Parenting In A New Culture


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 163 · Duration: 00:15:55

Parenting In A New Culture

What do you do when you move to a new country, work to put a roof over your child’s head, only to have them say that they hate you?

Today we’re hearing from Angela from Sydney, Australia. Angela writes:

Parenting In A New CultureI have a 18-year-old daughter who says she hates me, and said she is not happy for more than 10 years, and said I did not do anything as a parent. I provided her with food, house to live, support her financially and talk to her if she wants. What can I do? Should I adopt cold war towards her and let her do anything and stop giving her money, so she can feel what real life is?

Thanks so much for sending in your question, Angela. I can tell from your question that English is your second language, so I’m assuming you immigrated to Australia. And, by your last name, which shall remain private, you are from an Asian country. I admire people who emigrate from their native country for opportunities in another country. That’s what my grandparents did and I know I wouldn’t have the life I now have without their sacrifice.

When you think about how immigrants need to learn a new language, and even for folks who already know the new language, being completely fluent and able to understand and communicate nuances is such a monumental endeavor.

Often immigrants leave their country under financially stressful circumstances and need to work hard to make ends meet in their new home. Even when they arrive in their new country with a professional degree and a good income, having a family and raising children in the new country adds a whole new dimension. Often the cultural differences between the two countries put parents and kids at odds with each other.

Kids are growing up in the new country and they want the same privileges that they see their peers getting. They want the same treatment, or maybe I should say indulgences, from their parents that their peers get. Kids are often caught between love and loyalty to their parents and their parent’s culture and the cultural norms of their peers and their families.

Surviving vs Thriving

Angela, how does all of this affect you and your situation and what should you do about it? I don’t know if your daughter has a father in the picture or if you have other children but I’ll assume it’s just you and your daughter. And I’ll make some other assumptions. I’m guessing that you had it pretty tough in your country of origin and you came to Australia and worked your tail off to make things work.

Angela, you’re a survivor. What do I mean by that? It means that all your energy went into basic survival needs like food and shelter. When you’re a survivor there isn’t time to think about personal fulfillment; emotional support, empathy, validation, self-esteem, recreation, joy, personal growth; all the stuff we think about after we get our primary needs, like food and shelter, met. And if you’re someone who learned survival skills, even when you’ve successfully mastered survival, and primary needs are secure, even then, you may not know how to switch out of survival behaviors and skills to what I’ll call thrival skills.

Don’t look it up, it’s not in the dictionary. I’m not sure why not because it takes a very different skill set to thrive than to survive. To survive is to put your head down, not allow yourself to think about your feelings, do what’s necessary to get done what you need to get done. To thrive, you need to have a vision of what you want, have balance in your life so that you can have recreation, take care of your body, have and give love and support to others; you know, all the really good stuff in life.

To survive is to put your head down and do what’s necessary to get things done. To thrive, you have a vision of what you want, have balance in your life so you can have recreation, take care of your body, and have and give love and support.Click To Tweet

When you talk of providing her with food, shelter, and listen to her when she wants, it’s clear that that’s more than you had or could rely on in your growing up years. The only way you had food and shelter was by working for it. Your now 18-year-old daughter had that taken care of by you and it seems you still provide her with food, shelter, and even spending money. In a funny way, even though she didn’t get all of her emotional needs met, she could be spoiled with you taking care of everything.

Moving Forward As An Adult

So, why is your daughter complaining? I’m guessing that she grew up between worlds, and while you’ve devoted much of your life providing for her, using your survival skills, she grew up in a culture where many kids were getting their emotional needs met. They received emotional support, encouragement, and maybe their parents had more time for them and played and engaged with them more. Maybe they had more money and they received more materially. Maybe you didn’t ask enough of her and wanted her to be taken care of like other kids. I don’t know, but there is a problem here.

Sure, there’s plenty that your daughter didn’t get, but she isn’t grateful for what she did get and the work that went into getting it. I don’t want to shame her or blame her for that. She simply doesn’t have the understanding, Angela, of what you went through to get everything for her. She’s just in her own struggle with self-esteem and who to be and how to be herself. I’m sure she’s struggling with how to feel good about herself, how to appreciate that her mother devoted herself to providing for her and caring for her, and I’m sure she’s struggling with how to move forward.

Angela, you want to know how to respond to her anger and lack of appreciation. Maybe you’ve parented her with harsh discipline at the same time that you’ve been providing for her. Perhaps you’ve been black and white about what’s okay and not okay for her to do. That often goes along with survival skills and behaviors. These are just possibilities so if I’m off base, please don’t take it personally.

Angela, you ask if you should adopt a cold war and let her do anything she wants and cut off the money. Let’s look at the bigger picture here. She’s 18 now, so a young adult, and if she’s out of high school, what is she doing? Is she working, going to college, neither? The bigger picture here is to find or create a plan that helps your daughter move forward productively in her life. That may require some healing in her relationship with you, and I might add some healing for you as well. After all, you’ve been struggling all your life and end up being blamed instead of respected and appreciated.

I think it would be great for her and you to get some culturally competent counseling together. By culturally competent, I mean a therapist that understands the culture of the country you are from as well as the dominant culture you are now in. Maybe a therapist who speaks your native language. That way they can help the two of you talk about your feelings and your needs productively, without blame. They can help your daughter understand you and help you understand her, and help you and your daughter make a plan for the best way for your daughter to move forward and for you to support that, not just support her without a goal. That would be just spoiling her.

Angela, you’re a true survivor and a hero for what you’ve done and you deserve admiration and respect for that. Right now, you and your daughter deserve help. Here is a kind of conversation you might have with your daughter to get the counseling you and she need.

Since I’m not clear about your culture, I may be way off for the kind of conversation that’s relevant, so if I am way off, please talk to someone who can help take the main idea of what I’m saying and help you put it into words and ideas that work better for you. I’ll call your daughter May.

May, I’m hearing loud and clear that you are angry with me and that you haven’t been happy for a long time. I also hear that you needed things from me that you didn’t get.

I want you to know that I care very much about all this and that I care very much about you. I know that I’m not good at understanding your feelings and I’m sure I didn’t help you feel supported in many ways. I have only been able to support you in the ways I know how and those ways are mostly to work hard; make sure we have a place to live and food to eat. I’ve wanted you to stay out of trouble so I’ve been strict with you. That’s the only way I’ve known to help you stay safe. I’ve tried to be a good listener but maybe didn’t know how to listen in the right ways.

I’m going to find us a therapist who can help us know how to move forward so that I can do better at understanding you and we don’t have to feel frustrated and angry with each other. I want the best for you and I’d like to feel better as well. We just need some help knowing how to take our next steps.

So folks, parents, and helping professionals who work with parents; leaving one’s country and coming to a new one, often with financial hardship and even without financial hardship, is a huge deal. It creates significant challenges particularly knowing how to parent teenagers. The expectations of teens and the journey of adolescence vary widely among cultures. That being said, there are many universal elements in adolescence that are grounded in culture. So if parents and teens are struggling, look to culture as part of the understanding of that struggle. There are even differences in the next generation between the children of immigrants or first-generation folks and their children since first-generation kids are very steeped in the culture of their parents’ origin. These differences can often breed control battles and must be taken into account when ending control battles and moving forward.

The expectations of teens and the journey of adolescence vary widely among cultures. But there are many universal elements in adolescence that are grounded in culture. If parents and teens are struggling, look to culture to help you understand.Click To Tweet

Thank you, Angela, for your question.

During this time of profound disruption, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms, and that works just fine, phones work too. Sometimes you can be seen in person as well.

If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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