Raising multilingual children can invoke different feelings in their parents. Sometimes you can feel like a mad professor who performs experiments on your children. Or maybe you feel like you have to advocate for your children all the time. This is how I am feeling right now: like a puppet master, a manipulator.
Sometimes I get the feeling that if I looked hard enough, I’ll be able to see them, the 3 strings attached to my children, and pointing at 3 different directions. At the end of every string, there is a certain language, a certain culture and certain expectations.
The first string leads to the majority culture and language: Dutch. When I meet Dutch people, their question is always whether my children speak Dutch. And they do, but they will never become fully “Dutch” (whatever that means). I agree that it is important that they speak it. However, society expects full integration, and this is hard for me to do because I know that just like many expat children, mine will never feel fully Dutch.
On the other side, there is my husband’s part of the family. I am always asked how the children’s German is. I get comments on their German. They are always concerned whether Klara’s and Julia’s German is good enough. The fact that their little cousin can already say several words doesn't help me much.
And as upsetting this picture is to me, and as much as it pains me to admit this, I am one of these forces, pulling into a certain direction, and forcing my agenda on my children. Because here I am, speaking Polish with my children, totally unmoved by the fact that nobody understands this language and that Polish people already have a bad reputation in the Netherlands. I have an agenda: I want my children to speak Polish. I am ready to spend a big amount of time with them, reading books and playing games, but Polish is always in my mind. Do they speak enough Polish? Am I doing this right? How not to let the pressure get at me? For others, Polish might not seem like a priority: after all, when the children start school, it will be harder and harder to make them speak it. So is it not better to concentrate on the languages that count?
This is hard, people, and sometimes I really want to give in. But Polish is the most natural way I can communicate with my children. It is the only way I still get to speak it consistently every day. And while I have more in common with other expats than with a Polish person who has never been abroad, I still see my being Polish as a big part of me.
But here is the thing. While I still see the importance of my children speaking other languages, and no one knows better than you, dear readers, that I am a huge believer in multilingual upbringing, I am still the mother of my children. This means that while I do my best to ensure their exposure to the many languages that we speak, Polish is my top priority. I want my children to speak, read and write in Polish. I want them to understand the conversations I have with my parents.
I know that we all want the best for our children. However, I am their mother. If I don’t take care of my own language, nobody will. Yes, I do have an agenda in raising my children. But I believe, very strongly, that it is a good agenda, one that will benefit everybody. And in order to be able to take good care of my children, I also need to consider my own interests. And speaking Polish with my children is one of them.