Immigrant parent-child relationships

By Abisha Sooriyathas

Posted on January 3, 2022
parents and child
Newcomer parents and children each have unique experiences when immigrating to Canada. Oftentimes, adult newcomers will have greater exposure to their home country and therefore have greater ties to the place from which they originated. Meanwhile, the children of newcomers will often spend a large portion of their developmental years in Canada. This can make these children feel pulled between Canadian culture and their heritage culture.

The acculturation gap between immigrant parents and their children

The Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development also states that an acculturation gap emerges between generations of immigrants over time. Acculturation involves changes in language, behaviours, and values upon immigration. The children of immigrant parents can often adapt to their new environment quickly via socialization through school and friend groups. Meanwhile, immigrant parents may never feel fully comfortable with the new culture.

Needless to say, these differences in experience can affect the relationship between newcomers and their children. This can be seen in the intergenerational divide and cultural dissonance that can sometimes exist between these groups.

How does the culture clash between newcomer parents and their children affect their relationship?

According to a study published by the University of Chicago, intergenerational cultural dissonance — a clash between parents and children over cultural values—is often considered a normal experience amongst immigrant families. Immigrant parents are more likely to adhere to traditional cultural beliefs, while their children adopt more Westernized values.
woman and child on a couch
This clash is significant because it can result in parent-child conflict. The study states that parent-child conflict can result in externalizing youth problems, such as antisocial behaviour or aggression, and internalizing problems, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

It is important that newcomer parents and children understand that it is normal for these differences to exist, and that neither party is right or wrong. Due to the unique circumstances that exist for newcomers and their children, an additional level of compromise may be needed to navigate these challenges. Luckily, there are also ways to improve the parent-child relationship regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status.

How can parents and children form a stronger bond?

The Child Mind Institute states that it’s important for parents to set aside a small amount of time each day to be present and non-judgemental with their children. In this time, parents can actively listen and let their children lead the conversation. They should regularly validate their children’s choices and interests, as well as focus on praising good behaviour rather than criticizing or punishing minor misbehaviour. It is essential for children to be shown that they are loved and to hear that they are loved as well.
kid and adult
If the relationship between a newcomer parent and child feels especially strained, there is no shame in seeking out family therapy in order to assist in healing the parent-child bond. In these situations, it could be beneficial to find a culturally sensitive therapist who understands both parties. This would help facilitate open conversation that can lead to a stronger understanding between both groups.

All in all, it is very possible for newcomer parents and their children to have healthy, fulfilling relationships. Like any relationship, the parent-child bond requires hard work, open communication, and receptivity to love. If both parties are willing to put in the effort, these relationships can often be just as loving as any other.

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