01 February 2011

Raising "multi-cultural" children

Over at American Expat in Deutschland, Christina raised some thought provoking questions about what it means to raise one's children as an expat, or in a multi-cultural environment:

If you were raised in a multicultural environment:
  1. Describe, briefly, your upbringing.-- When I grew up, there was no such thing as a "multi-cultural environment". What there was, was life. My dad was a Shoah survivor, my mom was the child of refugees from the Russian empire and its pogroms. I was raised as an American, but always knowing that America was a melting pot.
  2. What do you think your parents did well?--- They created a life out of nothing, they showed me how it is possible to be rootless and to succeed, they gave me a solid foundation of love to use as a ground. The ensured that my siblings and I knew, to our very deepest souls, that we were American and that we were Jewish and that there were no contradictions at all between those two. My father, especially, coming from a world where there was no equity or justice, raised us to believe in a morality and equity that he was not raised with.
  3. What do you think your parents could have done better?--- I regret every day that I grew up with parents who spoke, between them, 9 languages, yet I only learned English. I think they should have made more of an effort to ensure that I spoke at least yiddish, if not Hebrew or Russian or Czech, or any of the languages that would have allowed me to feel more deeply rooted in a past that had already been destroyed by external forces, and to connect to the still remaining far flung pieces of my family. But they lived in a time when this was not considered appropriate for Americans, especially when Eastern European languages were considered to be "lower class", and they did what they thought was best for their children.
  4. What would you do differently given the same situation?--- How can I say what I would have done? Living at that time and from their backgrounds, I hope that I would have attempted to build a stronger social network, to root myself in neighborhood more. But here I am, in a foreign country where I am not a native speaker, and my roots are only in the topsoil. I am ensuring that my children are fluent in the language of both their parents, we have moved to ensure that they form a strong bond with a large part of their family, and they are solidly implanted in a school that will nurture their identity and allow them to feel more strongly their heritage.

If you are raising your children in a multicultural environment:

  1. What parts of your culture do you most want passed on to your children, or are you happy raising them only in the dominant culture?---I think that I am not necessarily the average expat parent at whom these questions are aimed, because as a Jewish American I am an alien in every culture, including my home culture. Although we made a point of putting the children in a German school, they are in a German Jewish school, so they will never sing along with the "Drei Königen" songs, and probably not have any memories of St. Martin's Day Lanterns, Öster Häse, St. Nikolaus, or other German traditions that are Christian-based. The decision we made to not put them in the German-American school but rather in the German-Jewish was a difficult one and we will need to ensure that the kids have more exposure to America and the American way of thought as they grow older because we made that decision. We would not have raised them in "the dominant culture" in the US either, although as the American culture is not religiously based, they would have absorbed it in every interaction and experience.
  2. What are you doing differently than parents in the dominant culture?--- I don't live within the dominant culture, so I'm not certain what those parents do. I see so many different ways to "handle" children, just by those Germans that I know. I'm comfortable saying that I seem to listen to my children more, allow them to make decisions on what I consider minor issues but which they consider important more, and am less didactic. But that could simply be a function of who my kids are and who I am. I do know that my children appear to be more open and friendly than German children in the "dominant culture", but that is also probably a function of our frequent moves and modeling: I'm pretty free and easy at chatting with strangers, compared to the general German.
It was interesting to think about these questions and it will be interesting to see if my thinking changes in the future. Thanks, Christina.


fiona said...

I find all your posts about Judaism really interesting, and I enjoy seeing life through your eyes.

I spent some time reading through your other posts regarding your religion, but I don't know enough to comment.

But Judaism in Germany is something that I am interested in. We were reading 'The Finkler Question' in my bookgroup, and I was honestly astonished at how little knowledge Berliners?, Germans? have on even the very basic points of the religion. They hadn't heard of Passover for example. While I regard my knowledge as scant, at school level even we were taught about each religion so that we had at least a very basic understanding of it. And I went to a non-denominational school.

I asked my German teacher why it would be so commonplace that the average person would have so little knowledge of other faiths or cultures, and she said that 'perhaps it's because Germans aren't really that interested in the lives of others'. Really? Can this really be the case?

But I do find it odd that Germans aren't more informed about Judaism given the history. In the UK for example, I would say that the average person is relatively clued up on aspects of Islamic faith and Muslim life. This I find is in part because we are all constantly worrying about being offensive to anyone of any faith or culture, but also because of the prevalence of this information in the media.

I must admit my German is not yet good enough for me to read German newspapers so I have no idea whether this is also the case here.

Feel free to delete my ramblings!

G in Berlin said...

The Finkler Question was my book group's pick this month, but I'll be out of town when it's discussed: I'm very disappointed.
A German said to me, last year, in all seriousness, that she couldn't understand why there had ever been any "problems with the Jews"— couldn't we all agree to worship Jesus in our own ways? Really, some of the nicest ones are amazingly ignorant of everything outside themselves. Germans have always been very parochial, in a way that the Dutch or English were not. So I'm not really surprised. Remember, the Catholic faith is about the religion being transmitted through representatives, not experienced directly. So that Germans don't understand that Jesus was Jewish and the Last Supper was Pesach is easy to understand. Younger people may know more. Or not.
I read the media and there's not a lot of discussion of others, except inasmuch as the others should adapt to German ways. When one points out that German closing laws make life very difficult for those of other faiths, we are told it's "tradition". But Berlin is also far less religious than some other states!

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing..I always find these types of posts so interesting to read and your background is fascinating. I can relate to the language regret - I would love to know any of my grandparents languages but even they have lost quite I bit over the years as they were the first American born generation in all their families.