Toddler adjustments to the "old country" during extended visits - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 10-16-2011, 09:16 PM - Thread Starter
 
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(By "old country," I mean a country in which a parent grew up but where the family does not currently live.)

 

I know of many bicultural families who live in the US who send their kids (with or without the mother and/or father) to the old country for a long period during the summer months. If you are trying to help your family maintain a connection with an "old country," I would love to know your thoughts/experiences regarding the following.

 

Last time we went to Lebanon in the winter of 2011, my daughter was 15 months old, and it was really a stressful and difficult visit for her and me. We were apart from my husband for 2 weeks. Even though I get along well with my in-laws, I was totally overwhelmed by my daughter's emotional needs to have my undivided attention for 24 hours a day, amidst her missing her father and teething and developmental milestones. Then my daughter got a terrible flu-like cold, and then I caught it much worse and could barely function for the last week. I was a terrible houseguest, I'm sure. During my sickness, my mother-in-law was amazing in caring for my daughter, took her on lots of visits to relatives .

 

My daughter is really, really bonded with my husband. At home she normally gets 5 or 6 hours a day on work days with him, and he is a "kid person" through and through. Also, I think while we were in "his country," she just seemed to feel more comfortable and secure with him there. She is a very easy going, flexible, and happy child up until now, but she goes through her difficult times. I know it's hard to predict, but can I expect a big difference in her reaction, based on the developmental changes that happen between 15 months and 2.5 years?

 

This year, there will be many things that are different. I'm a more experienced and mature parent. My daughter will be around 2 years and 7 months old and is already very verbal. She knows her extended family through Skype. She speaks Arabic as her dominant language. I speak much better Arabic. The season will be spring (probably April/May), so the weather should be nice for part of the time, at least, and maybe we won't get so sick.  

 

My original hope was to stay in Lebanon with my daughter (sans husband) for a longer period this time, maybe even a couple of months, to advance our language and cultural bonding (and because I thought it would be fun). After my horrible trip last time, I'm thinking to decrease the period of separation considerably. I feel like these visits are so precious that I want to make the most of them, for the sake of extended family bonding, cultural connection, and language support (for her and me). But I don't want to overdo it.

 

If you have dealt with these same kinds of issues, what do you think?



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#2 of 6 Old 10-23-2011, 01:01 PM
 
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I spent two summers in Spain when I was 5, and again at 8, quite a bit older than your dd. I went with my father and brother, and that first time I didn't even really know my dad (my parents were divorced and he lives far away). I was calling him Roger when we left, and Papi by the time we got back! I am a travel-loving person by nature, so it probably has a lot to do with it, but I think those extended trips were very good for me. They went a long way toward shaping who I am (come to think of it, that might be why I love travel so much). It sounds to me like your last trip was only a disaster because you both got so sick- nothing is fun when you're sick. I say go for it- take as much time as you can. If your dd is talking to her Lebanese relatives through skype, then she can talk to her daddy that way while she's in Lebanon!

 

I would love to take my kids to their father/stepfather's "old country"! There are so many of us, we can't afford the trip!


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#3 of 6 Old 10-25-2011, 03:55 PM
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My husband and I have taken our daughters to Germany for two summers running, now. The first time, they were 2 1/4 and 9 months. The second time, they were 3 1/4 and 21 months. 

Our 2nd trip was quite stressful for me and for my older daughter, for several reasons. First, my husband was sick and couldn't really help me much, so I was kind of "on my own" with his parents. I do speak their language quite well and am no stranger to their culture, but they found fault with my parenting style and were frustrated that my older daughter didn't want to speak German with them/they couldn't understand her. They were also upset with me for choosing to speak English with my children. (I had decided not to speak German with them, because it felt artificial. My husband continues to speak German with them.) When my kids were younger and less vocal, the language difference wasn't a big deal at all. Now that my daughter is older and has, for the moment, chosen English as her dominant language, it was very frustrating for her that her grandparents didn't understand her/couldn't respond to her requests. 

My daughter was very stressed by the language thing (she understands German but couldn't get why the kids didn't want to play with her on the playground/at the beach...German toddlers are not quite as outgoing as American kids.) She also didn't want to be left alone with her grandparents. And, since we were in apartments, it was difficult for me to keep my kids quiet enough. They are used to having plenty of space and didn't understand the need for quiet in the apartment. We were on the 6th floor so my kids running around and talking loudly could be heard by EVERYONE in the building. We had many complaints. 

We will go back again next summer, and hopefully, with some careful planning, it will go better. I'm also hoping that with an additional year of maturity, my daughter will do better with the trip. Hopefully she'll learn to switch back and forth between the two languages in a few years time. I had always imagined that I would send them to Germany alone for some time in the summer, when they were older. Now, I'm honestly not so sure that is a good idea. I think that, if we really want them to feel comfortable and at home in the other culture, we will have to spend much more extended time there, not just a few weeks in the year. 


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#4 of 6 Old 01-06-2012, 07:35 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by singin'intherain View PostIt sounds to me like your last trip was only a disaster because you both got so sick- nothing is fun when you're sick. I say go for it- take as much time as you can. If your dd is talking to her Lebanese relatives through skype, then she can talk to her daddy that way while she's in Lebanon!


Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences traveling with your dad, and for pointing out that our last trip was probably made monumentally miserable in part by circumstances that will not necessarily repeat! The encouragement is much appreciated. :)

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by ekh View Post

My husband and I have taken our daughters to Germany for two summers running, now. The first time, they were 2 1/4 and 9 months. The second time, they were 3 1/4 and 21 months. 

...

 When my kids were younger and less vocal, ... parenting style...

...

 And, since we were in apartments, it was difficult for me to keep my kids quiet enough. They are used to having plenty of space and didn't understand the need for quiet in the apartment. We were on the 6th floor so my kids running around and talking loudly could be heard by EVERYONE in the building. We had many complaints. 

...

I had always imagined that I would send them to Germany alone for some time in the summer, when they were older. Now, I'm honestly not so sure that is a good idea. I think that, if we really want them to feel comfortable and at home in the other culture, we will have to spend much more extended time there, not just a few weeks in the year. 


Thanks for such a detailed response, ekh. Though for us the language thing should not be an issue, the parenting style thing probably will be more than in our last two trips. I think it will be the biggest challenge of the trip. Even in the US, I'm kind of unusual, but I'm dreading/thinking of strategies for dealing with differences between my MIL and me. Thank goodness it's a kid- and noise-tolerant environment, but I can imagine how stressful it must have been for you trying to keep little ones quiet!

 

I think the point that we can't really expect our kids to be completely at home in the other culture when they don't spent much time there is important. I have lately met many young women who speak Arabic and are Lebanese American but never actually lived in Lebanon. I feel very aware of their "straddling of cultures" experience when I talk with them. They say they feel very American, with a special bond to Lebanese culture, just not the bond of someone who grew up in country. There is a tentativeness about their Arab identity. If asked to be a spokesperson or example of Arab-ness, it feels artificial to them. I realize that as a bicultural kid, this is something our daughter will likely experience. But I hope she can still embrace the richness of having some kind of insider access to more than one ethnic heritage...



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#5 of 6 Old 01-17-2012, 08:00 AM
 
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I think a lot also depends on how the kids are exposed to the culture at home. While, of course, spending time in that country/culture as a youngster makes it much easier, a high level of understanding/belonging can be achieved by embracing the culture at home.

 

For example... I am a first-gen American. Both of my parents came to the US as refugees after WWII from (different) Eastern-bloc countries. Due to the political climate, I was never afforded the opportunity to visit either of their home countries as a child (well, to be fair, my Mom's country of birth is not what she considers her home country, as my grandmother escaped from the Bolsheviks at the time of the Revolution. But still...). However... we were raised straddling the lines of all three countries - the US, Russia and Latvia. We spoke English at school and with friends, Russian & Latvian at home. We went to ethnic churches, ethnic youth groups, ethnic summer camps, etc. And yes - I *hated* every minute of it. It made me different, it set me apart. My friends? Thought it was way cool - I got extra holidays, we cooked food they'd never had before, they were exposed to cultures they'd barely heard of. Made it somewhat palatable.

 

A bit over ten years ago (in my early 30s), I finally had the opportunity to visit Russia with my (now ex) husband. And it was like walking into Home. We didn't stay in a hotel, but rented an apartment. It was really just so easy to fall into life there. Well, for me. LOL He wasn't as impressed (note - not a native American). I  went back about five years ago with my daughter (12, and didn't have the same immersion, but, enough...) and we stayed in a small village a ways outside of Moscow. Same experience. It was like being home. And ya know... my 12 yo felt the same way. Despite no common language or experience (besides both being 12/13yo girls), she and her cousin got along famously. By the end of our stay, mine spoke passable enough Russian, and her cousin spoke passable enough English. And she wanted to stay. She still talks about going back for extended visits.

 

Three/four years ago, I went to Latvia with my Dad. And it was the same. The culture was as familiar to me as American and Russian. I'm now grateful for how my parents raised me.

 

It doesn't have to be an either/or situation. Incorporate the "other" culture into your home life. Even if you can't spend extended time in the other country, your kids will still reap the benefits.

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#6 of 6 Old 01-20-2012, 08:33 PM - Thread Starter
 
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mtiger, good points! And what sweet and positive experiences you share--thanks!

 

We are very Lebanese in certain ways (language, music, and some food) but nothing can match the big city / loud family with different relationship to kids that we find there.

 

 

 



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