Being away from home country is itself a pain for most of us who stay abroad for various reasons. Needless to say, raising kids is a challenge when we are cut off from our friends and family on a daily basis. Many of us feel lost sometimes, and do not know if we are doing the right thing with our children in lack of support from family. To almost all of the moms staying abroad there comes a point in time where we yearn to go back to our family and country just because we need that extra support that we miss terribly here.
The first challenge that we face as our kids grow is the choice of language that we teach them. Since we speak Nepali, we want our kids to learn and speak in Nepali. That is the natural first option for us, because Nepal and Nepali language is in our heart and soul. However, as our kids grow, the need for them to communicate with others grows and they are forced to learn English or any other local language at a very young age. It is good for kids to learn more than one language. However, we as parents, are in dilemma, whether we should first teach them Nepali, or English or teach both the languages together. It is natural that kids who go to day care or school very early tend to favor English language as they feel more comfortable in it. The challenge for parents in such scenario is to keep talking to their kids in Nepali language and expect them to converse in Nepali even when kids often reply in English.
On the other hand, there are parents who teach their kids only Nepali in their very early life so that the child has a good grasp of Nepali language. But they suddenly find out that their child is having difficulty communicating with his peers as early as he is 2 years old. It breaks every parent’s heart to see their child back out of a situation because he does not have a language to connect with his peers. The parents get confused whether they did the right thing by teaching only Nepali first or should they have done better by teaching English first. This can be a tipping point for some parents who might opt to teach or speak in English to help their child’s communication with his peers. The challenge is to continue talking in Nepali with the child when he clearly is in need to know and converse in English to make friends in playground or in neighborhood.
Religion and culture is the second challenge that we face in terms of teaching our traditions and values to our kids. We do not want to lose our tradition but at the same time do not want our kids to be isolated from the surrounding culture. My 4 year old asked why all of his friends go to Church every Sunday and why we do not go. He also asked in his childish inquisitiveness for us to be Christians so that we could go to Church. It is tough for us as parents to explain to our kids the differences between different religions and how people follow various ideals and principles in their lives. It helps to give some examples of people from different parts of the world and show how each of us are different and that we all have different traditions and yet can follow and enjoy common culture.
Living outside of Nepal, our kids are deprived of the actual experiences of the various festivals celebrated in Nepal. No matter how much we try to create the homely atmosphere, our kids will never be able to experience the original feelings of excitement and joy in festivals like Dashain, Tihar and many others that we celebrated as we grew up. There is no holiday for us during such festivals, and without holidays the color of these days just fades away. For example, receiving Dashain tika in the evening or on weekends when everybody is home can never compare to how it is celebrated back home. Dashain officially begins in a kid’s heart when they get their new dress. We as parents miss those festive moments and our kids never get the same excitement as kids in Nepal. The lights, the music, the deusi bhailo in our courtyard, worshipping of cows, crows and dogs everywhere during Tihar – they have become sweet memories for us and our kids do not know anything about it until we narrate to them or bring them to Nepal during the festivals. The irony of living abroad is that our kids neither fully celebrate the local festivals like Christmas and Easter because for various reasons we are not able to give much importance to these festivals, nor are they able to enjoy Nepali festivals with the festive exuberance. The challenge for us as parents is to take the middle road and have our kids enjoy both Nepali and local festivals as much as possible.
Being abroad, we get to taste and enjoy foods from all around the world. However, we miss the authenticity of Nepalese food that we are used to from our childhood. Most of the Nepalese living outside Nepal will try to cook at least one meal a day that is purely Nepali. Almost all of us eat Daal, bhaat, tarkari at least for dinner. And we try our best to feed our kids the same food so that they will like it as they grow up. It is easier for the parent to prepare meal if all of the family members eat the same food. However, we have seen cases where kids prefer American foods like pasta or sandwich to rice. I have a friend who has tried everything to have her son eat rice, but he simply does not like it. He chooses to remain hungry than eating rice. The challenge here is to keep offering Nepalese food first at meal times even though the child will probably reject it.
Being away from home and family sometimes triggers loneliness in us. In the same time, it also creates a vacuum in our kid’s lives in terms of close relations as they dearly miss their grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts. It is impossible for them to visit grandparents even if they want because of the distance that lies between us and it is very expensive to travel regularly. When their friends talk about grandparents during holidays or get to enjoy the love of grandparents during their early childhood, our kids will not have that luck to brag about it very much. My 4 year old asks to visit Nepal every once in a while, but it is just not possible. Kids for sure miss that part of their lives even if they do not say it. Trying to re-create the family environment here and having constant contact with relatives back home is the key challenge for us so that our kids do not forget their roots.
As parents, we want our kids to be happy for who they are and take pride in their culture and heritage. However, reconstituting “ Nepalism” in every step of our kid’s lives in a foreign land is always a constant challenge and will continue to be so.