My twins love bagels, lox, especially Norwegian salmon, schnitzel, potatoes, and borscht. Ok it might just be that they love all food, but my multicultural children also take inspiration from their backgrounds if you ask me. While many families still have traditional background of the same cultures, it’s becoming more common for kids to have parents from different cultures, forming a rich tapestry of culture from their past. In our case, it’s a fairly small swatch of culture that runs across the north of Europe from the British Isles to Ukraine, but there’s still a lot to inherit from that range. It’s taken a while to learn how to incorporate it all, and how to deal with different parenting advice and styles from family across these cultures.
For my boys, they’re a little bit of everything from England, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Hungary, and if 23andMe is to be trusted, even a little Spanish and Italian from me. From my wife, born in Ukraine, they are unsurprisingly Ukrainian, but with some Ashkenazi jewish too. My family is as American as it comes, with roots over seven generations deep back to the revolution, but we like to also celebrate our Danish, German, and other heritage, especially when it comes to the food. We’ve got crazy pictures of family from back in the home country where all of our ancestors apparently enjoyed monstrous hats. On holidays, we enjoy a meal of kielbasa, kale, Danish cake, and usually ice cream cake. It’s a tad confusing, but really embraces the mix of ancestry that culminates in American-ness.
My wife’s family may seem completely Ukrainian at first glance, but it hides a bit more than that below the surface. Her father is Azerbaijani though move to Ukraine when young, and they’ve been in the US for three decades. They are more American now than many people I know, but there is still some getting used to when it comes to their ways of raising and dealing with children. It’s taken some getting used to, and we don’t always agree with them, but I do believe this mix of culture helps the boys develop a sense of belonging and have a wider acceptance of the world than they might otherwise have.
Ukrainians, and seemingly Europeans, don’t believe in pre-made baby food. Many Americans are embracing real food for kids too, but since I grew up on baby food, I’m not sure I would have raised them on whole food without their influence. Our boys learned to enjoy vegetables, chicken, and even Turkey on their first thanksgiving when their mother and grandmother made some for them. It wasn’t long before their grandparents had them sipping borscht too. Soon, it was piroshky, a meat filled pastry, and chicken cutlets before they even had teeth. I can’t fault her parents though, as now the boys eat pretty much everything. I don’t think many other 18-month-olds would eat an entire pint of tomatoes.
It may be a generational difference or a cultural one, but my wife’s parents also can’t stand to hear either child cry, even for a moment. While we tend to prefer giving them a minute to see if they’ll sooth themselves, her parents are at their side before the second cry can even occur. This means picking them up, showering them in attention, and often a pacifier placed in their mouths right away. When we’re around, we can step in to handle things how we want or diffuse the situation, but when they are watching the boys, we can’t do anything and slowly see their behavior change. It can take a week afterward to retrain them without the pacifier.
For an adventurous food culture, her parents are also incredibly risk-adverse when it comes to play. If they are within feet of a table edge, shelf, or any other potentially dangerous object, they quickly swoop in to move the boys. We tend to let them play, preventing them from major injury, but preferring to let them learn and experience on their own. We won’t let a bookshelf fall on them, but we might let them stumble over a discarded toy before catching them so they learn to put things away and pay attention. Their grandparents though would jump on top of a toy car like a grenade if there’s a risk one of the boys might trip over it though.
It’s not all differences we don’t agree with though. Her parents have exposed them to a world of new food and are likely directly responsible, both through their own feedings of the boys and the lesson they taught my wife to eat everything which got passed down, for the boys’ great appetites. If they took after me, they’d only eat cereal and burgers until they were 25. They’ve also been exposed to holiday traditions across a fairly wide gamut because of both families. In a single weekend we celebrate Passover and Easter, and not just the food, though they do enjoy some gefilte fish. They also get Christmas and Hanukah, and even receive a visit from Grandfather Frost, a Russian winter tradition. Their grandparents are also incredibly willing to watch the boys so that we can go out for dinner or a concert periodically, and even watched them for a week while we were both traveling for work.
It can be hard to raise children with a diverse background and families of differing opinions and styles. Clashes arise over handling situations with parents and grandparents all the time, but different cultures can increase those disagreements. Food, sleep, tantrums, and play time can all be challenging. But with those differences also come wider experiences and open minds with different cultures later in life. Our boys have great eating habits and while we still have to fight pacifier use, their influence in our boys’ lives makes them better people. I’m grateful my kids can have strong influence from both sides of the family and ancestry firsthand to help influence their development.