Being one half of a multicultural couple can be both an exciting and fulfilling experience, with many of her clients reporting the difference in cultural backgrounds as the reason behind their initial attraction to their partners, said Dr Jamila Motala, clinical psychologist at Light House Arabia in Dubai.
However, along with the cultural diversity and creativity that comes with a multicultural family, there are also some pressure points that need to be dealt with, she said.
DILEMMAS: Just like all other families, multicultural families face dilemmas that raise questions like: what kind of a family are we? How do we wish to raise our children? What do we want to teach our children? And who do we want in our lives?
With a multicultural family system, members are more overtly exposed to their sets of beliefs that exist within fundamental contexts such as ethnicity, race, immigration, social class, spirituality, and gender.
“A common pattern seen in therapy is when there is conflict between these beliefs, operating within these contexts. Examples include different cultural beliefs about gender roles influencing how children are raised, and the question of self-identity and what a child is allowed and not allowed to do,” explained Dr Motala.
THE ART OF BLENDING: However, the key to tackling the issue of self-identity, if present, is to incorporate the cultures and belief systems of both parents when raising a child.
“If children have been supported to embrace their multicultural identity, they are more likely to be happier than those with a uni-cultural identity,” explained Dr Motala.
Factors such as the consistency of what is taught and exposed can also play a role in how a child embraces both cultures. Dr Motala pointed out if there is greater emphasis placed on one parent’s culture and upbringing than the other, then it follows that the child’s experience will become skewed.
An example of this is if a child grows up in the country of one of the parents without exposure to the other parent’s country at any point in his/her lifetime. “Providing children with possibilities to learn about their many cultures will enable them to enjoy the richness of their experience,” she said.
LANGUAGE: Similarly, language is crucial to enable a child to develop their identity and socialise within their multicultural environment.
Dr Motala explained that children will naturally gravitate towards the language with which they feel culturally connected. However, children are closer to the parent who is more nurturing — regardless of language, culture or nationality.
“Parents can create opportunities for their children to become more attuned to the languages of the family by helping them learn about the cultures which these languages are part of. A child should never feel they need to choose one parent’s language over the other,” she said. According to studies, multicultural children are more likely to be tolerant and appreciative of diversity, as well as an openness to the idea that there is no one culture that is superior over another, explained Dr Motala. “Being multicultural means opportunity in many areas of life: language, nationality, religion, food, music, social traditions, past and present,” she added.