“A child’s first teacher is its mother.” Peng Liyuan
If you are a mother raising bilingual children, it is very probable that you have already found pages of articles giving you the benefits of raising kids who master more than one language. What many of these websites, blogs, books, and articles fail to mention are the many challenges and difficulties dealt by mommies around the world that come along with raising bilingual children.
Having seen and experienced many of the challenges that mothers of bilingual children face, I can understand the reasons why so many moms out there choose to give up. Other mothers simply fall prey of a huge wave of comparisons pushing their kiddos to the edge due to the pressure of “being the cool mom” with the overachiever children who speak more than three languages by the age of 4.
Here are some common challenges of raising bilingual children and how you can overcome them. I feel obligated to disclaim the nature of my article. I won’t be giving you tips to improve your child’s fluency, but I will share with you some of the self-care practices that have kept me sane and motivated throughout the years of raising three multilingual offsprings.
While speaking in the United States to encourage educators and parents to raise diversity awareness through languages, I have come across many mothers who feel strongly inadequate to raise bilingual children. Many monolingual mommies think that since they don’t master the language, they won’t be able to provide the right support to their bilingual kids to achieve satisfactory results.
Learn the language yourself. From my own experience with the German language, the first place to start supporting our kiddos is to learn the language ourselves. Unlike having your child play the piano or taking swimming lessons, learning a language does require to at least some extent active participation from the parents.
I’m not asking you to run to enroll in the first language course you see online. I just want you to consider the marvelous adventure you and your child could share together by learning a foreign language. Your goals don’t have to be becoming fluent in six months, it will be all about the skills and time together. No more.
If you are a momma who has the resources to hire a nanny or private tutor to speak the target language with your children, so go on! Do it! Always remember your objective, if it is that your child learn a foreign language then use the resources you have at your disposal to make it happen. You can provide support by giving your children encouragement and exposing them to the language as much as possible. For more resources to raise bilingual kids while being monolingual yourself check out https://littlenomadas.com/2018/09/23/7-tips-for-monolingual-parents-to-raise-bilingual-children/
Feeling less than others
Being a blogger and a social media junkie has allowed me to have contact with moms around the world. Throughout the years, I have found many mothers who feel ashamed of their performance in parenting, specially now in the era of desperate parents jumping through hoops to raise multicultural, multitalented and well-traveled children.
They see every day on social media these well-groomed families traveling around Africa while their 5 years old twins speak Swahili with the local butcher in Mombasa. Moms around the world follow each other’s step online just to realize that this summer they stayed at home with their not yet fluent in french kids, while mom from Instagram account @whoknowswho is cruising through the Mediterranean with her bilingual Greek/Spanish daughters.
“I’m not doing enough!” I have thought the same thing many times…
Start by giving yourself some credit. Remember to highlight one positive thing you have done every day. Be kind and honest. Cut yourself some slacks. Waking up early to help your daughter pack her backpack and drive her to that Spanish Immersion school across town is good enough to pat yourself in the back.
I personally keep a journal of the positive things I see, hear and do daily. It isn’t easy, sometimes I stare at the blank page trying to think about something good, just one thing… why is it so difficult? But when done frequently it becomes easier and more natural.
Additionally to gratitude towards ourselves, I would like to invite you to reflect on the role of social media in your life as a mother. Avoid the comparison trap. Nowadays it is easier than ever to compare ourselves and our actions to those we see online. Remember that every bilingual family has its own challenges and rough patches, and perhaps that 5 years old boy whom you saw speaking Swahili fluently on an Instagram story, is having problems with his own native language… you never know. Be kind to others, but be also very kind to yourself.
Many mothers feel judged and scrutinized when relatives and friends from their country of origin come to visit. They feel pressured to prove to all these people that her children speak the native language and that she has done an amazing job by keeping the culture of origin alive at home. Everything gets complicated when a well-intentioned grandma tells her grandson that his Spanish is not that good, or criticize his accents or code-mixing when speaking at home.
Children are well-known for their decision at time not to use a language. The reason are diverse and uncountable. However, it is necessary to understand as mothers and caregivers that many of those reasons aren’t our fault, or at least not entirely. We need to treat ourselves with more empathy and compassion to pass those same values to our children.
Yes, you may want your children to have some of the elements of your cultural identity as well, but pushing yourself and your children to force them to speak the native language at home it would only provoke rejection of the language and any contact with relatives and friends who speak it.
And please! Please! Don’t get me started with the whole “If he doesn’t speak to me in our native language, I ignore him.”
No! No! No!
I respect any process and methods you choose to raise bilingual children, but don’t ask me to agree with mothers of young children “ignoring” their kiddos to force them to communicate in their mother tongue. A mother who refuses to speak to her kids is committing an unnatural action. This will make your child feel rejected by her own mother. This will make you feel bitter inside and uneasy. It won’t give you the right results either.
Sometimes, you face difficulties not because you are doing something wrong, but because things are going the way they are supposed to. Be respectful to yourself, as a mother and as a woman. Self-care isn’t just practicing yoga 24/7 and eating super foods every morning… Self-care is also allowing yourself to be the mother you are meant to be and that your children need, bilingual or not.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Please feel free to add your own bilingual mom self-care practices down in the comments. I look forward to always speaking out for all the moms of bilingual children around the world and the many challenges we face that are unnoticed.
Would you join me?