Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Third Culture Parenting – Parenting Outside Your Own Culture

I recently guest posted for Bringing up Brits on the topic of raising kids who were born in a different country to the one I was born in. I asked Meghan Peterson Fenn, author, expat and blogger, to reciprocate and guest post about life as an American bringing up children who are, in essence, British. What she had to say about parenting in the UK was an eye opener for me for sure. Over to Meghan......

Meghan Peterson Fenn

"Raising children can be difficult at the best of times. The way we parent is determined by many factors and our cultural environment and heritage are definitely important. I am an American mother raising my three children in the UK with a British husband. Because my children were born in England, I haven’t had the experience of bringing them up in the USA so it wasn’t until I visited my parents in my home country that I realised just how ‘English’ a mother I am.

The way I parent is greatly influenced by British parenting culture and although I try and put an American spin on some things, where possible, I am more of a British mother than an American mother.  Even though I did not grow up in England, nor am I a British national, the way I parent is certainly more English than American.

For example, it is not accepted to reprimand your child by spanking in the UK. In the USA, it is more accepted (spanking on the bottom – NOT hitting your child) and therefore more common and parents are not shocked when they hear of it or see it happening. I think it is actually illegal in the UK! It is also common practice to treat your child as an equal and as a friend in the UK. Parents are more tolerant in general whereas in the US, there are more definite rules and lines that children are not meant to cross and parents, in general are stricter than parents in the UK.

It is also not as acceptable in England to offer parenting advice to friends and family. This can be a real No No with some parents who take offence when offered suggestions or advice and view it as interfering rather than helpful. British people like their privacy and find it impolite to interfere. However, when asked directly, I’ve found they are happy to offer parenting advice. And similarly, when it’s done online where there is a layer of anonymity, British mothers are more open to giving and receiving parenting advice.

These are just a few examples of things I’ve come across while bringing up my children in Britain. What have you discovered? Are you like Amanda – British and raising children in the Netherlands? What challenges have you had regarding raising your children within a different parenting culture?

I very much consider myself to be a third culture parent and sometimes wish I had the strength and gumption to be more ‘American’ in my parenting style. But it’s hard to go against the flow especially when you want to fit in and make friends and you want your children to fit in and make friends as well. I know my mother thinks I don’t discipline my children at all and she thinks the British parenting style is far too relaxed. In the past, this has caused a few difficulties with our close relationship and has had a knock-on effect with her relationship with her British grandchildren.

There are those parents who parent however they see fit no matter where they live or what the parenting culture calls for. Look at the Tiger mother, for instance.

How much does our cultural setting influence the way we parent?  How does that effect our relationship with our children and our own families ‘back home’? I am also very influenced by my British husband and the way he parents. But I suppose that is another blog post topic altogether!"

If you want to learn more about Meghan Peterson Fenn, author of Bringing Up Brits: Expat Parents Raising Cross-Cultural Kids in Britain head over to www.bringingupbrits.co.uk. You can read an excerpt from her Bringing Up Brits book here.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Choosing to Live Away from Family

This post is inspired by a post on Just. Be. Enough about choosing to live close to family and a follow up post by Abby entitled "Choosing to Live Far from Home". One post talks about living close to your parents, in the town you grew up in, and the other talks about how it is to move away. There are pros and cons to every decision you make in life.

Growing up, my family (my parents, my brother and I) did not live particularly close to our extended family. My dad is one of twelve children and my mum one of five so you can imagine that in terms of numbers my extended family, particularly now as the family tree has grown, is considerable. Considerable but scattered.

We lived in the south of England and my dad's family live in the north of England and Wales. My mum's family was closer but still a couple of hours drive away. The four of us were pretty self sufficient because we had to be.

I stayed annually at my grandparents house in Lancashire for a week or so in the summer holidays as well as a recurring stay with my maternal grandparents. My brother and I loved that we could help out in the cafes that our grandparents owned in Bath. The visits make up childhood memories that I cherish.

Somewhere in the festive period we saw all our extended family. But my grandparents were not weekly babysitters, we didn't see our aunts and uncles on a monthly basis. The distance didn't allow that. But nonetheless I have very fond childhood memories of my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. They were very present despite the distance.

Fast forward to the time when I have three little children of my own and I'm living in the Netherlands and the idea of grandparents is a huge topic in our household. The reason being is that in general my children see their British grandparents more than they see their Dutch ones. My in-laws live half an hour away, if that. Excluding my father-in-law who has a good bond with his grandchildren, my in-laws have no role in their grandsons' or nephews' lives. It goes to show that geography is not the be all and end all in determining how a relationship functions.

It also goes to show how language barriers can be overcome. Dutch is my children's mother tongue but English is the first (and only) language of my family but this doesn't effect the strength of their relationship. My children speak English with their British and American family and we work hard and willingly together to keep it up as a competent second language, despite not yet learning it in school.

The desire to be a grandparent is a huge factor in making the relationship with grandchildren work. Wanting to be an aunt is more important than the physical distance. Communication is a huge factor in making any relationship work. Letting grandchildren know you are thinking about them even if you are not there makes a relationship strong. Regular visits, telephone calls, using Face Time or Skype, letters, cards and text messages is what makes the grand-parenting bond strong. Asking after your nephews shows you are interested. It shows you care. Despite geography. Despite not sharing a mother tongue.

Expats make a choice to move abroad. To live away from family. It's never a conscious decision to put physical distance between kids and their grandparents, but it comes with expat territory. It doesn't mean the end of the grandparent relationship. Where there is a desire to stay close, geography will not hinder a relationship. As Abby put it in her post,

"....of course as we all know, geographic proximity is not a guarantee of closeness."

My children are walking proof of that.

How do you keep the relationship alive with your children's grandparents? Are there any positives in living away from your extended family? I would love to hear your views and experiences!

Choosing to live away from family throws up many challenges - from the moment you know you are pregnant abroad, to birth and far, far beyond - for more stories about parenting abroad check out our Kickstarter page for Knocked Up Abroad Again.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Christmas Gifts Crafted by Creative Expats: La Petite Lulu's Soft Toys

Meet Beckett the Bassett Hound
who is soon to join our family
(c) La Petite Lulu
It's nearly here.... the festive season is approaching fast. Sinterklaas is about to hit town so it's time for those gift ideas I promised courtesy of creative expats. This week something very special for the little people in your life. Or come to think of it, for the big people too.

First up is La Petite Lulu's wonderful handmade soft toys for babies and children. Unbeknown to my children they will each be the proud and happy owner of a unique cuddly animal on the 5th December. That's if I can wait that long to give the softies to them and not put them in their shoes before pakjesavond. I've seen them with my own eyes, and felt them with my own hands - they are unbelievably cute, so soft and brilliantly unique. I know these are the toys that my boys will have stashed away in years to come as a memory of their childhood.

Luana, an Australian expat living in the American state of California, lovingly crafts these softies from recycled fabrics and they are all incredibly affordable, even if you take postage from the USA into account.

Some of you expats here in the Netherlands may know Luana already as up until March this year she called the Netherlands home. That's how I came to be a follower of her expat adventures from pregnancy through to first time motherhood via her La Petite Lulu blog. And now, whilst her son is napping Luana is busy crafting these little masterpieces.

Custom made Monty the
(c) La Petite Lulu
From dinosaurs to cars, and fairies to flowers, La Petitie Lulu has a range to fulfill every boy or girl's wish. However, if your child's favourite animal or item isn't on display.... she's happy to take custom orders. That's how Monty the Monkey was born - I asked Luana if she could make a monkey and two days later she sent me a photo of her creation. You can't get a more unique gift than that!

Here are just some of the cuties she has created:

Monty's cousin Moe
(c) La Petite Lulu
Little Gray Car
(c) La Petite Lulu
Blossom the bird
(c) La Petite Lulu

Bernard the beaver
(c) La Petite Lulu

To make one of these little treasures a member of your family head on over to her Etsy shopBut wait, one more thing before you disappear... for readers of this blog there is an exclusive discount of 15% off La Petite Lulu's softies. Just enter the code DOUBLEBUGGY at the Etsy checkout.

**I would just like to mention that I am not receiving any commission for promoting any items in this blog series - I am just sharing the love for creative expats because their products are awesome!! :-)**

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Gift Ideas Courtesy of Creative Expats

Tis almost the season of giving...
Photo: Desing123
The season of giving is almost upon us. If you are here in the Netherlands then the good Sint is about to hit town and children are about to go insane with excitement as we build up to pakjesavond on the 5th December. Then of course we have Christmas a few weeks after. I'm already in gift buying mode on full throttle because much of the gift list will have to be sent to other countries, by virtue of the fact that I'm an expat.

So I've found some gifts that are worth sharing with you for the festive season, and the creators or business owners are all expats or have an expat link.  Whats more, and something I am soooo excited to share, watch this space for exclusive discounts for some of the amazing gift ideas coming up over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Love, A Police Trailer and A Dream Career: Life as an Expat

Moving to Netherlands
Fancy reading an interview to learn more about expat life in the Netherlands? Well then today is your lucky day because there just happens to be an interview with me on Expats Blog.

If you want to read about borrowed police trailers, falling in love with a Dutchman, making the switch to a dream career and the difficulty of leaving family behind then head over to the interview now.

And whilst you are there please take a second or two to leave a kind word about this blog or my A Letter from the Netherlands blog to help me win an Expats Blog Netherlands blog award. It takes a minute tops and sharing the love is certainly appreciated!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Passing on My Britishness: Roast Dinners

A traditional roast dinner - British style
Photo: Ronny Stephan
My Dutch boys also have British nationality so I want to make sure they have some idea of what being British means. It's a tough idea to put into concrete actions and a topic I have touched upon a few times before (see my guest post for Bringing Up Brits for a start).

Right now as I write there is a chicken roasting in the oven, roast potatoes cooking, sprouts and broccoli ready to be cooked and stuffing balls ready to be put into the oven shortly. The whole lot will be finished off with gravy. It's a very traditional Sunday roast. It's something British that I miss and something that makes my childhood Sundays particularly memorable.

Growing up we sat down as a family on a Sunday lunchtime to eat a roast dinner almost weekly. Always with a pudding, which was usually the only day of the week that my mum made a dessert. A crumble, or home made rice pudding, or a fruit pie. And today, as a tribute to my Britishness, our meal will be topped off with an apple crumble and custard.

It's a little bit of Britishness that I can easily pass on to my children. And make our own family tradition at the same time. In twenty or thirty years time I hope that my sons will look back at Sunday lunchtimes with the same amount of fondness as I do.

*Passing on your birth country culture and traditions is the theme of a set of blog interviews I am doing for a new series - so watch this space or, better still, if you would like to get involved and are an expat parent then contact me to be interviewed! It's all very painless I assure you.*

What food do you cook at home to share the tastes of your birth country with your children?

Friday, 2 November 2012

Getting into the Christmas Spirit: Free Entertainment

Waterways, lights and houses - all to
get you in the mood for the festive season
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
If you go down to your local Dutch garden centre today the chances are that the attempts to get customers into the Christmas spirit are in full swing. They call it their Kerstshow. The displays of Christmas villages in my local Intratuin are pretty awesome and what's even more impressive is the fact that the festive displays keep my children entertained for an afternoon at a time - and it costs nothing for looking. Gratis. Yep, that's free entertainment!

My kids are in awe of the trains chuffing their way around the towns full of twinkling Christmas lights, grazing animals, playing children and snowy trees.

What's more is that the Intratuin encourages you to arrange your children in front of some of the displays to take a photo yourself which you can turn in to a personalised Christmas card - something I notice is getting more and more popular in the Netherlands. Three little boys in one family we saw were getting up close and personal with some singing reindeer for a photo - climbing into the display for that special festive pose. Keep your eyes on that that letter box Oma!

The festive scenes which captivate children - particularly the boys if there's a train involved
(c) The Writing Well
Of course the idea is that you're so impressed with what you see that you go home with arms full of  illuminated houses, singing Santas and the materials to make your own Swiss ski slopes right there in your front room. But you don't have to. You can just look. 

"Can we do this at home mama?" "Erm, no.... we'll come here weekly instead until
(c) The Writing Well
I honestly cannot remember these kind of displays at Christmas growing up in England. 
Has it changed? Have garden centres started cashing in on this kind of Christmas activity in Britain? Where can you go in your host country to get into the Christmas spirit already?