Dealing with a culture clash

How to manage the cultural differences that can arise with your partner - and grandparents - when bringing up bub

Relationship counsellor / June 24 2016

This is a tricky issue and one that needs to be handled delicately or there’s potential for this to get rather sticky - and even stickier in the future. Setting boundaries early around how you want to raise your child and communicating them assertively to grandparents can minimise awkwardness, tension or conflict that can last for years down the track.


A new family circle


When we become parents it’s the beginning of a new family unit, one that may operate differently from the previous generation. Even within our Australian culture, advice regarding what’s best for baby has changed considerably over time. It’s important to set aside time to talk with your partner about how you want to be as a family, how you want to distinguish yourselves from your parents, what traditions you would like to retain and what cultural and other values you want to pass on. This requires you to jointly decide what’s right for the family you’re building together.


And you’ll need to agree on these before you broach the subject with anyone else - the last thing you want is for you or your mate to be the meat in the sandwich – torn between partner and parents – or, just as bad, a case of one against three.


A united front


So first, discuss the issue between yourselves, find the middle ground and come to some firm agreements. Unless you want to cause your child years of confusion, you’ll need to be on the same page. Ideally you can find creative ways to combine the best of both cultures. When you’re talking to grandparents, make sure you start with what things they have bought to your new family that you do appreciate.


Problems with grandparents are best dealt with as a united front, so even though one of you may take the lead, you’ll need your partner’s backup when you broach the subject. Even if they’re not there in person, you could let grandparents know you’ve discussed the issue between yourselves and are acting as a team by saying something like ‘we have spoken about this’ or ‘we’ve decided.’


Make sure you ‘separate the problem from the person’. For example, if your mother-in-law is giving you advice, it’s because she cares about you and her grandchild – her intentions are good. It’s the advice that may be outdated or inappropriate, so the advice is the problem, not her.


A positive solution


To broach this subject, use what’s called the “feedback sandwich” – positive, negative, positive. For example: ‘We really like that you want to be involved by... but we’re not so sure about this part … what we would really appreciate instead is .…’ This way you protect the all the different relationships in the extended family, but can stand firm and as a team on the issue.


Which is good practice for the next one!