Bridging Time and Culture: Building Bridges Between First-Generation Immigrant Parents and Their Children - Humantold

Bridging Time and Culture: Building Bridges Between First-Generation Immigrant Parents and Their Children

Yiran Sun, LMHC February 2, 2024

Immigrant families frequently struggle with the acculturation gap, or the split between generations formed by different cultural experiences.

Immigrant families frequently struggle with the acculturation gap, or the split between generations formed by different cultural experiences. The acculturation process initiates when immigrants arrive in a foreign country, encompassing alterations in language, conduct, attitudes, and values. Children tend to adapt quickly to the new culture, especially when attending school. However, their parents might never attain a level of comfort with the new language and culture necessary for full social integration into their adopted country. Cultural variances, disparities between generations, and conflicting expectations frequently give rise to obstacles hindering mutual understanding and connection. In this blog, let’s delve into the struggles faced by both immigrant parents and their children with a focus on curiosity, understanding, empathy, and effective solutions.

Understanding the Acculturation Gap:

What is the acculturation gap? When an immigrant family enters a foreign country, generational gaps start to form between immigrant parents and their children in many shapes or forms. The external influences of assimilation and cultural transformation significantly affect both parties involved. It might be difficult for immigrant parents to maintain their cultural heritage while adjusting to a new setting. Discrimination, language barriers, and the pressure to fit in can all lead to stress and feelings of loneliness, which can hinder their ability to bond with their children. From the perspective of the immigrant child, the challenge is juggling two different identities and balancing the demands of their parents' culture with the outside influences of society at large. Feelings of perplexity, alienation, and a sensation of not quite belonging in either cultural domain might result from this internal conflict.

Here are some examples:

Struggles Faced by Immigrant Parents:

Lin and her husband moved to the United States in their 20s as a first-generation Asian immigrant family. Lin was born and raised in China, she has grown up in a culture deeply rooted in Chinese traditions and collectivism. Lin’s experience with her own family dynamic growing up has also impacted her own parenting style and her expectations of her son Brian. Lin expects Brian to prioritize family obligations, conform to societal norms, and excel academically, become an engineer, doctor or working in finance in the future, mirroring the values they were raised with. Sometimes, Lin will utilize physical punishment and verbal abuse as a punishment for or consequence of misbehavior, which she learned from her own parents. Lin is struggling to strike a balance between the social pressure to conform to the individualistic standards of the United States and the expectation that traditional heritage be preserved. This issue is compounded by the language barrier, making it challenging for Lin to communicate successfully with her children and understand their perspectives.

Perspective from Immigrant Children:

On the other side of the story, we meet Brian, Lin’s son. Brian was born and raised in the United States, and he values his Chinese culture background and also adopted western values. Brian embraced the duality of his identity. At school, when hanging out with his school friends, Brian accepted Western values and joined a rock band at his high school. Brian loves music and aspires to become a singer later in life. At home, though, Brian had to live up to more Asian-inspired standards. His family anticipates that he will matriculate into medical school and practice medicine someday. Brian is split between two worlds because of his two sets of distinct cultural norms. He yearns to be accepted by his family as well as fulfill his own goals.

Bridging the Acculturation Gap

Open Communication:

Creating an environment for open communication creates the groundwork for understanding. Promoting genuine talks makes it easier for people to share their viewpoints and strengthens family bonds. Having conversations doesn’t mean it has to be serious, confrontational or boring. It can also be creative and fun! Here are some ways to engage open communication with your immigrant parents or children.

Writing letters

Sending a letter home can be a good way to open up conversations between immigrant parents and children while giving space to both parties to process their feelings and experiences with the letter.  

Parents are human card game

This card game was designed to improve understanding between immigrant parents and their children. This game features 70 progressively complex prompts with two difficulty settings to encourage vulnerability, empathy, and connection. The impact study of this card game has shown 98.90% of people who utilize the game discover something new about their parent(s). 98.41% of people playing this game felt closer to their parents, and 97.35% of people agreed this game made them more open and understanding towards their parents.

Cultural Exchange:

Fostering cultural exchange within the family encourages mutual appreciation. This can involve sharing traditional practices, celebrating cultural events, and rituals. Examples are sharing your favorite culture traditions, food or swap family recipes.

Mutual Learning:

Cultivating an atmosphere of mutual learning enables both generations to gain insights from one another. While the younger generation can learn from the experiences and knowledge of their parents, immigrant parents can also obtain insights into the difficulties faced by their children. Parents can teach their children their childhood games and children can introduce the trending Tiktok dances and text memes.

The Role of Therapy:

Therapy can serve as a valuable resource in navigating the acculturation gap. Family therapy can provide a safe and supportive space for immigrant parents and their children to explore differences and work toward deeper bonds. Therapy can be helpful for both parties to learn more about their cultural dynamics and improve family communication and conflict resolution skills. Culturally sensitive therapy approaches also play an important role in bridging the acculturation gap. Culturally sensitive therapists will have a deep understanding of the special experiences and values that define these individuals. Utilizing their multicultural background or expertise, therapists have the opportunity to customize interventions that truly honor the cherished traditions and stories within immigrant families. By seamlessly weaving cultural practices and acknowledging family systems into therapy, therapists can craft an experience that is not only more meaningful but also more effective, enveloping families in a warm and understanding therapeutic embrace.

Bridging the acculturation gap is an ongoing process. Although it presents its challenges, this situation also offers a chance for families to become more tightly knit. The crucial factor is to uphold a robust family connection, approach matters with an open mind, and hold respect for everyone's viewpoints. It's true that sometimes it's easier stated than done. However, even if my family's generations have experienced different cultural realities, our family relationship is what matters most. This bond is resilient enough to overcome any gap, whether it be generational or cultural.

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