Mothers in a multi-cultural family are heroes. These moms cherish the wealth that cultural diversity can bring and bravely face the inevitable clash of beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviors. They intimately know it can be exasperating in a different way. As one multi-cultural family mother said, “Most of the people in the world who drive me nuts… are in my family.”Another mother called it, “Genuine blind love.”
Different research studies estimate that within 20 years white-Caucasian people will no longer be a majority in America. Even more stunning, EthniFacts Research claims this was already the case in August 2014. How did EthniFacts reach that conclusion? They factored in mixed race families in America.
We spoke with multi-cultural moms in South Florida and discovered key points of value and conflict in multi-cultural families and how some are dealing with them.
Bringing honor and respect
The first issue of great importance we discovered is respect for age and authority. For many cultures, particularly Eastern cultures, family honor and parental deference are highly valued and deeply ingrained. Challenging the elderly or the established authority brings great dishonor on the whole family and is considered inexcusable. Contrarily, the same type of respect is not attributed in some western cultures. In fact, many believe authority figures need to be questioned and challenged on a regular basis. Our mothers tell us, like delicate house-plants needing constant attention, a multi-cultural family mother must keep the matter of family respect and authority on intensive care.
This can be accomplished by parental agreement, regular talks with the children, regular family meetings, and special events honoring parents and grandparents. It is important to creatively think of unique and special ways for your family to nourish healthy respect. It will contribute significantly to stronger, more peaceful relationships.
Patriarchal or matriarchal?
Of related importance is the power position of the father and the mother. In some cultures, such as Italian, the father is the unquestioned authority. In other cultures the matriarch wields most of the power. One man from a matriarchal culture shared one of their common sayings. “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. If Auntie ain’t happy, duck! If Grandma ain’t happy…RUN…RUN!”
Words and sayings
Words and sayings or idioms were of great importance in our responses. Multi-cultural families need to hear what the other person means more than what they say. Sometimes the words mean something entirely different to one culture than they do to another, which may cause misunderstandings.
One lady shared that her father traveled to their home country to visit family. After an extended discussion in the house, he sighed deeply and said, “Well, I guess we need to go hit the road.” After a long, uneasy pause, the relatives stood up, walked outside, found a stick and started hitting the road! When the misunderstanding was all cleared up, they all had a wonderful laugh.
In my role as the international student representative at Trinity International University, I received a call from a far-eastern lady inquiring about steps to apply for a college degree. When she asked about tuition, fees, housing and the cost of living, like usual, the information was shared. After a long pause, she carefully asked, “Sooooo…it’s NOT going to cost me…an arm and a leg?!” Her question was so innocent; it caught me off-guard and made me laugh.
Humility and understanding
That brings me to my final point. Multi-cultural family communications require humility and understanding. My response to this precious lady was with honest humor. But, over the phone, I think she was offended. No-one likes to feel they are being laughed at. It is so easy for someone in a multi-cultural setting to feel the other is being condescending, even though it is not meant that way.
Our moms tell us this is a huge issue. It’s especially wise to help everyone cherish the humble response in a multi-cultural family. This helps guard against being mistaken as arrogant and condescending. Though there are other interesting stories and issues from multi-cultural families, the ones we just discussed stand out as very important. Super Moms in a multi-cultural family have an extra challenging task to tend the garden of family relationships.
In review, the first key issue is to nurture a high level of family respect for age and authority. The second issue is to mutually understand and support the definition of patriarchal or matriarchal authority in your family. Third, special attention to the meaning of words or phrases is very important. A misspoken idiom can cause major misunderstanding. Finally, in a multi-cultural family our responses can sometimes be totally misunderstood as arrogant and condescending. It helps so much to give watchful attention to our heart and attitude to project a patient and respectful demeanor. One final important thing! The mothers we interviewed said to tell everyone to pray…pray…and pray. Prayer works. Finally, it’s true that amazing moms in a multi-cultural family don’t deserve to be queen for the day. They deserve to be queen for the month!
Steve Davis, Ed.S is an adjunct professor (adult development, research & writing), advisor to the Master of Arts in Theological Studies and international student representative at Trinity International University, Davie. He is a frequent speaker and copywriter.