Tuesday, 29 January 2019

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Risks & Challenges of Cross-Cultural Families


Research shows that kids of mixed parentage have the highest suicide rate*. This includes third culture kids i,e, kids who grow up in a different country than his/her home country. Recently I got a rude awakening, when this happened within my circle. His mom and whole family are completely devastated and heart-broken. They didn't even get a chance to say good-bye.

How can we prevent this? The case within my circle shows that sometimes there is not much we can do. The boy/youth is a strong performer in school, well-liked by both Danish teachers and Danish classmates. The parents are well-resourced. Mom is a chief doctor at a Danish hospital and well-liked by her Danish colleagues. The Danish dad is a Phd holder working in a private company. The kids are confident, happy and well-adjusted. There were totally no signs of such thought.

When I set out on my parenting journey in this cross-cultural marriage, I would wish that our kids will be fully Danish and fully Singaporean. But today, after 9 years, I finally accept that this is not truly possible. The truth is that, they will never be fully Danish nor Singaporean. We are in a third culture. When they are in Singapore, they feel Danish. When they are in Denmark, they feel Singaporean. They may not be fully accepted as a fellow Dane.

To be fair to our Little FECS, he is truly fluid in both the Danish and Singaporean environments. He speaks Singlish, when he is in Singapore and also jokingly at home with me. He truly loves both Danish and Singaporean food - for this I am deeply grateful - no food struggle at home with him. He can understand the nuances of both cultures, that Daddy FECS and I can't. This is both a blessing and a... should I say, non-blessing. He gets exasperated, when Daddy FECS doesn't get it, and vice versa, when Mommy FECS doesn't get it.

A classmate asked our Little FECS why his hair is black. Why he eats goji berries (the irony is that goji berries are getting more and more popular in Denmark). He told our Little FECS to leave Denmark and to go back to China (To Danes, they may not know that Singaporeans speak Mandarin too).

Our Little FECS took such situation very well. He simply dismissed it as a non-starter. It is me the mom who is hurt. I cried on his behalf. Then he told me not to worry about it. I am amazed at his ability to rest in himself. That is not one of my strengths. So I started to learn from him and stop shedding tears. I start being stronger too.

It may seem a rather depressing situation. But it is also an opportunity to build our kids' character strengths.

I told our Little FECS that although he is a Dane, in order for him to be accepted in Denmark, he has to be better than the Danes. This means that he has to be better than his classmates in his class. He has to do well Maths, and be better at speaking/reading/writing Danish than the Danes. And he has to learn Chinese. It will help him understand his own background better and be more well-adjusted. Perhaps, it is the Tiger Mom in me rearing its ugly head. And this might give pressure to our Little FECS. But I think it has given our Little FECS the self-motivation to do his best.

But then again, the incident happened within my circle. The boy has been a sterling performer in school and well-liked by his classmates. Still it didn't prevent him from taking his own life. In his farewell letter, he said that he found his life meaningless.

I have to acknowledge that it is sometimes it is not within us parents' control.

How do we manage this as well as we could? And how can we mitigate this risk?

1. Go down on your knees and pray

As parents, we are not perfect. I pray for our kids every single night.

2. Have a strong family tradition

What defines your family? What do you do together as part of your family tradition? Do you have a family crest? Do you have a family motto and family cheer? We make sure we have that. Because we are a third culture, neither fully Danish, nor fully Singaporean, we need to have strong family values, a strong family culture and strong family traditions. We have a simple cheer for our FECS family that we end off during each Family Fun Night. We learn this from the Stephen Covey book on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. It doesn't mean that we are an effective family. We learn and grow along the way. We don't have a family crest yet, and our family mission statement is still work-in-progress.

3. Have monthly family fun night.

Our Little FECS always prefer to spend time with us than having play dates. When I want to arrange play dates, he sometimes will say to me, "Mommy, you have been at work all week. Maybe it's time to have family time together, rather than sending me for play dates." I am touched by his words, and hold it to my heart. Will he still be so family-oriented when he becomes a teenager? I can only continue to pray and ask God to mold his heart.

4. Have tea time with your kids at an early age

I started with our Little FECS and now I am starting with Baby FECS. There is something fun about having tea together with the kids using kids' teapot and cups. Even up to today, our Little FECS still enjoys it. He doesn't find it silly. The only fault I have, is that with a full-time job, I haven't been doing what I am preaching here, which is my new year resolution for this year.

5. Build your child's confidence

Building your child's confidence doesn't mean matching any material things his classmates have - that's feeding on his insecurity, not building his confidence. It means that your child should know that he is a child of God, created special and dearly loved. It doesn't rest on his skills, his look, his skin or his hair color. God has given each child unique skills and abilities and a purpose for each child's life. This means that his confidence and self-worth must come from simply being a human being.

6. Share with your child your grief when someone takes his own life

I shared with our Little FECS how sad mommy is, when I heard the news of my friend's son, and how sad my friend and her family are over this. I cried and our Little FECS saw my tears. I believe it helped him to realize how sad we made our loved ones feel, when we do such things. I hope this will help him to learn from the mistakes of others and never consider this path.

7. Share with your child other youth in such predicament, but overcome it

I show our Little FECS Sadia Badiei from www.pickuplimes.com

Her parents are from Afghanistan and she was born in Pakistan, while fleeing. She lives in Canada and now also in the Netherlands. She is full of hope and life. Check out her blog and her story here:

https://youtu.be/x9P4R7CRX5M

8. Don't give all your time to your job and neglect your family

One can be busy working and may not be sensitive to the inner development of a child. But then again, a stay-at-home mom may still not be sensitive to the inner development of a child. It is not full-proof. Still I think it is better not to give all your time to your job, which I must admit, for me it has also been very difficult to strike a good balance.

9. Bring your child to a church that has a strong and passionate Sunday school and youth ministry

Make sure that your child is growing up in a healthy environment where there is a strong peer support. Parents cannot play the role peer influence. The involvement of helping others together with peers your kids' age may help to give him a fulfilling meaning in life. That may give them the reason not just to live on, and strive in life. Unlike in Singapore, it is hard to find such a church or strong Christian community in Denmark. But I think I have found one here, just as I am writing this post:

http://www.teenarbejdet.dk

Praise the Lord!

I also have to say that this has to start from an early age, so that this becomes part of a natural family culture. When you try to do this, when your child is in his pre-teen, it is usually too late. He may not be interested in it anymore.

I personally prefer to attend a international church, but for the sake of our kids, we are going to a Danish church, so that they can be in the youth ministry there and build up healthy friendship with Danish friends.

10. Make sure that your child is proud of both countries

This will help to build a sense of belonging of being in both Denmark and Singapore. Whenever I see newspaper articles of Denmark's achievements and Singapore's/China's achievements, I will share it with our Little FECS. I also expose him to Danish kids who are learning Chinese. I watch the Singapore National Day's parade with him. We watch the Danish handball world cup together.

11. Create more play dates for your child

The boy's mom was a very sweet lady, and she explained that it is because her son is jealous of our Little FECS. She suggested more play dates for our Little FECS and her son to solve this problem. While I agree that this is a good solution, we are currently struggling to make it work. It's partly because I have a full time job, while she works from home Monday to Friday. It's hard for us to reciprocate the play dates back. It would mean that I have to leave work at 2.30 pm, in order that I can go to our Little FECS' school, pick up the boys and bring them to our home by 3.30 pm. They play for 2 hours, and it's dinner time a 5.30 pm, and in between someone has to pick up Baby FECS back from the nurser. So logistically, it is challenging to have play dates during week days. And during weekends, we prefer to have time for the family. Otherwise, it will be on a day where I can work from home. I am looking forward to the day, where our Little FECS can have play dates without me picking him up from the school.

It's also partly our Little FECS isn't keen on having play dates with that boy anymore. Words are as sharp as a knife, and when such words are said, trust is broken. The friendship is like a vase that has been shattered. It needs time to heal. Although it doesn't affect our Little FECS so much, I can also understand, if he prefers to keep this boy as an acquaintance, rather than as a close friend. So I haven't push him for play dates. When the dust settles, and it feels right again, we will resume the play date.

12. Go down on your knees and pray

All said and done, human efforts will always fall short of God's. Go down on your knees and pray. It means that we need to surrender our sovereignty to God. We do our part to humbly pray for our child, and leave the result to God. This is the no. 1 on this list, and it is also repeating as no. 12 on this list.

Does that mean that my friend didn't pray? No, sometimes we simply don't have an answer, except to trust in God's sovereignty and goodness, even when we cannot see it and cannot feel it. Isaiah 55:8-9 says:

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We live in a fallen world. It pains God equally much. God is suffering along side us. That is the reason why He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus suffered for us and with us. He took our sins upon His shoulders. It is not easy to do so, and we cannot do it with our own strength. We can only do it with the strength from God.

I still shed tears for my friend and share her pains, acknowledging that I can't take away her pains. I mourn along with her. She and her whole family are in my thoughts. What she has experienced is the worst that can happen to a mom, or a dad.

Sometimes, I ask myself, have I been naive to marry a foreigner? If I can turn back the clock, will I do it again?

Yes, I will do it again. No one can replace Daddy FECS. I will still do it again, even if it means that we will face such challenges as a family. But together as a family, we will work on it and overcome it, by the grace of God, and commit our children to the care of God.

* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448064/

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