We are a family of three with three different countries as birth places. I was born in Romania, my daughter in Austria and her dad in France. My daughter has lived in five different countries in the first eighteen months of her life (Austria, China, South Korea, France and Germany) and travelled on three continents before she turned two. Her first word was « bye bye » and her first phrase a combination of Romanian and French « Fetita mange carottes » (The little girl eats carrots).
I think we can say that we are quite a blend of cultures!
After a roller coaster of travels and relocations in the last two years, we have now settled a bit. We still don’t live in the same countries as our families and friends but we don’t change countries every two months anymore. We live now in a small town where the international community is pretty small. The easiest way would be to focus on the culture we live in now and let all the other cultures that influenced us in the past years fade away and become nice memories. But I think my daughter still has Asia in her soul. I truly believe that “The things (s)he sees are not just remembered; they form a part of his (her) soul.” as Maria Montessori put it beautifully into words. I think that my daughter’s experiences of traveling and living in different countries, even as a baby, had a huge impact on her. They built her personality and who she is today. That’s why I’m not ready to let go the beauty of the diversity. If your family has a similar story, I’m sure you will understand what I mean.
But how to stay in touch with diversity and multiculturalism in our daily lives with our children? Here is what we try to pay attention to and bring into our daily life:
People and languages
One of the things we miss the most is actually not a thing, it’s the people. We miss our friends from Asia and the child-friendly culture that we encountered in all the Asian countries we lived in or travelled to. We also miss our friends and family who live in other different countries in Europe. So we try as much as we can to keep in contact with them through Skype, emails and other tools that technology offers us today but also through postcards and letters. While doing that we also we also keep in touch with the different languages we speak.
I believe travelling is extremely beneficial for babies and children of any age. Even if they won’t remember later the things they saw, the experiences they make during travels shape them and open their hearts and minds to the diversity of the world. Travel can be a bit challenging with toddlers, especially when they just started to be mobile and want to explore a whole plane while all you want to do is enjoy watching a movie, but with a bit of creativity, patience and a lot of organisation, we can survive. Trust me: we have flown 30 times in two years and are not ready to stop.
Books are a wonderful resource to instill multiculturalism in our children. I like to use books that show the diversity of the world. We are reading these four books at the moment
Chez Moi by Valérie Guénec et Roseline d’Oreye.
We gave her this beautiful book for her second birthday and she loves it. Each double-page shows a habit in a different country: bed-sharing in Japan, long-term breastfeeding in Peru, baby wearing in Ghana, baby massage in India, baby led weaning in The Netherlands, hand-made toys in Canada, trusting children’s capacities in New Guinea, talking about emotions in Tibet, signs language in France, reading books in different languages in Groenland.
All these practices are part of our parenting choices and this books shows the bigger picture: they are not only family choices, they are part of an international parenting culture. I’m glad that through this book my daughter can relate to customs and families from around the world.
Where Children Sleep by James Mollison is not a children’s book but a book about children.
Each double page shows a portrait of a child, some information about them and a picture of the place where they sleep. We have this book since one year and is one of the most read and watched books. I have noticed how focused my daughter looks at the pictures and how much she is interest about these children. Some pictures are heartbreaking and I always have a mixed feeling of gratitude and sadness when I close it and put it back on the shelf but I like reading it to her because the pictures are real and because the story is real: today there are still huge inequalities between the environments where children live and their freedom to make decisions regarding their lives. I’m sure this book will be a good starting point for many interesting discussions with my daughter in the future.
Mirror by Jeannie Baker
This beautiful book shows two mirror-stories: the story of one family living in Australia and another one in Morocco. I love the message of this book: under the guise of what differentiates our lives, we are inwardly alike. We share similar values (love and family) and long for the same things: happiness, to share beautiful moments with our families, and to belong to a community.
After all the traveling and the moving around our family cuisine has become a mixture of many things. Romanian dishes, French cheese, Thai ingredients, German cakes, Korean recipes and Japanese tea ritual are part of our lives now. Cooking with my toddler is one of the things I enjoy the most. Each ingredient is a sensory experience, each new recipe is a journey to a new country. I like to spend one afternoon each week with my daughter cooking or baking together. There is so much learning happening when cooking (vocabulary, sensory experience, fine-motor skills practice, maths…- all in a fun way). It’s also a wonderful opportunity to talk about different cultures and the various ways of cooking food throughout the world.
Toys and Play
We buy very few toys so I do a great deal of research before making a purchase. When she was about 20 months my daughter became interested in babies and baby-dolls. After careful consideration and a lot of research, we decided on these two Asian dolls: one from Paolo Reina and one from Miniland. One is a Chinese baby girl and the other one reminds me of the babies I met in South Korea.
We decided on dolls with Asian features firstly, because many of the friends she made in the first months of her life had exactly these features and, secondly, because by choosing dolls that look differently than the babies she sees now, we acknowledge the diversity of the world. This will probably also be a starting point for rich discussions in the future. I’m not sure how much of it she understands now but interestingly, after she received the little Chinese baby doll, we met a Chinese lady in a coffee shop and my daughter, as usual with people with Asian features, immediately engaged with her. After a while she looked at me and said « Lin ». Lin is the name of her doll.
I hope you found some inspiration in this post and I would love to hear about your way of instilling diversity and multiculturalism in your family.
To learn more about Cristina and how she’s raising her little girl, see Juliet’s interview with her on the blog.
Follow Cristina on her blog Mothers Abroad