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Parenting Challenges of Immigrant Families

by Leyla Norman

Immigrant children make up about 20 percent of the population of U.S. children, and by 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau expects this percentage to rise 10 percent. With the rising numbers of children in immigrant families, communities can help families by being aware of the struggles they face on daily, including raising their children in a new and unfamiliar country. Some areas of particular parenting difficulty are school, maintaining cultural heritage, monitoring children’s behavior and family dynamics.

Schools

Immigrant parents often find it difficult to participate in school life in the ways the dominant culture expects. Teachers and administrators typically want immigrant parents to volunteer, respond to letters sent home in English and be room parents. However, immigrant parents often have to work long hours, need child care to attend meetings, and they provide for their children’s education in other ways, such as being role models for hard work and providing a quiet place to study. This is particularly true in the Latino culture. Other barriers immigrant parents face are not knowing English or how the U.S. school system works. Additionally, they might think that teachers have a better understanding of how to best educate their children, so they refrain from becoming involved in the classroom or talking with teachers too much.

Cultural Heritage

Preserving cultural heritage also becomes a challenge for immigrant parents. As their children become immersed in the new culture, it becomes harder for them to maintain use of their native language and to pass on cultural traditions. For example, children often end up speaking English only or become dominant English speakers, never fully mastering their parents’ language.

Monitoring Children

As immigrant children pick up a new language, they are better able to keep what they do outside of the home a secret from their parents. Power then shifts from the parent to the child. The child also interprets and translates for the parent, causing further change in parent-child roles. Issues with trust between children and parents can develop in which children’s behavior away from parents deteriorates, but parents do not know much, if anything about it. Another problem develops when children want to become more assimilated into mainstream society, and their parents might view their doing so as unacceptable. It can be particularly difficult for parents from cultures in which children are expected to unquestioningly obey living in a Western society where parenting styles are more relaxed. Parents who adapt and somewhat change their expectations and parenting styles are more likely to maintain a good relationship with their children. \

Family Dynamics

In addition to the power moving from parents to children as children learn a second language faster than their parents, stress in the family can result from the higher incidence of poverty among many immigrants in the U.S. The Foundation for Child Development found that 30 percent of children in immigrant families live in homes with income below the federal poverty level in its “Children in Immigrant Families: Essential to America’s Future” publication. This compares to 19 percent of children born to U.S.-born parents. Unemployment and financial difficulties can increase the level of frustration parents feel in their new country, and this can translate into strained relationships with children.

About the Author

Leyla Norman has been a writer since 2008 and is a certified English as a second language teacher. She also has a master's degree in development studies and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.

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