Cross-Cultural Issues in Raising Children

I am not really sure how to contain all of the issues in one post. Marriages like mine–in which the wife (that’s me) is Western and the husband is from the Middle East or East–will tend to have the most conflict as far as child rearing. This is because even though men from these areas can fall deeply in love with a Western woman, but the moment he realizes she will be the MOTHER of his children–and she was not at all brought up with the mothering ideas of his country–FEAR takes over.

This is extremely frustrating, frightening, and sad for both spouses. The good news is that mothers and fathers from all countries love their precious children dearly, and eventually, this helps tear away at any mistrust caused by cultural differences, beliefs, or bias. Here are some things I have learned:

  1. Parenthood can bring out a person’s worst fears about his or her spouse. My husband dearly loved me and treated me with a great deal of respect until the day our first child was born. On that day, he began to blow off all of my opinions, ideas, and basically thought most decisions I made about our child were very stupid and needed to be changed. Basically, he suddenly became convinced that a Western woman could be as good a mother as a girl from his country.
  2. These fears can cause unexpected, odd behavior. When my husband realized that our child wasn’t being raised exactly as he was, he freaked out. He became controlling and demeaning. This nearly ended in divorce when my son was 3. But slowly my husband began to return to normal–he saw how dedicated and loving I was, despite some cultural differences in the way I cared for our child. Now, years later, all is fine and we’re very excited about our third child who will be born in a few months!
  3. Mother-in-laws can make a bad problem MUCH WORSE. My mother-in-law came to “help” me with the new baby. This is the #1 worst decision I have made in my entire life. She felt she needed to TEACH me, a dumb Western girl, how to be a GOOD mother. They have many beliefs in their country that I just couldn’t agree with, such as covering my baby even though it was 90 degrees and he was sweating. Please. But because I refused to do some of these things, she felt I was a STUPID and HORRIBLE mother. Of course, this rubbed off on my husband, as to him, she’s the child-raising master! She could have helped, but because she was so close-minded, her visit had reprecussions that lasted 3 years.
  4. Cultural differences in child-rearing theories can lead to divorce. Learn to be open-minded and respectful while there’s time! My husband and I almost divorced over child-rearing issues. I was willing to compromise. Many of the beliefs my husband and his mother (and most people from their country) held about babies seemed strange to me. But they weren’t HARMFUL, so I was okay with them. But I still wanted to do many things my way, my doctor’s way, or per the advice of my family–things like feeding schedules, routines, limits, clothing, and so on–but when I tried, my husband would treat me like I was so stupid…eventually my child began to copy him. That was the end–I could not bare for my child to grow up disrespecting me. We almost divorced, but several interesting events happened, and my husband changed. To make a very long story short, now he’s very proud of my mothering–as I always was!
  5. Here is a short list of issues you may want to discuss before you have children with a foreign spouse. Some of these were very unexpected to me, and caused many, long-term spats!
    • Giving a child medicine for pain (some countries don’t like doing this)
    • Religion in which a child will be raised, or even only baptized
    • Age when a child should go to kindergarten (many countries go sooner than in the US)
    • Age when a child should go to pre-school
    • Whether babies should have an eating or sleeping schedule
    • What types of limits to set for toddlers (some cultures believe in almost NO limits–as my husband’s)
    • Activities mothers should do with toddlers
    • Who will stay home with the child? Is it okay for the mother to go out by herself while the father watches the child and vice versa? (It seems logical that this will be fine–sometimes it’s NOT!)
    • What role the father will have–change diapers, take walks with the child, give baths, or nothing
    • What role will the mother-in-law have–will she be expected to adhere to the mother’s ideas? If she fails to do so, what course of action will the husband and wife each take?
    • What languages do you want your child to speak at home? Is it important that they are bilingual?
    • Where will the child sleep? (in some cultures it is very important that the child sleep in the parent’s room or bed, while in others, children may have their own room much sooner)
    • What will you do about dating when the child is older? (in some cultures girls are strictly forbidden to date or even go out near the evening with female friends)
    • How often will the family visit in-laws? (this will be a consideration due to finances, plus families in some cultures will expect long visits of 2 months or more, both to your home and theirs)

All in all, child-rearing causes conflict even for most spouses from the same country! In my experience, just being respectful can prevent many problems. Also, remember that each spouse will feel a very serious and deep commitment to his or her ideas about child-rearing. You may feel you can be flexible until the moment when your partner wants to do something that you feel will not benefit your child. If this is rooted in culture, it may take time to solve.

All in all, my case was pretty hard. But even mine is fine now! And my husband is SUCH a wonderful father. I would not change any decision. Our family is extremely happy–it just took work and patience.