have no regrets, only broader minds, lifelong friends and a deeper desire to ensure our daughters know their Nigerian home. For me, it highlighted the fact that we are a family of many cultures and no matter where we live, Nigeria is definitely one more place we can authentically call home.

Read more from Mixed.Up.Mama below!

How to Survive in an Intercultural Relationship

 

‘What are you on about??’: How to Survive in an Intercultural Relationship

What is an Intercultural Relationship Anyway?

“Clear!”, he shouted as I clutched the wheel heading into more oncoming traffic. “What are you saying?! What does that mean?”, I shouted back. In desperation, the two of us just looked at each other, dumbfounded that the other seemed to be talking a different language. Sound familiar?

“Pull over!”, my-then-boyfriend-now-husband said in exasperation as he realised I had no idea what he was on about.

Dutifully, I pulled over. Why didn’t he just say that? I remember thinking.

That was 10 years ago, our first realisation that although both of us spoke the same first language, lived in the same country and had many things in common, our upbringings were hugely different. And despite all of our commonalities, our differences were a much bigger challenge than we’d thought. “Clear”, I soon discovered, was a Nigerianism meaning pull over or pull to the side.

A Guide to Understanding Each Other in an Interracial Relationship

My husband and I originate from four parts of the globe as far apart from each other as you can get. My father is from Iran, my mother from England and I grew up in Canada. My husband was born and raised in Nigeria, with exposure to British colonial and cultural norms.

In any relationship, the challenges of ‘getting serious’, considering where is ‘home’, family, finances, gender roles, religion and raising children are all big questions. Throw cultural differences into the heap and you can almost feel as if you’re speaking different languages.

What are the Challenges of being in an Intercultural Relationship?

For us I think those big questions were obvious and we did tend to talk about them a lot before we said the big ‘I do’. But it was the little things that we didn’t consider and that we’re still discovering about each other. Things that research on this subject just doesn’t seem to explore.

It’s how we both think, the inherent ‘street wise’ instinct hubby has just from living in a country where ‘hustling’ is the norm. I lived the stereotypical suburban life in small town Alberta where locking our door during the day was unheard of. As a result, my husband is much more observant of people and things and subtleties than I am. Whether that’s just our personalities, I hasten to guess. But after travelling to Lagos and being chastised for handing over my passport to a customs officer in uniform and not keeping my eye on what he was doing with it, I realised I have much to learn about being streetwise.

I am also much more verbal than my husband. Again, this could just be down to personality because I know I am definitely more into chatting than he is.  But again, after spending some time in Nigeria, I realised people are expected to learn by observing rather than by explanation or asking questions. In my early twenties, I lived in Ghana and was so curious about everything I was experiencing. So I asked. It was my friend who was showing me the ropes who finally explained, ‘stop talking and just watch’. I often think back to that moment when my hubby and I are arguing over something I don’t understand.

Raising children in the way we were both brought up can become another battleground. Questioning what one partner might take for granted as normal becomes an accepted part of your everyday. Simply because ‘that’s how I was brought up’ and ‘how can you question it?’ just doesn’t cut it.

Take our debate about piercing our daughter’s ears when our eldest was born. I knew it was a cultural tradition and pretty much every Nigerian girl has their ears pierced when they’re born- including all my nieces. But cultural tradition wasn’t enough for me. He wasn’t able to give an answer as to why it was important and in the end, he conceded it might be better to wait. We then faced the often unpleasant comments from other Nigerians questioning ‘why aren’t her ears pierced’ and ‘how can we tell if she’s a girl or not?’ I wasn’t too bothered about being asked.

What’s the best advice for couples in an Intercultural Relationship?

More than 10 years later, our lives have taken us to Nigeria and back, to Edmonton, Canada for long extended stays and now back to London, England. It’s been good for us to spend time in each other’s ‘homes’- learning more about each other than we ever could have just through communication. But England offers us something neither of these countries can. A neutral ground for us as a couple where we’re both just as lost as the other trying to decipher things like ‘what is the real pronunciation of ‘neither’?

We’re making choices as we go and sometimes the simplest of tasks or events can lead to debate. It’s often exhausting and I have to admit I do sometimes envy marriages between people who’ve grown up together in the same town and who can relate on so many levels.

But as time goes on, I think my husband and I are both beginning to grow having been confronted with the question ‘why?’. Consciously unravelling and exploring exactly who we are and why we believe in certain things can be uncomfortable. But isn’t all growth?  In any intercultural relationship, with more consciousness comes understanding, empathy and compromise. Characteristics that hopefully our children will learn to value.

For more about the challenges of being in an intercultural relationship, read 10 Things to Consider Before Having Kids in an Interracial Relationship or Where is Home in an Intercultural Relationship?

10 Things to Consider Before Having Children in an Interracial RelationshipHow to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racismbiracial childrenTHE Questions Asked of Mixed Race Parents

ARE MULTIRACIAL FAMILIES THE NEW NORMAL?

Are Multiracial Families the New Normal?

The other day I found myself on a 45 minute bus ride with my 3 kids and 4 of their friends. We were all sat at the back.

Their conversations were fleeting, from the lyrics of the wheels on the bus to more serious subjects like what they might order at McDonalds.

At one point, one of the girls turned to the other and they were comparing skin colours- three 5 year olds arguing about who was lighter, hoping, each in turn that they were the darker one.

It was all so innocent but lovely. Lovely that they hadn’t been touched by any of our pollutant societal thoughts about skin colour bias. Lovely that they referred to skin colour as they might any other body feature- like they would the hair on their arms or whose hands might be bigger. And lovely that they were all insisting they were darker so they could match.

Within minutes, a woman on the bus turned to me, as I wiped their mouths, told them off and cuddled the littlest on my lap. “They must keep you busy”, she said.

I smiled. Grateful to hear that in 2016 a family of multiple different skin tones and races can exist in someone’s eyes and be normal.

And although I have somewhat frequent encounters with people who ask whether my children are my own because of our different skin tones,  this experience has given me hope.

As I pondered the woman on the bus’ comment, I thought about correcting her. “Only three of them are mine”, I was going to say. But I stayed quiet, content in the knowledge, that the new ‘normal’ is us.

Does Racial Identity Change in an Interracial Relationship?

Identity in Mixed Race Families

The other day my husband of 7 years asked me ‘do you identify as ‘other’?’ His question was in response to a moment me and my girls had experienced earlier that day. I’d felt defensive and self-conscious while walking through the English countryside and being asked (multiple times) whether we ‘belonged’ there or… “are you lost????” definitely made me feel like an outsider. I knew it was too subtle to call it racism but it definitely felt uncomfortable and something I knew I wouldn’t have experienced if I was on my own.

Does Racial Identity Change in an Interracial Relationship?

The topic of racial fluidity has been raised several times in the last couple of years. Recently, Paris Jackson called herself black through her relationship with her tenuously ‘biological’ Dad Michael. And of course the controversial Rachel Dolezal, who has called for black identity to be ‘fluid’ and non-binary in the same way gender is. With more questions being raised about how identity is formed and racial constructs that lie behind it, the question whether it is possible to identify as something other than what you are through one’s relationships has intrigued me.

I am part of a multiracial family, the majority of whom are black, or who will be viewed as black by society. Apart from my daughters and my husband, I am the only white face you see in my family.  So, not to feel any sense of identity by virtue of osmosis or relationship would be impossible. Or, at least for me.

I have heard of other spouses who have non-white partners who become sensitive to the subtle racism that their partners feel on a daily basis. The wake-up to white bias is shocking and infuriating when it comes to the ones you love.

The first time it happened for me was when we entered a jewellery shop early on in our relationship. Soon enough I noticed a security guard as well as the shop floor assistant following hubby closely while he perused the rings. I, on the other hand, was not even noticed. Or, shall I say, after a few minutes, they did offer to help me but completely ignored hubby-to-be apart from the stares. I felt defensive and angered as though it were happening to me.

The experience and many like it have rocked my understanding of our world. Yes I knew racism existed. I wasn’t that naive but when you experience it and you become the object of it through your partnership (that was later on), you start to identify with it.

Since then, my children and I have felt the oh-so-subtle effects of middle class racism. The stares, the indignant looks that you may not belong in ‘this’ park- nothing major but enough to waken me up to the some of the realities of being non-white.

So yes, I guess in some ways I do identify as something other than what I am.  I still have white privilege and I’m not naive as to think I know exactly what it is to walk in the shoes of a black person. But by virtue of my relationship. Because my family is black. Because I am part of a black family. And because my identity is multi- layered, my identity as a mother of mixed race kids and as the wife of a Nigerian man is intertwined.