Living between cultures.
Text: Nanna Hauch
Being an expat mother is a unique and enriching experience, but it can also be challenging at times. When we move to a new country, we encounter different cultural norms, values, and practices, which can clash with our beliefs and ideas about motherhood. The overwhelm of navigating the new culture can make us question our values, beliefs, and parenting. It can challenge our authenticity!
I experienced this during my fourth international transition with my family of five back in 2009. I got lost between the demands of the school system and the needs of one of my children. I struggled to stay true to my values and the need to fit in.
When shaken out of our comfort zone, step 1 in regaining a sense of direction and control is to be clear on who we are and our values.
It turned out that one of my fundamental values as a mother is to give my children space to be who they are and that I will not allow a school system or teachers to belittle them for their personality. That gave me a guiding star to stay authentic while talking to teachers about my daughter.
This exercise might help you:
Ask yourself: “What three fundamental values define my motherhood?”
Write them down. Put them in “Notes” on your phone for easy access when in doubt.
If it is difficult, don’t worry.
Try to ask yourself the reverse question:
“What would I never accept as a mother?”
Or: “Where do I feel most connected and in sync with my kids.”
These questions can guide you towards your values.
"Of all the journeys we embark on in life, the journey of motherhood is probably the deepest and most developing of them all."
Give yourself a “cultural curiosity break”
Another challenge that expat mothers often face is the constant adjustment of behaviours and adaptation to expectations.
In our eagerness to fit in and get accepted in our new surroundings, we can lose our sense of self. As we struggle to find direction, our kids can get confused as they see us pushing them or allowing things that go against our previous parenting style. If that happens (it did to me, and most of the expat women I counsel experience it, too), try to give yourself a “cultural curiosity break”.
Give yourself a minute to breathe before you decide what to do next.
Tune in to your values, and maybe even consult the 3 values you have written down.
When you tune into your curiosity: What is happening right now? What does my inner voice tell me to do? Is this a cultural clash or a fundamental difference in values? What does my child want? Why is it important? Is it about fitting in, and can I/we stay authentic?
It is not important what the outcome is. The important and helpful part of this exercise is to slow down the pace, breathe and create space for staying curious and thus being able to look beyond cultural differences and evaluate how you want to act according to your values.
Trust your inner voice
Of all the journeys we embark on in life, the journey of motherhood is probably the deepest and most developing of them all. Add the expat journey on top - you are genuinely on a path filled with learnings, challenges, choices, and growth.
We all make mistakes, misjudge situations, say yes when we feel a no – and vice-versa. As expat mothers, we are balancing and navigating multiple intercultural meetings and lots of emotional turmoil. However, when we work on getting a clearer sense of our values and increasing our consciousness and awareness, we can make better and more authentic choices.
However, when we stumble, it’s okay. It will happen. You know your children better than anyone else, and you have the insight and unique perspective from your own cultural and social context. Trusting your intuition, you have the best outset to stay authentic and will provide your children with a sense of security and confidence that will also teach them to trust their own instinct.