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Opinion: Disciplining the kids, bicultural style

What do you do when you and your spouse have different parenting styles?  This can happen, especially when you are in a bicultural relationship, which is the case for me.

My husband is not American, and he is not Hispanic (although he will tell you he is at heart!), He’s French– the land of great food, amazing wine and many will say, well-behaved kids.

French parenting has been called “superior.” (by an American!)

France is the land where parents don’t have to justify their choices to their kids. It’s the place they say “I’m the one in charge, not you.”

The literal translation of what they say is “I’m the one in command, not you.” And that’s the end of it. There aren’t multiple ways of doing things– kids are taught “This is the way.” And “one doesn’t ______.” (enter misbehavior here.)

The interesting thing about our specific case is that the views that clash are not the French values versus the Hispanic ones; it’s the French versus American.

In the USA, we are all about individual freedom and choice, which we give children at an early age. Kids learn that it is good to have choices. Even parents like to have choices– there are a myriad of parenting styles to choose from: helicopter parenting, free-range parenting, authoritative parenting, etc, etc.

Some people believe kids don’t need a choice; they need to be told what to do. This is what I experienced growing up, (though I pleaded and begged to get my way—most of the time that didn’t work.) I don’t think I knew any Hispanic parents growing up who gave their kids options.

While I ask Enzo what kind of snack he wants and offer two or three choices, the French would probably say “This is today’s snack, take it or leave it.” As a matter of fact, French school cafeterias do not have a la carte items, they have a menu with a main course, and everyone gets that—reminds me of dinners growing up— my mother never cooked a kid’s  meal and an adult meal, everyone got the same thing.

Truthfully, I didn’t know that you could make chicken nuggets at home until I was a young adult and I started babysitting. I didn’t have a choice, I ate the sopa (even though I complained) and whatever else was available and if I didn’t like it, too bad for me.

Growing up, my mom would say things like “because I’m the adult.” or “because I said so.” I frequently heard my parents criticizing American parents saying they “let their kids do whatever they want.”

So, in a way, I get the French way because my parents’ parenting was a lot like this too.

In my case, I’m struggling to find a happy medium between too much freedom and choice, and setting boundaries for my child.

In our multicultural society, as more people from diverse backgrounds marry and have children, I suspect this is going to be something that couples deal with—even couples who have the same background (i.e. a person born in the USA to Dominican parents will not see the world the same way as a person who grew up in Dominican Republic, and that will affect the way he/she views parenting.)

So back to the question— what do you do when you don’t agree? This is what I try to do:

One of the most important things is to keep a united front— don’t let the kid know that mom and dad disagree. Kids are so perceptive, they pick up on everything!

Try to understand the other person’s perspective — talk about it behind closed doors, not when your child is listening.

 Compromise is important – I’m stricter for some things and my husband is strict on other things.

I’m not going to lie, already at 2.5, Enzo knows who the stricter parent is.

Let’s just say it’s not mama.

NBC Latino contributor Diana Limongi

Diana Limongi-Gabriele works hard juggling a full-time job, motherhood, family, grad school and her blog, LadydeeLG where she writes about issues she is passionate about including teaching her son Spanish, motherhood, parenting, Latino issues, good quality food and women’s issues. Diana is a regular contributor for Mamiverse. She has a MA in Migration Studies, and is pursuing an MPA in Nonprofit Management. Her most important job however, is being mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/American (one day trilingual) 2 year old boy. You can connect with her via Twitter, @dianalimongi or on Facebook.

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