Bringing Up Brits
I am a mother trying to give my children first-hand experience of my own culture and country while raising them in Britain with my British husband. Born in Korea, I was adopted at 8 months old by American parents and became an American citizen. I grew up in America as a Korean American girl in an American/Canadian family. After graduating from University, I went to Prague to teach English and it was there in a bohemian expat bar that I met my British husband.
After living and working on Prague for two years, travelling around and then living in Tokyo for another two years together, we moved to England to settle down and start a family. We have three young children; all born in the UK and all have dual British and American citizenship. I consider my family to be very cross-cultural! So, what’s it like raising a cross-cultural family in Britain today?
For one thing, I am completely outnumbered! I live with a British husband and three children (who all speak with a British accent, even my two year old!) and I’m often made fun of and mocked because of my own accent and other ‘Americanisms’ (that I just cannot help having). There are no family members from my side here nor are there any cultural references - my life, and my children’s lives are far more British than American. However, because of my background and my desire to raise my children as partly American, I force upon them American traditions which do not exist here and I always offer the American perspective on situations.
Celebrating American traditions such as Thanksgiving and the 4th of July have become the norm in our household and my husband and children have learned to love them, not quite as much as I do, but enough to make me proud and happy. Proud that I am passing my cultural traditions down to my children and happy because I don’t have to give them up entirely. Of course it’s not the same celebrating them here, but it is the recognition and the effort that matters and the fact that my children might even pass those traditions down to their children one day (no matter where they end up living).
Language and communication are also very interesting aspects of our lives. When I first moved here, I struggled with both the British lexicon as well as the nuances of British English. Over time, I have become used to hearing and using words like ‘motorway’ instead of ‘highway’, ‘nappy’ instead of ‘diaper’, ‘jumper’ instead of ‘sweater’ and so on and so forth! My children love asking and re-affirming what the American word is for something. They often mix the two without even realising it! I love that they are growing up with another cultural reference – even though they have never lived in America, they are influenced by me and I am instilling in them a part, albeit a small part, of what it is to be American.
I think because language is not an obvious cultural difference between Americans and Brits, it is generally not considered to be problematic. However, it is huge. At times, my husband and I have misunderstandings and even arguments purely because we don’t understand the meaning of what we are actually saying. There is a subtlety in the way things are communicated between British people that is totally foreign to me and probably always will be. It is critical for us to recognise this cultural difference so that we can understand and support each other in any given situation.
Raising children within a cross cultural family is, at times, challenging and full of surprises. It is also wonderful, educational and extremely fascinating. In my book, Bringing Up Brits, I write about my experience as an expat mother and also about other cross cultural families from all over the world who are raising their children in Britain.