A One Year Old & Lessons of Raising a Multicultural Child

It’s been almost one year since I went into labor and brought another life into this world.

When our babe was born just a month after my sister had a baby, my mother told us one of the most important things to do, especially since they were born so close to each other, was not to compare.

Let me tell you, that’s been hard… and not, at the same time. Her cousin was/is a voracious eater while she is a “give me a little now, I’ll ponder for a bit and then give me a little a bit later, please” sort of girl. Not only are they worlds apart, us in Korea while they’re in Australia, but they hardly resemble each other one a blond haired blue eyed wonder, the other a dark haired dark eyed mixture of a little Korean this and a little Caucasian that. While I try not to compare them, hearing what my sister does and thinking about what I’m doing gives me pause. While I would probably raise my child very similarly to my sister if I were married to a fellow westerner, I’m married to a Korean man and so blending our cultures to make us both comfortable is a huge priority around here.

When to move the baby out of our room and into her own room?

Koreans sleep with their children, or co-sleep, much longer than their western counterparts… or so it seems. While I was reading that it was okay to move babies into their own rooms in the first few months, and I did try much like my sister did when her baby was two months old, I found I was much more comfortable bed sharing (keeping the baby in our bed) until she was six months old. She’s been sleeping in her crib right next to our bed since then. Were I not in Korea, I might feel pressure to move her out of our room or may have felt silly or embarrassed that she slept right between my husband and I for the first six months of her life. Hearing Korean mothers talk openly though, about how they still bed-share a year on and haven’t even considered moving the baby to a crib or otherwise, I feel completely natural and in a way thankful that my husband is Korean so I could enjoy this aspect of motherhood. Interestingly, when I looked up statistics for bed-sharing and co-sleeping in the US versus Korea the stats are almost identical with high percentages of families co-sleeping but the difference lies in how we discuss the topic. Korean mothers seem to proudly state they sleep with their child, American mothers proudly state that their child can sleep alone… even if the mother is still sleeping in the same room. It’s a difference in what we deem important and could probably provide a good start to conversation on American individuality versus the Korean collective mind. When is it right to move your baby to crib or into their own room? I don’t think that’s for me to say but I have learned that whatever you do, co-sleep, bed-share or otherwise is right for you and your child if you think it is.

What is the baby going to eat today?

Considering we eat three meals a day and babies maybe a couple more snacks in between, of course food is a big topic of discussion in our house. When she ate her first avocado around her sixth month, my husband disclosed that he hadn’t had his first avocado, an import into Korea, until he was probably around the age of 30. When my husband made her some rice porridge and added seaweed, I realized that common Korean delicacy was nowhere on my age appropriate feeding chart. Really, most of the common Korean foods weren’t on the chart which made sense given I’d Googled in English “age appropriate foods for babies”. When I saw a Korean chart from my friend, quite a few things were different.

Koreans are also often sharing their food and while at first I was a little concerned given that babies eat different things at different times and not to mention no one else would know my baby’s allergies, it’s broadened her pallet a bit faster. A few months ago, a friend shared her baby’s porridge and our baby had a field day. It had been seasoned with sesame oil and apparently she loved it. I would never have considered putting that on her porridge this early. What should the baby eat? Whatever the person cooking that day feels like making.

Will her first word be Korean or English?

I can’t count the number of people that have asked this question. It’s actually difficult to answer anyway. She coos with sounds that are very Korean and then goes into sounds that are much more English. If you’ve heard both languages you can probably guess which sounds are clearly on one side or the other. What’s difficult is responding appropriately. I am only speaking English to our babe and my husband is only using Korean so, if she makes a Korean sound towards something while I’m with her and it could be on the way to an appropriate Korean word for that object, I can’t coax it out of her. I have to stick with English to help her attain both languages in the future. She’s clearly working on both right now and “mama” and “abba” (Korean for daddy) have already made their way out. We’ve heard “I love you” in babyfied terms and “go” as well as “yogiyo” (“here” in Korean) and she seems to have some of the sound structures of Korean. Which was first? I don’t recall, but both are progressing well. Having both parents stick to just one language when addressing our child hasn’t been the easiest and has definitely taken some practice. I’ve learned that we can’t be too hard on ourselves if we slip a word in here or there from the other language accidentally because we are also learning as she goes.

Much of parenting is already a compromise between a husband and a wife, or rather the way the husband’s mother did something and how the mother’s mother did something.

My mother-in-law used to stick Q-tips up my husband’s nose and into his ears to clean them out while I declared we were certainly NOT doing that. Considering the packaging for Q-tips specifically says NOT to do that, which my husband didn’t know, it was agreed upon that we wouldn’t. However, that led into a conversation on why she did that and I learned that my earwax is wetter while Koreans have drier clumpy earwax and so they scoop it out.

Whose mother knows best?

Both, and ultimately we’ll discuss and make a compromise on how to best raise our little one with the information that we’ve gathered over time. Are you raising your child in a multicultural household? What have you learned? What have you compromised on?

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7 Responses

  1. Rachel Sung says:

    I am so grateful for your different blog entries. I, too, am an American married to a Korean, living in Korea. We’re a few years behind you, and our first baby is due in a few months. Your insights are great; your resources, helpful. I can’t tell you how much it’s helped when traversing the cumbersome paperwork piles, such as visas, muticultural savings accounts, etc.

    But the parts that strike me the most is, through your blog, I realize just how American I am. I think I chalked a lot of my thoughts up to my personality rather than to culture. But when I read your thoughts about the 조리원, and why there are no friends in Korea, and why you love your mother-in-law…I laugh because it’s as if I’m reading my own thoughts. So I realized…I’m more American than I knew, and culture shapes me more than I knew.

    Thank you!

    • Hallie says:

      Congratulations on the upcoming addition to your family! Thank you so much for your comments and I’m glad you’ve found my posts helpful. Culture definitely shapes us, but it’s continual so the time you spend here will definitely shape you in more ways that you can imagine too. Sometimes I look back and realize how much I’ve changed but stayed the same. Life is cool that way, eh?

  2. Lovely post. 🙂 OMG, Naia is a “snacker” too. I wish she would just eat a whole meal…then at least I could do something else. Hmm Q-tips up the nose, eh? I def won’t be doing that, but I must admit to using the rounded end of a bobby pin to get a few of those baby boogers out… :p

    • Hallie says:

      Yeah. I couldn’t get much done because Ava wanted to eat just a little here and there. It wasn’t until I was home with my sister and saw her baby eat that I realized not all babies demand that you are shirtless all day so they can feed on a whim. Hahaha. She’s a bit better now but still generally just peckish. Jaeoo got little tweezers to get our baby boogers out haha whatever works I guess. I was very anti- sticking anything into any hole for awhile since they’re so spastic when they’re infants. I’m not so worried now.

  3. I just found your blog by this post and really enjoyed it. I’m an American living in Japan, married to a Japanese man, with a now 1 year old daughter, and I’m finding the multicultural raising of children really fascinating. It really brings up so many unique insights and challenges and clashes of the two cultures. Anyway, after moving to Japan I’m also really interested in Korea too, so I look forward to reading more from you.

    • Hallie says:

      Thanks for the comment Jessica. Yes, it’s definitely fascinating as well as difficult at times trying to compromise but interesting too realizing there are different ways to do something and that all of them are for the benefit of the child.

  1. December 28, 2015

    […] a Child: Raising a child is already an adventure that is to be sure and figuring out how to compromise two cultural backgrounds and deciding what is best for our own bundle of joy over the past year has been intense. Watching […]

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