Tag Archives: family

Blending cultural identities: raising multicultural kids when you are culturally homeless

“Who are you and where are you from?” – these two questions are supposed to define ourselves but for a lot of people they are very difficult to answer. If somebody asks me now: “Where are you from?” what should I reply? I am from Belgium, however I am not Belgian. I am originally from Latvia, I hold Latvian nationality, I did my University studies in Latvian and worked in that language. I have a mother tongue fluency in Latvian and a solid knowledge of history and culture of Latvia, yet… I am not Latvian. I am ethnically Russian, but I have only been to Russia twice and not to, so-to-say, “deep-Russia” but to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, and for a total of less than 3 weeks. What I remember vividly from those trips is that I was culturally shocked in what I believed to be my culture. I consider English to be my home language now because this is the language I talk percentage-wise the most: and with my husband and with a lot of my friends. Those who hear me talk English without knowing that this ain’t my mother tongue based on the accent assume I am American. Yet I am obviously neither American (haven’t even been to the States yet), nor even technically English-speaking as such. I was born in the Soviet Union, however the Soviet Union broke down before I even started elementary school, so for those who understand – I haven’t even had a chance to be oktyabryonok. Wait, it gets worse! Even my name – in my Belgian ID my family name is “Wynants”, yet in my Latvian passport – I am “Vinantsa” transliterated according to Latvian language rules. So who am I and where am I from actually? To think about it – I am culturally homeless.

If things are so complex with myself how am I supposed to raise my kids? And who are my kids going to be? Belgian? Wait, there is no “Belgian” as in this country things are also kinda mixed up. Flemish? But they are exposed to Russian culture and language a lot, and their first words were in Russian. Plus, they hear hell of a lot of English and to my horror (giggle) start to understand it as well, despite the fact that we never directly address them in English. So this is a difficult question that I am still in the process of exploring it for myself, thus I am always eager to hear other people’s experiences and thoughts.

While researching the subject myself I have stumbled upon a term “Third Culture Kids” (there are quite a few TED-videos on the subject if someone is interested). The term “third culture kid” or TCK itself was first coined in the mid-20 century to describe the children of American citizens working and living abroad. The “third culture” comes from the fact that parents have one culture, the place where a family lives has another culture, but the kids raised in such circumstances create a sort of an amalgamation of two cultures mentioned to create something of their own – hence the third culture. However, I do consider that with globalization and with an enhanced mobility this term should be expanded to include all those people who grew up under a significant impact of diverse cultures. It is no longer a 20 km life! More and more people are born in one place, go study to another, then go working to yet another and settle somewhere completely else with somebody from a different culture, and maybe after a while are again on the move. This is a reality already now and it will be even more so when today’s kids grow up. So the question “Where are you from?” is no longer simple.

On the one hand this sort of cultural homelessness creates a lot of difficulties in self-identification, but on the bright side this also brings enormous opportunities, such as an expanded worldview, an enhanced cultural intelligence, a 3D view of the world if you will. But then again, consider a situation: a family is sitting in front of TV watching, let’s say, football. Which national team is everyone supporting? Think about it for a moment. This silly example portrays a situation which might be psychologically difficult for parents to accept. We are talking about confused loyalties, about different values, about accepting that your kid doesn’t share your identity. But then again, the beauty is that you have a choice. Nowadays you can choose to define yourself not just based on the ethnicity, not based on the location where you were born or where you currently live. You can choose to define yourself by different categories: by your own personal values, by your own beliefs and not just by a tag somebody placed on you. Thus, there are for sure lots and lots of positive consequences of blending cultures if you approach the subject with an open mind.

Also as a parent there are myriads of benefits that you are able to give your kids (language, traditions, literature, perception, even food habits,…) provided that you yourself are open and willing to expand your personal worldview; if you are willing to explore your own culture and the other cultures you encounter on your way. Without prejudice, without judging, with a sincere wish to understand and enrich yourself. I guess that would help us all a lot and would allow to raise a truly multicultural people of the future.

 

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Traveling with kids: How to survive and keep your sanity

My husband and I have always been traveling quite extensively and once our kids were born we decided not to stop the habit. Thus we do some city trips now and then (like we went to the National Sea Center Nausicaa in Boulogne-sur-Mer to celebrate our first son’s birthday), we go to visit interesting places (also not just interesting for kids, but interesting first and foremost for ourselves – e.g. recently we went to see the Moses bridge in the Netherlands). Additionally, my family still lives in Latvia and my granny is already relatively old which makes regular air travel a necessity. We traveled with our daughter by plane for the first time when she was couple of month old, with our son – when he was just one month old. Since then we accumulated quite some air miles. Also by car during the last 3 years we traveled both short and very long distances (like 2000 kms one way). Although I am in no way guru of traveling with kids, throughout our experiences we have accumulated a list of useful and tried tips and tricks on how to survive and keep your sanity while traveling with your precious little monsters angels. Some of the tips are more about air travel but most of them are applicable with adaptations to other means of transportation as well.

So, let’s begin:

1. First and foremost, attitude is everything. Things tend to go wrong at the moments least expected. Try to go with a flow and try to keep your cool. Kids are little radars that very easily pick up their parents mood. So if you become irritated and cranky prepare to have your little ones go even more berserk.

2. Factor in some spare time. This is a difficult one because, for example, with air travel you don’t want to be at an airport too early as you would simply go nuts waiting. On the other hand, you don’t want to rush in at the last moment and then discover that you have a so-to-say toilet accident that you need to urgently solve. You need to reasonably add something like in between 15 minutes and half an hour to your usual timing – that would normally do. Same for traveling by car – factor in additional stops on top of what you would normally do yourself.

3. Have antibacterial wipes, wet tissues and just normal paper tissues easily accessible. And by easily accessible I mean not just in your handbag or diaper bag, have a small version in your pocket that you can take out in no time. And speaking about pockets…

4. Wear clothes with pockets! It is not the idea to look like Anatoly Wasserman but he has some point. It is very handy when you can have the above mentioned tissues, or a small toy to immediately act upon a possible emergency. Also for passports and boarding passes – you need to show those things way too many times so better have them by hand (in case of documents opt for an inside pocket or the one which you can close securely).

5. A toddler can have his or her own bag. That saves space in your hand luggage and gives a toddler a feeling of involvement (allow him to pack, but by all means check and adjust afterwards!). Just don’t choose these cute pull-ones with wheels, as they twist and turn all ways and you will end up carrying that uncomfortable thingy yourself in addition to everything else you already have. A small backpack is the best choice.

6. Have some plastic bags (preferably zip lock but usual ones would also do) in an easy-to-reach spot.

7. For everyone kids included opt for the shoes that are easy to put on and get off. In an airport that will save you some time at the security check; and on the long-distance car ride you would want to take your shoes off in the car to relax your feet but be ready to run out fast if your toddler suddenly (and urgently) needs to pee.

8. Where there are kids, things tend to get messy and clothes might get dirty so make sure you have some spare clothes nearby. Here I prefer to pick the ones that are more or less suitable for both of my kids – a little bit too small for my daughter, a little bit too big for my son, yet overall fitting both of them; and from fabrics that are easy to roll. And in general…

9. … roll your clothes. There are numerous ways of how to efficiently pack your luggage but I personally choose rolling. When done properly you can stash a lot of things in less space. Also stuffing socks and underwear inside shoes allows to use the otherwise unused space to its full capacity. To optimally use the luggage weight allowance when traveling by air try to wear your heaviest clothes instead of putting them in your luggage.

10. Have that additional moment of going to the bathroom and change even seemingly clean diapers closer to departure (for air travel). It is feasible to do it while on board but so much easier when don’t have to.

11. Of course you don’t expect to lose your little one in a crowd yet better safe than sorry so either get an ID-bracelet or write your mobile phone number on the inside of kids clothes, or even just write it on their arms.

12. Explain to your kids what will happen, what they should do in case they are lost… It is not going to work with small kids of course, but repetition does wonders. And in general I am very much pro explaining everything even to an infant.

13. Have some entertainment for kids ready but give it out in small doses (by no means all at once!) You know your kid better than anyone so you know if a coloring book works better than a toy car, so pick. There is no need to have a lot of stuff (2-3 different activities would do). If you have an iPad, pre-load some offline games. If you have a small tablet-PC put some cartoons on. If you opt for electronic devices make sure they are fully charged, otherwise a cartoon stopped in the middle will cause more drama than it was supposed to avoid.

14. A good idea for a bit older kid would also be a child-friendly photo-camera. That is a great stimulation of creativity for them but can also produce unexpectedly nice artistic results to add to your family photo-album.

15. There was a good advice on one of the websites – ignore the idiots and don’t be one yourself. Some people don’t like kids in general, irrespective of how well-behaving they might be, so imagine if they are not? Don’t ignore other people or intentionally annoy them but also don’t stress too much about what somebody thinks about you or your off-springs.

16. Wear kids out! Let them run when it is possible to run. Let them explore when it is possible to explore. Let them shout when it is possible to shout. Traveling is a great experience for your little ones, so let them experience everything to its fullest. And also in the airport, let them run around (reasonably!) before they will be confined to sitting still in an airplane for hours.

17. Finally, also for the air travel, make sure to make them drink or chew on something at take-off and landing otherwise those little ears will hurt. Nurse if you are nursing, give a bottle, or if a kid totally refuses to drink – give them a gummy bear! Long live Harribo’s! What also helps if a kid is already screaming from ear-pain – gently massage the area around their ears, that normally helps to relieve the pain a bit.

18. Couple of words about car seats and buggy’s during air travel. When our kids were infants we took car seat (Maxi Cosi) with us on the plane as it was used also on the buggy. Rules depend airline per airline but usually you are allowed to take Maxi Cosi and sometimes even keep it during the flight on the chair next to you. Otherwise the flight attendant will take it away while already in the cabin and give it back to you after you land. As for the buggy usually you have two options: either to check it in together with your check-in luggage or keep it until the plane. So far we went for the latter, as even if a kid doesn’t want to sit in a buggy anymore, you can use it to put all your hand luggage. As an additional bonus, with a buggy you usually get through a fast security check.

 

Some additional comments on traveling with an infant

The great thing about infants that are breastfed and can be carried in a sling is that they can be breastfed and be carried in a sling! Both points make traveling with them much easier than with an overly active toddler. When my kids were infants I had a set of breastfeeding clothes and a light blanket to cover-up and I always found a place where I can breastfeed as discreetly as possible. In the airport sometimes you can get into the lounge, or almost always go to a chapel. On the city trip you can find a quiet place in the park or in some cafe’s. I have breastfed even in a church once while on our city-trip to Paris… To note that I was always sufficiently discreet and covered-up so no one could actually tell that I am breastfeeding anyway. Breastfeeding while traveling by car is even less of a trouble – you can just pull over, make a kid happy and move on – to explore the world together.

 

And finally – some general tips which make sense even traveling without your precious little ones:

1. Take pictures or make scans of your passports and other documents and e-mail them to yourself. In that way if you ever lose your documents you will spare yourself lots of time while you’ll be replacing them.

2. Have a last-moment to-do list with things you need to still do right before you leave, for example: plug-out coffee maker, switch off water (in case applicable), take out garbage, finish that pack of juice that’s been open for 2 days,… whatever there is. If you actually have it all written down and you scratch items off as you take care of them that would improve your “pre-departure” efficiency and remove at least some stress.

3. I like spontaneity but it helps when you have at least a draft of your plan for the day. You need to stay flexible (and especially with kids) but you need to know at least in general lines where would you like to go and what would you like to do or see.

 

And I’ll wrap up with what I have started – most importantly enjoy your travel experience and stay positive! Attitude is everything!