Tag Archives: multicultural families

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

 

Raising Multicultural Kids in a Mixed Race Family

Raising Multicultural Kids in a Mixed Race Family

That first day when I realised my kid was global both in heritage and in mindset was when she was three. My Mum and I were talking at the kitchen table, and the subject of China came up in conversation. My firstborn piped up, “Mama, did we fly over China to get to Canada?”

She’s referring to our move from Nigeria to Canada. And, no, we didn’t fly over China. But to hear the question come from a 3 year old suggested she knew that it was both a country far away and that other places in the world existed outside of her familiar environment. We hadn’t spoken about China before but her exposure, we knew, already included an array of foreign countries.

We didn’t set out to be raising multicultural kids in our mixed race family but as our family is made up of Nigerian, Iranian, English and Canadian heritage, it just sort of happened.

Raising a Multicultural Kid in a Mixed Race Family

This birth advantage grew  after being accepted to a genuinely international school in Lagos, Nigeria. Friends of hers hailed from all over- South Africa, Netherlands, India, Greece, America, England, Israel, Lebanon and of course, Nigeria.

It was and still is normal for her friends to speak two, if not more languages and having parents of different colours/ races was no big deal.

Even When You Stop Travelling, Raising Multicultural Kids Can Still Be Easy

We’re now living in London, England. And as she becomes more aware, she’s also talking more about accents, vocabulary, geography and social norms. We have realised that raising multicultural kids sort of comes with the territory when parents hail from different parts of the globe.

And my daughter’s accent, having lived in 3 different continents in her 6 short years, and vocab shifts according to whom she’s talking to.

Like any child with access to an ipad, her favourite shows include BBC’s Ben and Holly alongside American cartoons Paw Patrol and Lego Friends. She’s savvy enough to realise the characters speak differently and that “Hi guys” is not common all over the world.

For her, asking Mama where the garbage is and saying, “Odaro” (goodnight in Yoruba) to grandparents via facetime is normal. For her, assuming “Nepa took light” (an affectionate way of referring to the frequent power outages in Lagos) when the phone cuts midway through phone calls with grandparents and cousins that are two shades darker than her, is normal.

And showing off her collection of shopkins to cousins three shades lighter, blonde and blue eyed, in Canada where the 15 inch snow glistens off their window is also just as normal.

She doesn’t yet know that friends won’t know what she’s talking about when the day comes she proudly refers to her “Bababozorg” (Farsi for her maternal grandfather). Just as it came as a surprise to her recently when her friend asked her why she was referring to the ‘bathroom’. What’s that?, her friend asked.

Games every other day include role play as a waitress carrying a pizza. Not in her hand though. “On my head”, she insists, “like they do in Nigeria”.

Dressing up as a princess includes a jewel-like ‘bindhi’ in the middle of her forehead “because it’s pretty”. And books at night spin riveting tales of African villagers, Middle Eastern parables and American kids playing on the ‘teeter totter’ and doing ‘somersaults’.

So Does Raising Multicultural Kids Take Effort?

Yes and no. We didn’t set out to give our daughters such varied exposure. We both love travelling but we thought learning about the world came later, when children are interested in learning about their own history and culture.

But without our intervention, it’s just happened. Our daughter’s everyday exposure and experience is littered with variety growing up in a mixed race family. And that is the key, exposing your children to diversity as part of each and every experience- intentional or not.

Whether we tried to, just her being is a mixture of colour, race, history, culture and language. As mixed race kids, we were bound to be raising multicultural kids and perhaps there’s no getting around it these days.

So in that respect the term ‘third culture kid’ is perhaps outdated. Kids can’t help but be soaking up four, five even ten different cultures blended into their little beings.

So when their experiences span continents, their loved ones hail from different corners of the globe and their conversations are packed with language, intonation and dialects bridging nations. Raising multicultural kids becomes unintentional and it gives new meaning to the word ‘globalisation’.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama about raising mixed race kids, read about Preparing your Children for Racist Bullying

How to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racism10 Things Every Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Race Kids10 Things to Consider Before Having Children in an Interracial RelationshipRaising Mixed Kids in a Colourism World

Raising Mixed Race Kids: “I Want a Mama Who Looks Like Me…”

Raising Mixed Race Kids: The Moment They Wake Up to Their Own Identity

We were running late. After 2.5 weeks off, it was back to school last week and back to getting 3 kids out the door- on time.

On day 1, I got overwhelmed, frustrated that I couldn’t find one of DD1’s take-home reading books. Costing a small fortune to replace, I shouted at her that she should take better care of them.

We got out the door but she refused to talk to me. I tried the usual cajoling and apologised for shouting but she refused to smile. Guessing she was overwhelmed by the roller coaster of emotion she was probably feeling over seeing her friends and teacher after so much time off, I left her.

We’d spent a lot of time together over the holiday including having my Mum over from Canada. I stopped though, weary of being late but feeling guilty because I knew I should have kept my cool. Leaning down I looked her in the eye and asked her what was wrong.

Then she said it. “I wish I had a Mama that looked like me”.

This year has been huge in my daughter’s life as she’s become more and more aware of both her own colour and that of people around her. We only talk about race and colour in a positive way, acknowledging the differences but recognising that people are all the same inside.

My heart dropped- sensitive to the hurt I might have caused her but devastated as well that she would think skin colour would mend her broken heart.

Where do you go next when your children realise they’re different?

I tried hard not to be heartbroken but I knew that I was completely unprepared for this this morning. I sighed with despair that she should have to feel this way, that this should be important and the meaning we attach to skin colour.

Slowly, we each took a turn to say what makes us mother and daughter. Not the colour of our skin. The fact that she has my mouth and my eyes and that she’s good at certain things and not so good at others. But most importantly, our love for each other. And how that will never change… Even when I’m shouting.

We arrived on time.  And she’d forgotten about it when I raised it again after school. Flippantly, she said, “we already talked about this Mum”.

What made her feel this then… on that particular day, I’ll never know.  Perhaps she had been feeling it all this time. The feeling that perhaps we don’t match or she doesn’t fit in… or that someone who looks like her might not shout?! All at the tender age of 5.

I imagine her older, walking beside me and feeling the same thing but perhaps more equipped to be able to dismiss this feeling of matching skin colour as unimportant because well… it just is.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama, click below.

Raising Mixed Kids in a Colourism WorldHow to Talk to Mixed Heritage Kids about Racism10 Things Every Parent Should Do When Raising Mixed Race Kids10 things to consider interracial relationship pinterest

 

‘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.