Keywords: Cultural parenting, multicultural, intergenerational communication, balancing cultures, Indian-American, tradition, heritage, parenting, informed choices, family stories, leadership, integrity, leading by example, make your own traditions, family values, family history, western culture, western influence.
Meenal Pandya has been writing about India and its culture for more than a decade. She has written several books, hundreds of articles, and poems. Her writings have appeared in many prestigious magazines, newspapers and journals around the world. She lives in the US and is a writer, publisher and a consultant. She has raised two daughters.
Meenal wrote these essays offering invaluable advice and guidance especially for Teach India Project readers and subscribers.
Teach India Project:
Meenal, what is cultural parenting and how do I begin to raise a
culturally balanced child? One who is confident of his or her own
cultural heritage and respectful of other cultures?
Meenal: Parenting is hard but cultural parenting is even harder. There are so many issues to deal with and so little time!
Cultural parenting, on a more practical level, is what you teach your children, how you teach your children, and what you emphasize in your own life. As parents you know that your every act becomes a learning process and creates a cultural imprint for your child. In a homogenous society where the majority of people share similar values, cultural parenting is not a large issue – and not separate from other aspects of parenting - simply because a child growing up in such a culture receives the same message from everyone: his parents, his teachers, his neighbors, his friends and so on. But in a multicultural society, where the values taught at home may or may not be consistent – and often could be at odds - with what they hear from the outside world, a child receives different messages from different sources and is either likely to get confused, or lean toward the culture that is more dominant or convenient.
Indian parents living in the US (or other countries, outside of India) struggle with these issues. They intuitively know that although their heritage is very rich, and their children could benefit from that richness, the influence of the western culture is powerful -although not necessarily bad. Raising kids in two cultures, therefore, becomes more of a balancing act so that children can benefit from these two very distinct influences.
That balancing act requires the need to improvise and, more importantly to go to the roots of Indian culture because otherwise you may run the risk of giving confusing messages to your children. Going to the roots helps because not only India is changing but also because the world is also getting smaller. Rules and methods that worked for our parents and grandparents may not necessarily work for us here and now. We need to look for ways to nourish our cultural roots, specially because these kids are going to be the citizens of the world and they will need these roots to harvest the benefits that are their birthright.
Zeroing in on what we want to teach under the banner of “culture” is a very individual and often a difficult choice. As global citizens, they will need to understand and balance opposing value systems. They will need to understand the “value” of each “value” that they will inherit from us, so they can be effective citizens of this new global community and yet have strong roots to nourish their souls and minds.
The task is difficult because what we considered “Indian” is also changing and unless we pick values that can cross the boundaries of time and space – in other words, values that are eternal – we might wind up teaching our children an outdated lifestyle rather than the true values of Indian culture.
As parents, we also need to educate ourselves in the outside culture – the history, the literature, the art and religion of western culture – so that we make “informed” choices. Being knowledgeable about other cultures will also open our eyes to the beauty of our own culture and why we value what we value.
So, as we can see, cultural parenting is much more than letting your children know about your cultural heritage. It is about balancing two (or maybe even more) cultures, it is about being innovative and traditional at the same time, it is about being curious and yet grounded with some understanding of why you do what you do. Cultural parenting is about building bridges for future generations so that they can effectively cross the boundaries of two cultures and become happy and healthy members of both.
Here are some suggestions on how to get started:
Updated September 2011