Making Mixed Babies: Ranting About The Obvious Difficulties Of Raising Multicultural Children

I don’t have children. If you would have asked me if I wanted them in my twenties I would hissed at you, covered my vagina, and ran screaming in the other direction. I would have basically done the exact same thing regarding marriage. I always like the idea of someone wanting to marry me but I never intended on actually sealing the deal. It was just nice to know that if I did want to actually get married someone would have done it, I guess. That’s what being twenty-something, somewhat insecure, and an asshole will do to a person. Anyhow, all of that changed when I met Francesco.

I knew in a very real way that we would be getting married. Sure, that waivered a little here and there with some of his bullshit but I worked through the problems with him instead of shooting him in his sleep which was huge for me. Not shooting your boyfriend is love. In a lot of ways Francesco has changed the way that I think about a lot of things. He’s changed the way I view the importance of family, how I approach and solve problems (I care to actually solve problems without hurting him or his feelings…so that’s new), and I actually want to have children. Well, let me rephrase that to be honest, I would like children in our lives who are of our genetic makeup. I don’t want to actually have babies. Being pregnant, sick, tired, and giving up wine sounds shitty. Then, squeezing some giant thing about of my vagina which is a lot smaller than a baby sounds like torture and something out of an Alien movie. I’d totally adopt but that’s too expensive and nobody would probably give me a baby. The point is that he’s made me want to have a family because I want us to be surrounded by loved ones and family for our entire lives. I want to be seventy and painting with my grandchildren. I’ve never believed that the point to living is breeding, or that women’s job on the planet is to have kids, so I’ve never been that inclined to have a family before. I’ve always seen child-rearing as a massive job of huge importance, of huge responsibility, and not something that people should “just do.” Having children to me is one of the biggest decisions of a person’s life and is therefore kind of terrifying. If you add the potential for cross-cultural, international problems to the mix.

Image: (check out the blog, it's great).

Horse Baby Food In Italy. Image: (check out the blog, it’s great).

And that’s what we’re fighting about right now. We’re trying to decide on which country we plan on raising our kids in. It doesn’t sound that pressing since we don’t have kids but it kind of is because we’ve been talking about starting a family this year or next year. So, where do we want to be? Which country would we like to be living? Where is the best place to raise children? I’ve talked with a bunch of other expats about this but the topic gets a little insane. People get surprisingly defensive and rabid about Italy when discussing children (certain psychos totally lose their shit. I hope you get an incurable yeast infection). I get it, nobody wants to think that the decision they’ve made was a bad decision and so people don’t want you questioning that decision by asking stupid questions about it. I get it. However, I need to ask and talk about it because it’s a big deal to me. As the child of mixed parents, I know what it’s like growing up with parents from two different planets. This weighs on me. My father immigrated to the US 35 years ago and yet my siblings, my father and I, have problems seeing eye-to-eye over a lot of things. The way we communicate is different, the meanings behind the things we say to each other is often misread or misinterpreted. My father feels like he lacks identity with us and therefore instead of having American kids he encourages us to hate that side of us. “You’re Persian, you don’t have the genetics of an American.” When we do things that he likes, we are Persian, when we make mistakes it’s because our mothers are American. He desperately seeks to have some kind of cultural connection with his children, it bothers him that he can’t understand many of the ways that we think or see the world. He doesn’t understand why I can’t Facetime him every day, or why I’m less than thrilled to Facetime my family in Iran for six hours on Sundays. I love them, they are my family, but I can’t speak on the phone for longer than one hour. What is there to say? “WHAT IS THERE TO SAY!? Just be in the conversation of love! Just laugh and love!” My father cannot understand how his daughter has become so “American,” in her priorities regarding family. My father listens to Iranian music on full blast on his Iphone, he encourages my sisters and I to dance to it while he laughs and claps enthusiastically. Last time I was home he videotaped it and then watched it over and over again. Seems creepy to Americans, but dancing for family is about as Persian as Persian can get, even at 33 years old. It’s not uncommon for expat parents to struggle to relate to their children culturally or for the kids to feel a slight disconnect as well. I’ve grown up with it for my entire life so telling me it doesn’t exist…well…it isn’t true.

And that scares me.

I feel like no matter where we raise our kids there will be a disconnect for either me or Francesco. It’s really about picking the place that is best for the kids but also the place where maybe the cultural impact will be less difficult for us as parents. Both countries have their good points, both have their bad. A lot of expats struggle with this aspect because they see Italy with rose-colored lenses but I simply can’t. I’ve read too many damn articles, too many studies. I have an education in Sociology, I study society, even when I’m not trying to. Nowhere is perfect. Which place will allow us to raise children that are diverse, open-minded, and will allow equal appreciation of Italian, American, and Persian culture? As a person, I’m most concerned with balance, mindfulness and an acceptance towards religion, an equality of the sexes, and the ability to live life without being swallowed by expectations. People say, “Your kids will be how you make them,” but I feel like they’re underestimating the power of social norms. Society shapes you even when you don’t realize you’re being shaped. It shapes how people interact, think, feel, even how they commit suicide. Nothing goes untouched.

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

When I announced that I’d fallen in love with an Italian man, my father said, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Cross-cultural relationships are more difficult than you can imagine.”

For once I have to say that my dad couldn’t have been more right. BAAAAAAAAH! I’m going to stab myself with a fork. Maybe you guys can help me with a pros and cons list?

27 thoughts on “Making Mixed Babies: Ranting About The Obvious Difficulties Of Raising Multicultural Children

  1. Absolutely love this! You’ve articulated my subconscious. We’re doing the whole ‘raising a two-country, two capitals, two anthems, two teams, two cultural norms’ kid and aren’t regretting it so far (granted it’s early days). Take the parts of each other’s culture that are important to you and that you can stand, and always, ALWAYS, keep an open mind (and travel to the ‘other’ country as often as possible).

  2. I’m sure you’ve given this aspect consideration, also: in which country would you be likely to have the financial security to enable you to give your child(ren) what you think is necessary for a good start to life? If you decide on America, can you afford the health care, educational costs, etc.

    In bocca al lupo!

    • I think a big point to consider is the future….where will the kids have a fighting chance at meritocracy? Can Italy pull itself out of the shitter? Do you feel comfortable sending kids to Italian public schools? I know this latter point might be a touchy subject, but an EFL teacher myself, I cry pretty much daily at the stories my students tell me about school that day. No paper for weeks (school is too po’), no toilet paper or soap, no books arriving for months (English always last! naturally!), teachers who call them dogs and can get away with it, having “3 hours of Religion because our Math teacher just didn’t come today (and that’s A-OK, evidently), teachers who are still not laureati and have to ‘skip’ some days to take exams because the school has no other options, regurgitating facts without debate, only 1/3 of kids going on the Big Gita because others cannot afford it, with no way to earn/raffle/bake-off for money etc etc. I think the US has its share of problems too but I guess I’m just shell shocked at the lack of resources schools have for a supposed socialized nation. Who’s pocketing?

  3. Stay in America. Our imaginary unborn babies can be best friends. But, no seriously…I must make 2 points.

    1. You totally talk on the phone for over an hour without batting an eye. I know. I’ve been on the receiving end of several of those phone calls.

    2. You are 100% right that culture matters, society matters. But, it is never black and white. It is not nature versus nurture. It is nature AND nurture. And, your children will be amazing for that sheer fact. They will have you, Fran, your parents, Italy, and America. They will be a beautiful conglomeration of awesomeness.

  4. Having children calls for great flexibility on the part of parents under any circumstances. Add in cultural differences and the foreign father or mother must be flexible enough to realize their child is going to grow up with the values of the country in which they live.

    Both Italy and the U.S. are wonderful countries. Each offers things that the other doesn’t. It’s a question of prioritizing. I’ve lived in Italy twice, and this time going on 16 years. I’ve had plenty of time to observe and compare cultures. No matter which culture you prefer, follow the economics. Your child will have to find a job, eventually get his/her own place, and will want that yearly vacation. They will most likely want a well-paid job and a pension plan or, at least, make enough money to create a pension plan. This point cannot be ignored if you want your child to have a happy future. Good luck!

  5. Another great post, M.E. You are right in all you’ve said. I am an American woman (from WI) married to a Chinese American man and we have 2 daughters, now 8 and 10yrs. Since they have been born, we have lived in America, New Zealand, Taiwan, and now we are in Shanghai. All I would say from my own experience is it is never easy or perfect anywhere and yes, my husband and I do have our different opinions on certain aspects of raising kids. It takes a lot of love, communication and compromise (easier said than done sometimes)! Some places have been easier and more enjoyable to live than other places. I think it all comes down to picking a place where you are both happy, which in turn will create happy kids. And you know what, if that place ends up not being what you thought with kids, you can always make a change. Yes, we do, as people, pick up a lot from the social norms around us, but I would say my kids have mostly taken and follow what they learn from my husband and I and our behaviors and beliefs as we are their biggest models of behavior on a daily basis. I wish you and your husband the best of luck in figuring it out.

  6. I nodded along to way too much in this post. I feel like a creeper.:/ Social science major who never wanted to get married or have kids… About the only thing different is my total white bread parents. Now, in Serbia with the white bread looking Serb for a hubby and munchkin. I have only one thought for you. It is about where you have the baby, not where you raise it. Think about the health care and the epidural option of each country. What it would be like to have a child with doctors who may not know English. See what the hospital ward looks like where you have the babies… See how that shapes your decision. I made sure I was in the U.S. for those reasons. Good luck. And don’t let the Baba’s bully you. Honestly, I doubt you would let that happen!

  7. I’m not married, but my boyfriend and I are talking about the possibility of maybe starting a family next year. It’s looking like we’ll probably end up doing it in a country that’s neither of our home countries. “Neutral” territory, so to speak. It was planned that way, it’s just sort of happening.

    I actually think Germany and England are culturally close enough that there won’t be too much of a problem, and I also think (hope!) that both of us are open-minded enough and in-tune enough with each other’s cultures to be able to find the right mix. We may do Christmas the German way, but there will definitely be pancakes on Shrove Tuesday! (OK, those examples are kind of frivolous, but you get the point I hope).

  8. Geeze Misty, this is a tough one. Being a parent is messy you can never plan out everything, I’ve been on the roller coaster ride for nearly five years now and I can tell you it is the biggest challenge ever. But I’ve got an adorable son who I love dearly. I think a mixture of cultures creates wonderful personalities and you can always pick and choose what you want to keep from each one. Italy is a great place to have children as Italian’s love babies (as I’m sure you already know) and even in the bigger cities you will notice smaller communities are formed around families which are like little safe havens for little children. Yes, many things will work better in the States for sure, but the most important thing is how you make it work for you, it’s really that simple you need to think it’s all about you, the baby and Francesco and that can happen wherever in the world.
    P.S: I am happy you have decided to become a breeder, as the world needs more open minded, hilarious and intelligent people as I think the jackasses are taking over😉

  9. This is a nice preview for what’s to come in my distant future. It’s hard enough for me and my Italian fiance to even have a conversation about planning our wedding. There are too many conflicting cultural issues and it usually turns into an argument. So when the time eventually comes to discuss kids. . .well, we’ll see how that goes.

    Great entry!

  10. It is this kind of care and open thoughtfulness that will make you an excellent parent no matter where you end up. Your skills of navigating life will get you through any stormy weather, cap’n.

  11. Great post, and you bring up some really good points about society shaping who we are and who we become. I think your educational background and your willingness to be open and honest will go a long way in making you an excellent parent.

  12. I trust you both will come up with the right solution to your dilemma.
    With such thought put into the littlest decision you both will make loving, appreciative parents
    Just make yourselves happy, you are surely going to make one side unhappy. .

  13. I agree with the poster that said it is more about “where” you want to have your baby right now than what “might” happen when your child is an adult and needs to find a job etc. The rest will all fall into place. I had my son in Mexico in a government run hospital and it was a good experience. We lived with his father in Mexico for a year before I returned to the US. I would have been happy to raise my son in Mexico if I had stayed with his father. Children are resilient and flexible. They can live anywhere and be happy as long as you and F are happy. Decide where YOU want to live and then go from there. Decide where you and F will be happiest because in the end that is all that matters. You have 5 years to decide if you made the right choice or if you are happy with schools where you live. You do not have to make a decision that lasts forever. Make the right one that is best for you right now.

  14. At the end of the day, I feel like we’re all immigrants. Especially if you were born In the USA! Family is what you make it, your kids will identify with what they love… regardless. You could be Iranian and your husband Italian but your kid hits 12 years old and wants nothing more than to be Norwegian. So my advice is to be where you love, where you and your family will have the most support.. and where your kids can thrive / be encouraged to be all they can be. Good luck!

  15. As an American with two AmerItalian kids in Rome, totally get it about keeping their identity. I try to force them to learn the little jingoistic songs I was obliged to memorise as a kid in Texas. Like the one where you clap? Anyway. If you raise them in Italia, they will definitely be Italian first, no matter how many times you pretend their trundle bed is a magical plane that flies to Austin.
    On the other hand, it is in many ways awesome to be a mom here. My Austin and New York mom friends complain regularly about glares in the grocery stores and restaurants–a child-hostile environment that I can scarcely imagine. Here, if I got hit by a car while walking with my kids, nonna randoms would be fighting each other to check and make sure my son had socks of the appropriate thickness on as I lay bleeding in the street.
    People are just nicer to children, in restaurants, bars, even teenaged boys here tend to coo at toddlers (high school teacher, I have seen this.)
    And the Italian nonna has made it possible for us to live and work with lower than average stress, because of her borderline obsessive desire to take care of the kids when we have work stuff.
    As for older kids, looking at it after teaching in international high schools, I can definitely say my Italian students seem more…grown up? balanced? disciplined? than I and my friends were at their age. That’s possibly because there are no jobs at WalMart or Starbucks if they take time to blossom.
    I love the States, don’t get me wrong. And there’s lots that’s cool and fascinating there too. Like rattlesnakes. And pumpkin spice lattes. But these are the advantages I see. Italy has problems with some things; the US has some of the same problems, some of its own kinds of crazy (guns and those pick up artist weirdos, for instance.)

  16. I myself am a third culture kid who moved in different places and grow up in different cultures. Whichever choice you make, have faith that it’s gonna work out for the kids! Being a third cultural kid requires more adaptation and go through more struggles than perhaps mono-cultural kid (of course other things matter too…), but it’s a blessing to have broadened perspectives in life.🙂

  17. I know you’re likely to actually make your own babies, but in case you or anyone else reading might not be aware or might consider it, adopting out of foster care is very inexpensive and usually not difficult. In most states, it’s under $3000 and if you work with a public agency it can even be free. A lot of people forget foster kids exist, or they have this idea that kids in foster care are bad when it’s the PARENTS of the kids in foster care who were more likely to be the bad ones. Sometimes it’s just that the parent(s) died and there was no other family to take them in.

    Anyway, if anyone is ever interested, it’s a pretty great option.

  18. No one or easy answer to this. But I believe just thinking about about the challenges is most of the battle. I love, love, love the book Third Culture Kids – The Experience of Growing up Abroad. My boy grew up in Zimbabwe and Rome and just started college in Boston, his first time is the US. I can’t wait to hear what he thinks about “home” when he comes back for Christmas.

  19. Ah yes, the eternal dilemma. I married an Italian man who had left Italy and lived & worked in Germany for many years before coming to America and who literally kissing the ground in SF because he finally felt “at home.” Living in Italy and raising children there was never even discussed. But then, when our daughter was 5 years old (and we always visited Italy every year since her birth), my mother died and we moved back to Italy “for one year”. We stayed for 5, and our daughter went to elementary school in Le Marche. it was the best decision we ever made. Her primary education there was phenomenal, so much better in many ways than the one her peers back in the US were getting I thought. She had the same teaching team for 4 years, her nutured her and understood her learning stuly. She had the best hot lunch every day, learned to eat & enjoy good food. She was perfectly bi-lingual. We felt a sense of safety that my American friends envied, a cultural richness that seemed to be missing in the US. Health care on demand. An actual middle class. (And I too agree with the other poster that the high school kids in Italy seemed more grounded and mature than her peers here in the US). When she started middle school, we moved back (mostly because I couldn’t have a career in Italy and I was getting bored). She hated it the first year back, then we found a public International Baccaluarate high school in our community. We continued to spend a few months a year in Italy (where we could actually own a home since Bay Area prices were so outrageous). Our daughter spent 6 months in Florence at another IB school HS as a junior because she missed Italy and wanted to improve her language skills. 3 years ago, she went off to a leading East Coast college because they found her so darned fascinating and her early study skills (honed in Italia where they don’t exactly coddle the kids and give everyone an award for simply having been born a special snowflake) had made her a good student. She is spending a year in France this year and will soon be fluent in a 3rd language. Although at the time, we weren’t really making our residence decisions based on this, in hindsight we feel it was the balance between exposure to two cultures that shaped our child and has made her a citizen of the world. So I say: figure out a way to do it all. There are pros and cons to each culture that once internalized, will make your children better people. And by the way, if I wasn’t so *damned* “Murican and stubborn, we’d be living in Italy now. So much more affordable, nicer lifestyle overall so many fewer conspiracy theorists;-)

  20. Wow Misty, first of all I really, really enjoyed this post. You articulate how you feel so well and I really can relate. Nico and I have been recently discussing starting a family in the next few years (yep, not married yet!) and we often talk about where best to bring them up. As you know I love Italy, and Florence has given both of us a lot. We have it even slightly more complicated because we are both expats in Italy and have neither of our families close nearby. I have seen the discussions on Italian reflections and people are so so defensive (you are right) and I just don’t get it. I think it is about defending ‘their’ own decision as opposed to offering some true words of wisdom or just frankly sharing experiences. It seems like such a personal decision at the end of the day. Italy is a crazy country with not lots of meritocracy as someone mentioned above but the USA ‘culture of fear’ is something I really detest. I recently chatted with someone who openly said they don’t feel comfortable going to the grocery store without their handgun, and this wasn’t even Texas! My gut instinct says to go where you have the most emotional help (happy parents, happy kids), I am scared to have kids in Italy and not have any ‘nonni’ but at the end of the day we will do what we gotta do, probably based on work and end up spending summers or more time in either country to help ‘balance’. I’m already jealous that my future kids will be fluent in three languages and I am struggling so much with french.. I think you guys will decide what works best for you and will raise hilarious little demon geniuses.

  21. i may be helpful in this debate . I was born in a country and grew up in Italy and now living in USA .
    I think that both italy and usa are amazing countries on their own and that both offer opportunities that the other doesn’t .
    In Italy you get an amazing life full of good memories and good food and lots of social security and you and your husband will both be having a job and financial security .
    If you guys decide to move to usa your kids will have more rights and more opportunities but like will be 100x time more expensive .
    It would me with moving only if you and your husband have very good accreditations and degrees that will ensure very well paying jobs in USA .
    If you move you will have to consider how expensive is to raise kids in USA compared to italy .
    And italy defense I have attended my entire life italian schools and they have always been perfect and I have been recently admitted to college in USA . My preparation have always been amazing and the only few things lacking are thing s I was able to pick up in a very few months .
    What italian schools may not be the best equipped but what they offer is a sense of community and participation . The kids are part of a class where the teachers come all the time and they grow up all together.
    Growing up on an italian family creates the best memories ever.
    I even realized that some things they teach at school in Italy are a little more advanced than usa ..

    If you really don’t like italian schools U can always send ur kids to private international schools that offer usa education .

    I think that italian culture instills a lot of good values and principles in kids .

    There are gonna be a lot of pro and cons but i m sure You will make the Best decision and worst cases you can always move back or to usa if you don’t like the situation . Kids can always move to usa for college or the opposite . And don’t forget that college in Italy is very cheap (2000 euros a year ) and once they get a bachelor is actually considered a master in USA due it’s difficulty and appreciated even more than a simple bachelor in USA .

    Best of luck !

  22. I’m a multicultural child… Raised in Sicily of all places, I was the only foreigner(as in not 100% italian) in basically every school I went, though with an italian name and surname it was difficult to spot me, and if I ever had any trouble during my formative years, it was definitely NOT for my heritage. People actually liked this about me! My parents raised me speaking Italian and English at home, while I learned Sicilian on the street. They made me read a lot(THEY decided not to get a tv, which might have been a good idea considering the “poor quality” of it, but that kind of backlashed since up untill a few years ago I could get in a comatose state just by looking at a program for more than 5 minutes), and did their best to give me the best of both cultures. Politically I never voted for Berlusconi, or Bush(that’s a very big PRO, right?).
    Italy might have quite a few problems, but if you want your kid(s?) to travel and enjoy cultural diversity, Italy is definitely a good place to start from since with something as cheap as a Ryanair ticket you can visit a dozen completely different countries, with their own culture and language.
    And the food(I seriously have to go home soon), the food!!!
    And one more thing, Italian in-laws can be “strong minded” but they usually melt the second they have a nephew(or niece).
    The following should go on another post, but my line of thoughts doesn’t work like that…
    “What Italians think of America and Americans” should be one of your next entries, but just a few points: Most Italians have never been to the US, or know anyone who’s been there, or have actually met an American. Their “knowledge” comes from movies, tv-shows and news coverage, but it’s enough for them to have VERY strong opinions on the subject. This means most Italians think Americans are either the human version of Jabba the Hutt or models from a catalogue; that they(us) have the IQ of a shit throwing baboon, but with a gun; etc…

    But… if they’d have a chance to get a green card, they’d jump.😉

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