Creating a Strong Family Culture Abroad
Contributing Author: Camilla Quintana
As a mom abroad, one of my biggest concerns is to find the balance between providing my kids with stability and a connection to their roots, while at the same time helping them to adjust to the local culture and to become open-minded Global Citizens. If you, too, are raising “third-culture kids”, I’m sure you can relate.
We’re a multicultural family (I’m Austrian and my husband is Spanish), speaking German and Spanish at home. After several moves we are currently living in Bilbao in the “Basque Country” – a region which, in spite of being located in Spain, has its own cultural identity and language.
In this post I’d like to share some original ideas and inspirations with you, that will hopefully help your globally mobile family to grow stronger and to flourish – wherever you are!
1. Multicultural Bedtime Stories
Did your parents tell you stories when you were a kid that you still fondly remember? This is the case for both, me and my husband. Personalized stories can be a powerful tool for creating a family culture, and due to our circumstances I’ve decided to make our bedtime stories multicultural. I can’t tell you how much my sons love them!
Our go-to story is the one of an Austrian garbage man called Fitz who comes to Bilbao. My boys love garbage trucks, which by the way are green here, not orange like in Austria. Even the containers have different colors. (I know, I know, the things you start paying attention to when you have kids!) So as you can imagine, it’s very confusing for Fitz to find his way around and to understand the instructions of his local colleague Markel… this leads to some very funny incidents and confusions due the different cultures, customs and languages – without ever judging either one, though.
Stories like this one can normalize the challenges related to adapting to a new environment and ease the impact of culture shock.
2. Cultural Theme Nights
Having family dinners is so important and when you’re living abroad – why not spice it up a little? You can do several themes per week or month, maybe one of your country of heritage, one of your spouse’s (if it’s not the same), and one of the country you’re currently living in. Have your kids help you prepare the meals – no matter their age, there’s always something they can do and they’ll not only enjoy it but it’s also a great way to pass on family traditions. You can put on national music, decorate the table accordingly… whatever comes to mind! And share stories… lots of stories.
I have on old, handwritten recipe book from my grandmother, my kids love helping me form Austrian dumplings and I’ll tell them a story, like how I went into labor with my firstborn while eating “Marillenknödel”.
3. Family Playlists
When I was growing up, music was my world and listening to my favorite songs with others made me feel really connected to them. Does it do the same for you and your family? Then you’ll love this idea:
Create a playlist where each family member can choose and add some songs – of course in different languages and from the different countries you lived in. That will sweeten up those car rides…
But be open-minded about it. Just because you don’t like a song your son picked out doesn’t mean it’s “bad music”. With a little effort you can certainly find one thing you like about it (the beat? The voice? The guitar riff?) Remember, it’s about growing closer and inviting everyone to contribute to your family culture.
4. Strengthen the Bond to your Spouse
The divorce statistics of multicultural and expat couples are quite alarming. I don’t like to focus my attention on the negative, but rather direct it towards constructively finding solutions. One thing I’ve noticed in my work with international couples is that they often get stuck on a “pain point”. This certainly happens to all couples, but when one or both partners are living abroad, with all the challenges this can entail, these issues easily become magnified.
My advice? Shift your focus. Not everything needs to be discussed and agreed on in the moment, as a matter of fact, attempting to do so can create a greater distance between the spouses that will make it even harder to overcome the problem. So:
- Try focusing more on the things that do already work well between the two of you and make them even better.
- Think of the things you enjoy doing together, and do more of them.
When you increase closeness, trust and understanding between you and your significant other, some of the pain points you faced may just miraculously dissolve or become less of a deal.
Practicing gratitude isn’t just for , but it’s such a powerful happiness booster that I had to include in in this list! You can’t be grateful and grumpy or mean at the same time, it doesn’t work.
Furthermore, you train your mind to start looking for things to be grateful for throughout the day, which will fill you up with positive energy.
Gratitude makes us feel loved and connected to one another and to the whole world. I encourage you to help your kids develop this habit from early on.
When I put my kids to bed, we each go through 3 things we’re grateful for. No matter how small or big. It’s a beautiful way to end a day and your world will start looking much brighter when you do this regularly.
6. A New Awareness and Consciousness
One of the beauties of living abroad is that the standards you typically had for yourself and your family back home, become blurry.
What you “had to” do, wear and live like back home is probably not the same in your new country. So it’s a great opportunity to drop some old images and beliefs you held (about yourself, your marriage, your parenting style etc) and to freely think about what feels good to YOU.
This is especially important in parenting. When you stop comparing your kids so much to their peers (as they’re probably from a different culture or background anyway), you create room in which their authentic selves can unfold. It also takes out the pressure you may have felt as a parent back home, because you compared yourself to your friends or wanted them to approve your methods. A lot of parents use their kids as an extension of their ego and – consciously or unconsciously – want to validate themselves through the accomplishments of their children.
I encourage you to step back and curiously figure out who your kids really are, away from everything – you might be surprised! Discovering and accepting your child’s unique spirit is the greatest gift you can give to them. Needless to say, this will make you feel much more connected to each other.
I sincerely hope these ideas inspire you to create a unique, crossborder family culture and that living abroad will be an enriching experience for you all!
I’d love to find out how these tips are working out for you – so please feel free to reach out to me and let me know!