Here at Snuggleosophy, we want to support our parenting community. We also have a passion for multilingual and multicultural education. For that reason, I thought that it would be a great idea to create an interview series dedicated to introducing you to parents that are actually living and promoting a multilingual / multicultural lifestyle with their children.
Our first interviewee is a lovely woman that I met through our Twitter account.
Paola is the owner and writer for “The Elephant Mum”. She is an Italian woman, living in Finland, and has adopted a son from India! Talk about a mix of cultures! I hope that you enjoy this interview, and I highly recommend that you go check out her website if you are interested in learning more about her and her family’s adventures.
What is your blog, The Elephant Mum, about?
My blog follows our family life and my reflections on parenting. I often write about adoption, managing three cultures in our family, life as an expat, multilingualism, and parenting struggles. Having such a broad focus is not the best choice as a blogger, but it represents best who I and my family are.
What is your family dynamic?
My husband and I are both Italian expats in Finland, we moved there about seven years back. We have two children aged 2 and 5, by birth and by international adoption from India. At the moment I am working full-time and my husband is taking care of our children at home, but the plan is for him to also go back to working full-time in the near future.
Why did you move to Finland to begin with?
I moved to Finland quite by chance, I was looking to study abroad for my master’s final year. I ended up staying! My now husband left his job in Italy and followed me one year after and now we’ve lived here together for almost 7 years.
Why did you choose India to adopt from?
Also India kinda happened (wow, I really own my life, don’t I). We initially chose South Africa to adopt from. Local agencies required that we queued for at least two years before even sending documents there! Few months in and our agency announced they lost their contact there and that we needed to switch to another country. We asked what our options were and India was an alternative. My husband had visited the country and we were both genuinely fascinated by Indian culture. Looking back, we were lucky. I am finding a lot of similarities between Indian and Italian family culture, and I feel more at ease with our choice.
What were the key factors that inspired you to adopt?
We wanted to enlarge our family and give a child an opportunity at the same time. We felt we had some good cards to play as an expat family, like our stress on cultural roots.
What languages do you and your husband speak with your children?
We added the “international touch” to our family. The home language is Italian, but our oldest is bilingual and knows Finnish as well. Our youngest is starting to learn Finnish. If circumstances require it, we may speak Finnish or English.
How do you integrate so many different cultures in one household?
Our home country culture came naturally of course. Our first challenge was integrating Finnish culture into our routines. The local culture is strongly felt by Finnish people and we believe it is necessary for our children to have the Finnish childhood experiences. It took a long time to learn the local traditions and truly integrate them in our family life. I feel safe to say we genuinely are an Italian-Finnish family now. When our son joined us from India last year, we were committed to integrate Indian culture as well. We are doing it through food, festivities, and active participation in the local Indian community, but I expect it to take years.
What is your greatest challenge being a multicultural / multilingual family?
Integrating Indian culture is the hardest challenge we’ve had so far. When we tried the same with Finnish culture it was easier, we were surrounded by “experts” after all. Indian culture is unknown to us and opportunities are limited. It takes a lot of reading and studying, and a consistent effort.
What is your current parenting goal?
I want to learn not to take things personally. When my children are oppositional, they are not doing it to harm me. My rational side understands it, but my emotional one fails on this sometime.
Do you have your own Snuggleosophy?
I try to walk alongside to my kids and not make choices for them, even if it means watching them fail. Takes a lot of courage sometimes!
At the end of the day, what is your #1 motivation?
My actions as a parent may have a strong impact on my children’s life. This both gives me great anxiety as well as motivation.
If you had one piece of advice to give to other multicultural families, what would it be?
Integrate cultures. If you are an expat family, welcome the majority culture inside your family for the sake of your children and their cultural identity. Think through what are the core values from each culture you want them to learn. I truly believe multicultural is an asset. In our parents’ generation, most multicultural families tried to “suppress” the minority culture when they had children, scared that they would not integrate. The world has changed and now diversity is much more valued. Your children will not be proud of their heritage if you act like you are not.
Paola is the owner and writer over at The Elephant Mum, check it out here.
Caitlin is the managing director of Snuggleosophy and the mother of 1-1/2 year old Amanda. She has lived as an expat in Santiago, Chile for the past 7 years and speaks English and Spanish fluently. She loves to promote reading for children starting from birth as well as multilingual and multicultural parenting. For her day job, she is a pricing and transportation analyst for international freight.