Parenting in the midst of what often seems as the total loss of empathy and value for human suffering happening across the globe can be disheartening. As moms, our efforts to raise multicultural children can feel like an uphill battle at times. However, I’ve come to understand that the world is filled by what we put in it, and as such, our children are the best hope for a future full of empathy, respect, and understanding.
Being a mom within itself can be challenging, and when we decide to raise multicultural children there are other things that make our jobs more complex, but definitely richer, entertaining, and very rewarding. As a Caribbean mom raising children in the United States, I’m always looking for ways to expand our cultural knowledge as a family, so we can all grow in acceptance, empathy and humanistic view of the world.
In my own journey to raise multicultural children, I’ve learned that we must start by recognizing that our children are already living a multicultural or bicultural life by living in a culture that is different than ours. For many American children, they are often the product of marriages among people of different ethnic, cultural and/or religious background, and that, of course, includes, American Latinos, like my own children.
To raise multicultural children, I believe, we must first understand what multiculturalism means, what it means to go beyond our own contact and bond with two or more cultures and expand to learn and appreciate those cultures that are not directly linked to us and are not so familiar. At the same time, we have to provide our kids with a strong sense of identity, of pride in their roots and their origins.
How To Raise Multicultural Children Through Empathy
All of the above said, we all know that it takes a village to raise multicultural children, and in this journey, we are continuously learning and growing at the same time our children grow in knowledge and confidence. Here are five ways I’ve learned to help you raise multicultural children:
- Establish a family culture. Even though we are all Dominican in my household, we raise our children around the values we share, not only from our Dominican upbringing but also what we’ve learned over the years living in the United States. We set clear boundaries of what is accepted and what is not based on our values as a family. That helps shape their identity as individuals and will guide them as they interact with others, and as they learn to value others as they value themselves.
- Exposure, exposure, exposure. The best way to teach and nurture empathy is to expose our children to others, those who look and behave differently than them. For us to raise multicultural children, we must expose them to cultural diversity through books and movies with different characters that reflect the wide variety of ethnicities and the cultural richness of our world. This will help them develop a global awareness. Beyond books and movies, it is crucial to facilitate interactions with other children that have different backgrounds. In the case of Latinos, this includes playdates with Latino children of countries different than our own.
- Embrace people’s first language. This is a huge one, and a lesson we all need to constantly teach ourselves. Especially in the Latino community, we hear too often how people are mentioned by descriptors that imply how they are different, as opposed to their name or another reference. Always using language that focuses on individuals, not how they are different or their disabilities is a great way to teach our kids to do the same. It is a way to show our respect for people and modeling that same behavior for our children.
- Address discrimination and bullying. As a mom, I have been known for sheltering my children “too much”, and while I confess to being protective of my children, I know that to raise multicultural children, we must also teach our kids to stand up for themselves and others when they are faced with discrimination, bullying, or just negativity based on a person’s appearance, disability, origin, skin color, or any other reason. Showing our children that we stand up for them and others, will model the behavior for them to do it when faced with similar situations in your absence.
- Nurture empathy, every day. As adults, we understand that developing empathy is something complex and that it takes time and practice to achieve it. That’s why is so important for us to nurture empathy as we raise multicultural children that are compassionate, and can grow to be great leaders. Developing social and emotional skills that lead to empathy is crucial during the first years of life; childhood is a fertile ground that we must take advantage of by planting these seeds. You can do that by showing your love and acceptance for your kids, empathizing with them, and talking about their own feelings as well as the feelings of others.