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Saturday, 18 August 2012

Multilingualism and the parent-child relationship

I already wrote a post on power struggles in multilingual families. In this post, I described how children sometimes use a particular language to show their preference for one of the parents. I also wrote that I think that with the OPOL (One Person, One Language) method of raising multilingual children, a better parent- child relationship can lead to a child’s better opinion of the language. I am not sure whether this has been scientifically proven, but this is what I think.

I’ve also been reading a lot on parenting in general, especially on the parenting method known as Attachment Parenting (AP). I think a lot how to have a good relationship with my children, and while I would never describe myself as an attachment parent (many AP websites and books are the most sanctimonious things I have ever read!), I try to implement at least some of the approaches used there.

But why do I worry so much whether I am going to have a good relationship with my children? Because to tell the truth, I am not a naturally good mother. If I would follow my instincts, I would sit on the couch the whole day, with a cup of tea in one hand and a good book in the other, and let my children do whatever they please. However, I work hard to make this work. I make time for my children, even if I don’t feel like doing the same jigsaw puzzle for the zillionth time.

When my children were born, I didn’t immediately fall in love with them. I loved them, of course, but it wasn’t this instant feeling many moms brag about. Instead, I learned to respond to their needs and to understand them, and to show my love in a way they’d understand. This was especially the case with Klara, because with Julia I didn’t struggle so much. It was very frustrating at the beginning, because I speak 5 languages, but I didn’t speak baby. My own child was the only person I knew that I couldn’t understand. But I’ve learned, and I think that right now, I am doing quite a good job.

Currently, the fact that I am the only person who can fully understand my children (because I know all the languages they speak, and I know the way they pronounce certain words), works in my favour. I am my children’s translator, I am their advocate, I am their representative. But soon they will learn more, and they will be able to speak to anybody. This is why I have to work as hard as possible, to make things work between us.

To have a good relationship with my children is an important thing for many mothers. But for mothers of multilingual children, we (and sometimes our families) are the sole carrier of our language and culture. This means that we have to take more care of our relationships with our children, because how they will perceive our culture is connected to how they perceive us. At least, this is what I think.

What do you think? Do you worry about having a good relationship with your children, multilingual or not? Can you share some advice? Are there any studies on the correlation between parent-child relationship and the children’s view of the language? If you know any, please, share that, too!

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  1. Attachment Parenting really worked for me! I didn't really know it was called that then... I've also seen the name Natural Parenting since then... but I carried both of my children constantly in a sling, and when they got too heavy, on my back, until they were around 2 years old. I'm sure it helped with the bonding, it's hard to spend that much time snuggled up with someone and not bond!

    1. Tallulah, yes, it's great that this worked for you. However, it depends on the child as well- my Klara wouldn't be carried around because she much preferred to explore her surroundings on her own. Also, she is a little like a cat- she might come for a cuddle when she wants and needs it. I find that I bond with her in a different way: by reading books, by going for walks, by doing things together. With Julia, it's by touch and cuddling, and she just loooves it! So different. I think it's more difficult with Klara is that while Julia would be happy just being strapped to my belly, Klara requires my whole attention, all the time.

    2. They certainly let you know what they like and my kids are quite different to each other too. They are always surprising me, they keep me on my toes!

      I am wondering if you would like to swap guest posts on this, or another topic? Alternatively, or additionally, perhaps you would like to be included in my profiles of multilingual families? Let me know :-)

    3. Tallulah, what great idea! I will be happy to have a guest post swap with you! I can also share my story on your multilingual family profiles- it will be fun! Let me know how do you want this to work!


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