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Parenting a Culturally Diverse Family

Courtesy of Mei-Ling Hopgood

My 5-year-old, Sofia, likes peanut butter and bananas for breakfast but favors sweet-corn empanadas, Chinese egg noodles, or sushi at dinner. She and her sister enjoy their merienda, afternoon teatime, and sometimes sip bitter Argentine mate from a gourd. At Thanksgiving last year, we ate Korean kimchi and chapchae, along with turkey.

There is an endless list of “different” things we do in our home, customs collected from our diverse histories, the places we've been, and the people we've met. I was born in Taiwan, but adopted and raised in Michigan. My husband's family is from rural Illinois, but he worked for a time in Egypt. I studied in Mexico, and traveled in Asia to spend time with my Chinese birth family. My brothers, Americans adopted from Korea, married Korean women. My husband and I lived in Buenos Aires for more than seven years, which is where our daughters were born.

Along this journey, we've pulled into our routine a mix of beliefs and behaviors that feel right; culture, for me, is a mix of origin, experience, and choice. Like the South American women who taught me I could nurse my daughters on a subway or at a dinner party. In our suburban Chicago home, I'm using a mix of American and Chinese-style potty training with my toddler, Violet, letting her run around the house bare-bottomed at a young age and correcting the accidents that puddle on the hardwood floor.

Most of the time, our cultural adaptations are a matter of preference. I favor greeting someone with a hug or a kiss on the cheek, as Argentines and Mexicans do, over a Western shake of hands or an Eastern bow. Sometimes our choices take work. Sofia has struggled to retain her Spanish since we moved from Buenos Aires to Chicago last year. Speaking more than one language has enabled my daughter to create and thrive in a diverse social universe. So we chose a preschool that is less academically oriented than I might have liked, but where the teachers speak only Spanish.

At the same time, Violet's and Sofia's childhoods aren't so much different than my own in suburban Detroit, with playdates, cartoons, and toaster waffles. Our American-ness seems even more obvious when we travel abroad. We are far too punctual for parties, and generally prefer to keep our kids to a regular sleeping schedule. We travel with a jar of peanut butter in our suitcase.

All these experiences have coalesced in our family—in dim sum for brunch and the mishmash of Spanish, English, and Chinese that we speak when walking to camp. In all of this, we've created something that truly feels at home.