Raising your multicultural child

| January 4, 2013 | 5 Comments

black mother and childrenImmigrants have come to the US or other countries from their country of origin. Most of them as adults with their cultures already embedded in them. I came to the United States 13 years ago, as an adult. I am a Nigerian, though now a US citizen. All I knew when I arrived was the Nigerian culture with some understanding of some foreign cultures despite being well-traveled as a former airline employee.

In Nigeria, we believe in showing utmost respect for your elders – elders meaning parents and their peers, grandparents, older friends, teachers, etc.

I come from the Yoruba tribe.  We have several cultural norms- we females kneel down to greet our parents and elders (aunties, uncles, parents, friends and so on). To greet much older people like grandparents, you are expected to fully bend your knees and have them touch the floor. With parents and other familiar people, it’s ok to courtesy with bended knee – although some might insist on the knees touching the floor. For men and boys, they are expected to prostrate, lie down flat on the floor to greet, but again bending at the waist is a smaller and acceptable gesture.

When responding to older people, the answer is normally “beeni ma or sir”, meaning “yes ma, or yes sir” which is another way to show respect.

Fast forward to raising a child in America. How does one combine “hi mommy” with the proper “good morning mommy” from home? How do you teach your child what’s valuable to you in your culture? How do you let your child know which context belongs with which culture? My mom, a retired school principal was very strict when instilling cultural values in us. Even though I hated it then, I more than appreciate it now because I hear her voice and feel her approval or disapproval in everything I do.

We can train our children in our culture by a simple biblical teaching, “train up your child while they are young, when they grow up, they will not depart from it.”

I started training my children within the family. For instance, when grandparents visit, I teach them to kneel down or prostrate to greet when they come back from school. They in turn get hugs from grandparents who ask them how school was. I listen to most of my parents’ advice but follow my own instincts when needed. My daughter is eight, so she gets it and does it without my prompting. My son who is five finds the prostrating both confusing and hilarious and prefers to kneel with his sister (which makes me laugh as its so funny to see a boy kneeling) but for now it works, at least he gets that he has to do something different.

I have always been impressed when I see my friends’ kids courtesy and greet me when we are at events, even though I don’t expect it and would be ok without it, but it strikes a warm cord within me, and I have started to teach my daughter the same thing.  (I’m old school, I know). I have taught her that when we’re in a Nigerian gathering, she should kneel and say hello to aunties and uncles. For now, she still needs prompting, but I hope eventually it will come naturally to her.  Note she doesn’t kneel to greet me though, and I didn’t teach her that! Sometimes, if I do something extra special, I might prompt her to “kneel down and say thank you” just to teach her for later in case of visits back home. I grew up with my mum caring about the kneeling and my dad not caring at all…so we children greeted them differently.

When it comes to food, I love to cook; both American and Nigerian food. And I have successfully raised my kids on both. They eat our local amala (yam flour), eba (cassava meal) and the king of all (pounded yam) even though they refer to them as white amala or black amala – but when I tell them which one we’re eating, they know it. They laugh and plead with me when I tell them I’ll bring those meals to their school for” show and tell” though (I don’t know why).

Where I have failed miserably is teaching them my native language Yoruba. They understand a few phrases but cannot speak it. I will continue to work hard on that as I believe that is another valuable addition to the culture education.

So how do we train up this bi/multicultural child? Here are a few tips I have learned with time. Feel free to add your own:

  • Speak your native language to them from birth, and more at home. They will still learn English particularly if they have a care provider that speaks in English or they go to daycare.
  • Teach them your cultural values early – respect, kneeling, whatever it is that is important to you.
  • Tell fun stories about your childhood
  • Tell them what’s OK or not in your culture
  • Teach them to practice what they’ve learnt in familiar surroundings (among close friend and families of the same culture)
  • Let them know about Nigerian food
  • Have them interact very well with grandparents when they visit.
  • Show and tell that you’re proud of your culture.

I love my children regardless, and this is not a how to, I am just sharing how I am bringing up my family and my beliefs in our rich culture.

About the Writer

Sola Olu is the author of the riveting and inspiring memoir, The Summer Called Angel which details her experiences as the mother of a daughter born prematurely. Sola was born and raised in Nigeria. As a child she loved making up stories and as soon as she could write, she started to put them on paper. She holds degrees in English and Information Systems, works in the retail industry and volunteers as a counselor to mothers of premature babies. Her writings also include essays, poetry and children’s stories. Sola loves to cook and travel and enjoys the theater. She lives in Illinois with her husband and two children.

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Sola Olu

Sola Olu

Sola Olu is the author of the riveting memoir, The Summer Called Angel. She was born and raised in Nigeria. As a child she loved making up stories and as soon as she could write, she started to put them on paper. She holds degrees in English and Information Systems, works in the retail industry and volunteers as a counselor to mothers of premature babies. Her writings also include essays, poetry and children’s stories. Sola loves to cook and travel and enjoys the theater. She lives in Illinois with her husband and two children.

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  1. Akosua says:

    Great piece!

  2. Thokozani says:

    That insight would have saved us a lot of eofrft early on.

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