May 20 2011


Raising Our Children in a Crosscultural Marriage

Nelson and my wedding was a classic case of East meets West.  I’m sure it was the first time that anyone had worn a saree to my parents’ small country church in Indiana, surrounded by cornfields ready for harvest. Most of the ladies on the groom’s side were wearing beautiful sarees, and a groomsman sang a love song in Tamil while my sister sang “How Beautiful” by Twila Paris. On that day, two people, from Indiana and Sri Lanka (a small country south of India), came together as one.

Then came our two boys.

I feel like we’re still novices in parenting, but here are a few thoughts on our crosscultural marriage and raising our boys.

Unity in Christ
Nelson and I are both Christians, and our shared faith makes it a lot easier to deal with the other issues of marriage. That includes raising our boys.  From the beginning, there was no question that we would raise our children to know the Lord and that they would go to church every Sunday. We pray with and for them every day. As parents, we pray for wisdom, direction, and patience (that’s a big one) every day.

Broader Worldview
Before we were married, a coworker told me, “Your children will be children of the world”. I don’t know that I’d go that far, and Jesus said believers are not of this world, but we have to live in it.  I know what she was trying to say, though. I’m sure our boys will be well-traveled and have a much broader worldview than either of us had growing up. My first flight on a plane was as a junior in college when I studied abroad in Germany. Nelson’s first flight was when he came to the U.S. for grad school. In contrast, both of our boys had passports by the time they were 3 months old. Jacob has flown twice already.

We live near Washington DC, which is much more ethnically diverse than where I grew up. In my MOPS group alone, there are three other women who married foreign-born men. I can think of 10 families, just off the top of my head, who attend our church and are interracial couples.  Jacob’s best friend has a black mother and white father.  Because of this, I don’t worry as much about the boys feeling like they don’t fit in. I hope that they will feel like it’s normal to have parents of different races and cultures. I expect that they will have friends of several races and have an appreciation for what different cultures contribute to the world.

Appreciation for Both Cultures
Nelson’s mother and brother’s family live in Canada, so we see them a few times a year. We’re not brave enough to take both of them on the long flight to Sri Lanka, yet. Hopefully one day.  Nelson is teaching Jacob how to speak and read Tamil, his mother tongue.  I doubt that he’ll ever be fluent, but I hope that it will help him identify with his heritage. It’s true that a preschooler picks up languages MUCH faster than an adult. I gave it up after a few weeks.

I grew up on a farm in Indiana, and we usually go to the 4-H fair every summer when we visit.  Jacob enjoys playing with his cousins, taking rides on Papaw’s tractor, and eating corn on the cob. When we go to Canada to visit Nelson’s  family, they have a large community of Sri Lankan friends, and Jacob is exposed to more of their dishes and customs. He likes playing with his younger cousin, too, when he’s not bullying him. Sharing toys is still an issue.

Learning to Eat a Variety of Foods
When we were married, I learned how to cook some Sri Lankan and Indian dishes through cookbooks and Nelson’s mother. I think any woman marrying a foreign man should learn to cook some of the dishes he’s used to.  I like to cook, so it was fun at the time. Most women know you can never make it “as well as his mother does”, but I try my best. Now, with a baby and 3-year-old, I’ve reverted to more pizza, spaghetti, and chicken nuggets than curries, but some day I won’t be so exhausted—hopefully.

While Jacob was a baby, though, I worried about how I’d cook meals that both a toddler and my husband would like.  (Sri Lankan food is really, really spicy.) I grew up eating Midwestern food that’s pretty bland in comparison, but more kid-friendly, I think. Thankfully, Jacob is a pretty good eater and will eat my curries as long as I don’t use chilies. I prefer it less spicy, too.  Nelson can mix in some chili paste if we have it. Jacob loves a good beef curry and roti, as well as Hoosier sugar cream pie. Nelson eats whatever I fix and doesn’t complain. I figure it’s a compromise for all of us, and I don’t stress out about it nearly as much as I used to.

In some ways, I think it’s good that we had two boys. They have the same ethnic mix—half Tamil, and whatever I am (about half English/Scottish and half German). They’ll hopefully be able to identify with each other and blame us when they’re older if we totally screwed them up. Though I remember a lot of fights with my sisters, we’re best friends today. I hope they’ll be best friends for life, too.

Permanent link to this article: http://jenreginald.com/raising-our-children-in-an-intercultural-marriage


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  1. Anonymous

    Some beautiful thoughts.

  2. Becky

    I think a multi-cultural family can be a beautiful thing. I know that it comes with challenges. I think you and your husband are doing a wonderful job:-)

  3. Jenny

    Thanks, Becky. :)

  4. Anonymous

    This is my favorite post yet! I think it would be a good start to a very interesting book! ~ Sarah

  5. Jenny

    Thanks, Sarah. I don't have time for a book, but I thought about interviewing some of my MOPS friends for a magazine article.

  6. Aunt Cindy

    Very enjoyable reading. I think a magazine article would be great. Even something like Woman's Day or Family Circle.? Keep up the blogging. I enjoy reading them!

  7. Jenny

    Thanks, Aunt Cindy. I sent an article to the MOPS magazine this weekend but won't know anything for 10-12 weeks.

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