Balancing Culture as First-Gen Canadian Parents
BY GURPREET RANDEV
PHOTO © ND1939/Getty Images
Jul 12, 2017
I am the daughter of immigrants, my husband is the son of immigrants, and my children are the grandchildren of immigrants. Ours is the story of Canada, one of diversity and acceptance in a land that we can’t yet claim as our own.
As first-generation Canadian parents, we have our own unique challenges. We grew up in this great country but always felt a little out of place. It can be hard to put into words what this experience feels like but if pressed to, the label would read, "not Canadian enough."
I find myself desperately wanting to provide my daughters with a sense of belonging that I never had.
I didn't grow up attending summer camp and making s'mores over a fire. I have never swum in a chilly lake or gone skating on a frozen pond. I didn't go to school dances and wasn’t allowed a high school sweetheart. I don’t understand many pop culture references. I have no connection to the Beatles, no special affection for Elvis, and no fond memories of Van Halen. I grew up with my friends but, in all honesty, was never truly one of them.
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I am Canadian, but not Canadian enough. And perhaps because of that, I find myself desperately wanting to provide my daughters with a sense of belonging that I never had. I want them to know the feeling of inclusion and oneness that many first generation children simply didn’t experience.
I cannot teach them how to pitch a tent but I can encourage them to try new experiences.
But now, as a parent, the challenge has become to teach my daughters what I myself do not know. I want them to be proud of their heritage, but to move forward with strength, knowing they are exactly where they belong; that Canada, the Great White North, is indeed their home. How can they experience the complete package when I have so often felt like only a sum of the parts?
Diversity is a beautiful concept but sometimes, it can be a difficult and messy reality. Being a first-generation Canadian is daunting. Your experiences are often yours alone. Your family may not understand you and your peers may not relate. But if there is one thing that difficulty teaches you, it is perseverance and resilience. And as a parent, you learn just how that works.
It isn’t about experiences as much as it is about lessons. I may not be able to teach my children how to get up when they fall skating but I can teach them to keep trying. And that is ultimately what bridges the gap between myself as a first-generation Canadian and my children. I cannot teach them how to pitch a tent but I can encourage them to try new experiences.
Being Canadian is about more than after-school activities and summer events. It is about the lessons that come with growing up in this great country. The lessons of strength, determination, and yes, acceptance.
I may not be able to navigate my children through all their challenges, but I can teach them to appreciate those experiences. And along the way this "not Canadian enough" parent may have realized just how Canadian I really am. My experience may not be typically Canadian, but perhaps I learned the lessons all the same.