My Mother Didn’t Raise Me ‘Canadian’ — And Now I Know Why
By Daniella Osman
Photo © emaneazy/Twenty20
Jan 22, 2019
Being born a first-generation Canadian was a balancing act for me.
It meant both growing up in a Haitian household, acknowledging all of the traditions and culture, and adapting to Canadian society and its norms.
This was quite challenging because Haitian culture can be very strict and different — at least compared to what I saw on TV and outside of the home. For example, there were days where I would go to school in a gown, because being dressed elegantly is a big part of Haitian culture. In the late '80s I was one of the only black kids in my class, so you can imagine how much more I stood out in my ruffled peach dress and church shoes (I can laugh at this now, but it wasn't so funny then).
While my elementary school friends had the freedom to go to sleepovers and mall outings, there were a thousand Haitian cultural reasons why I couldn't do the same. For instance, Voodoo is widely practiced and, for the most part, not in a positive way. This has made many Haitians, my parents included, very cautious and overprotective of their kids. So when I wanted to join in at a sleepover, it was easy for them to say no — but I didn't really get why at the time. Any explanation sounded so outrageous and I couldn't relate, because it felt so foreign to what was happening in my life in Canada.
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Fast forward to my adult years, and I'm glad to say I have adjusted just fine (although, back then, I never thought I'd survive the culture — or maybe just my parents).
But now that I am a parent, raising second-generation Canadian children, I'm trying to find a balance between our Haitian and Canadian cultures.
Which got me thinking: it must have been so challenging for my parents to raise my sister and I, all while being new to a country and adjusting to a new culture themselves. I never asked, nor ever cared to. As kids, we don't realize that our parents may be going through their own personal challenges associated with parenthood and integration. Now that I'm older and I'm able to relate to that same challenge — in a different way — as a mom, I decided to have a heart-to-heart with my mother, to see what her experience was really like.
A Brief Conversation With My Mother
Me: When you first came to Canada, did you have any plans or strategies in place as to how you would raise your kids in this culture?
Mom: No, not at all. I didn’t even have the intention to stay in Canada. Situations changed and opportunities presented themselves and I, then, became a resident. So, the thought of raising kids here was far from my mind.
Me: So you have no real plan in place then boom! You're married and soon have your first child. What were some of your first experiences or challenges when it came to cultural differences in raising your kid?
Mom: I’d have to say food. Random, yes I know, but that was a challenge right from the start. See, back home in Haiti, babies start to eat real food like solids by three months. I'm talking about rice and beans. When I had you the doctors were giving me a whole different set of instructions that were so far from what I knew. I tried to stick to most of them but bent some [of] their rules from time to time. You turned out just fine [she laughs].
Me: What would you say was the toughest challenge for you?
Mom: Not having my family or a community that I’m used to around. In Haiti, everyone binds together to help raise a child. When a woman gives birth, she has a whole team at her disposal. Some cooking, some cleaning, some helping her bathe. Even as the child gets older, in Haiti I'd have access to free childcare or even counsel and advice — but in Canada I didn’t have that. [Community] definitely eases things for the mom. But being here and not having much family around to begin with, I was left to do it all alone as many other women here do. It can be done, but it’s tougher and that was rough for me.
Me: It always seemed to me as if you couldn't care less that you were raising us in Canada and stuck to your Haitian views. Did you ever think at all about how your upbringing could affect us in this culture?
Mom: Nope [She laughs hard]! Never had that concern. I knew you were smart kids and would figure things out for yourselves. As for us, parents, we stuck to our views, not only because it was all we knew, but also because we thought they were best for our family.
I enjoyed this conversation with my mother. I feel that I learned something new. I love that she stuck to her ideals and shared them with me. Because now, I have something to pass on to my kids, too.
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