The Multicultural Family
My first child that was born came from an "Italian Mutt" his mother said, a mix of most of the European nationalities. My family, mostly Irish with a mix of Italian, wasn't too far of a leap. Many of the traditions that needed to be done to honor both families are the same: everyone was Catholic and that was the only tradition that needed to be passed on. This required me to baptize my child, then send him to Catechism classes when the time came up until his Confirmation. I knew all about this, because I had lived it.
Now, insert my husband. My husband is half-Korean, meaning any children we would have would be quarter Korean and we would have to figure out a compromise on traditions in the family dynamic. I learned how to make Korean curry to surprise him once for his birthday. His family and his traditions were important to me. When we got married, I did what I thought would be most respectful to my mother-in-law: I asked if there were any traditions that she would like us to include in our wedding to honor that side of my new family. It was something I felt showed her and my husband that I respect their traditions. Luckily, she informed me that most Korean weddings follow the same traditions as "Westerners", so I didn't have too much to try and learn.
Likewise when I became pregnant, my husband and I again approached this in a way that respects each other and our family's traditions. We lovingly nicknamed the fetus the "Ginger-Asian". It was important to me that my child learns about both families, and we agreed that we would honor both families. Again, we went to my mother-in-law to learn about traditions she expected us to follow. When he was born, he was baptized within the traditional time frame that Irish Catholics were. In Korean tradition, he had professional pictures taken on his 100th day, otherwise called "Baek-il". For his first birthday, there were a few traditions that were expected of him. One tradition required them to be photographed in traditional Korean attire, called "dol-bok". (See pictures.) Another tradition, called "toljiabee" then occurred. Instead of a huge feast laid out, the cake was on the table. However, they still held the selection portion of this tradition. In this part, my mother-in-law placed a pencil, twine, and a $20 in a basket. Each of these items has a meaning. The pencil represents that the child will be a bookworm or good scholar, the twine represents longevity, and the money represents wealth. The child would then pick the item that appeals to them the most, and this would set the child on the path for its life. For the record, George picked the twine. In a related note, my husband also picked the twine during his ceremony. The dol-bok George wore was also the same one his father wore on his first birthday.
For the rest of my life, we'll have different traditions to follow. I also was considering having them learn Korean, as what's the point in being a part of another culture if you're not going to experience it. I'm also actively learning how to cook the traditional dishes as my mother-in-law does, and learn all I can. It's important to me to honor my husband's family as it is that he honors mine. When you marry a person, you don't just marry them you marry their family. And when you have children with your partner, it's important to make sure your children grow up knowing about their family and their traditions, no matter how varied they are.
Pro-tips on Multiculturalism
This has taught me something important: there are two parents that make a child. That means there are different families and traditions that these children are growing up with. It's difficult, but here are some tips to help make things go a bit easier.
- Respect, respect, respect. Like I said, there are two parents that make a child. It's important to respect each other and the traditions of everyone's families. You need to respect your partner's traditions as much as they need to respect yours. People will have hurt feelings if they don't get equal time. If I had just followed my family's traditions of baptizing a child, and ignored all the traditions of the rich culture of my husband's family, that would be completely disrespectful of him and his family. And by disrespecting him and his family, I am disrespecting my child. The exception to this is if the traditions don't mean as much to either of you. In which case you both still get equal time in ignoring the traditions.
- In-laws are handy. These situations are why I'm lucky I have a great relationship with my mother-in-law. Without her, I would be clueless to these traditions. I've learned a lot about their culture. I'm hoping to try and learn everything about their traditional dishes as I can, mostly because my husband and oldest son loves them so much. But also because my husband was raised with these dishes, our children should also be exposed to them. While I admit, I'm not looking forward to the house smelling like kimchi, it's more important to raise my children to know both sides of their family.
- Did I mention respect? Love is blind, and so is baby-making. You absolutely need to respect the cultures of everyone involved, if for no other reason than to show that you love and respect each other and your children. If only one parent has their traditions followed and ignores the other, it's a recipe for disaster on so many levels. What if this gives the child a complex about one of their nationalities? What if this tells the child that the other family isn't important? What if this tells the child that one parent is more important than the other? This isn't just about the families of the parent's being disrespected or belittled, it's about the possible fracturing of the parent's relationship. When one person loses their self-esteem because they aren't viewed as important, you're leaving the grounds for more emotional damage and a breakdown of the relationship and it does nothing but harm your child. Equal time for equal family partners.
- Be kind, and learn. The most important piece of advice is that no matter how silly something seems, it's important to them. It's your job as partner, to learn about the others' traditions. It'll make your partner feel important and you might come across cool ideas. Also, don't laugh at something. I originally smirked and became confused as a result of my son's dol-bok being pink and wearing what I thought was a very feminine headpiece. I learned afterwards that pink was the traditional color and that headpiece was the traditional male piece in Korea.
If nothing else, look at this as a learning experience in accepting other cultures. If you find yourself in this situation of the dueling cultures, I hope this helps you.