Raising children is a universal challenge.
For starters, it’s expensive. According to CBS News, the average cost of raising a child in the United States is a whopping $233,610.
Beyond the financial burden, there are a number of additional challenges facing immigrant-parents, from cultural anxiety to familial pressure.
While remembering that every culture is different and every family is unique, this brief post will draw on several prominent studies to examine the primary obstacles facing immigrant families.
Though these studies refrain from offering specific rules for raising children, they reveal statistically-common concerns facing immigrant families.
3 Common Challenges Faced By Immigrant-Parents Raising Kids:
1. Overcoming Cultural Anxieties
Adapting to a new culture can be exhausting.
For many immigrant parents, the primary challenge to overcome is Limited English Proficiency (LEP). According to the Urban Institute, nearly 60% of immigrant children have one LEP parent in their family.
Limited English Proficiency is a major barrier for immigrants, especially in the job market. To increase fluency, here are a few great resources to consider:
- Check out the top-rated Duolingo app
- Listen to VOA Special English News (where recent new stories are read in English and are available in multiple proficiency levels)
- Hire a personal tutor at italki (the company that promises fluency in 3 months or less!)
While immigrant children are exposed to English at a young age (and therefore learn the language more easily), many immigrant parents don’t have that advantage. The pressure to learn English later as an adult can be overwhelming.
Immigrant parents and their children will both endure the struggle to learn American social rituals, gender roles, and even things like holiday celebrations.
In an interview with Vice Magazine, Michaela, the daughter of Venezuelan immigrants, remembers:
“I never knew what was normal. I would notice friends sending Christmas cards and I’d be like, ‘Can I send Christmas cards? Can I do that thing that seems like a normal thing that my friends are doing, that you’re supposed to do?”
Cultural differences simply take time to understand, embrace, and overcome.
2. Obtaining Physical & Mental Healthcare
According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one in four lawfully present immigrants are uninsured. The same study showed that almost 50% of undocumented immigrants lack insurance coverage.
Immigrant children are especially vulnerable without insurance. In fact, 7% of immigrant children are reportedly in “fair or poor” health, more than double the rate for the children of natural citizens.
Beyond having general health insurance, many immigrant parents reportedly struggle with the stigma of mental health therapy. While these stigmas transcend national borders, some immigrant children have seen their parents reject the conversation of mental health altogether.
For example, Sara, the daughter of a Cambodian refugee, experienced difficulty broaching the subject of trauma:
“Every time I tried to talk to my mom about [my mental health], the conversation would steer toward how I had nothing to be depressed about. My upbringing was cushy and sheltered compared to her own, so she’s not completely wrong, but we only know our own realities.”
In a similar way, Ella, whose parents emigrated from the Philippines, admitted needing to, “Hide [therapy sessions] from my dad because he claimed that the counselor was brainwashing us to hate him.”
So where does this resistance to mental health originate?
Yukiko Shiraishi, a therapist who works with many children of immigrants, theorizes that, “Immigrants who are in a small community…may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their private details with someone they see as a stranger.”
Just as immigrants must be able to obtain health insurance, families must be able to have open lines of communication to discuss mental health.
3. Quieting the Pressure to Succeed
Beyond the pressure to assimilate, immigrant children often struggle to satisfy the expectations of their own parents.These expectations frequently include achieving notable academic and career success.
In an interview with The New York Times, Crystal Tepale, whose mother left Mexico for the United States, admits that her journey to become a lawyer is followed by familial pressure:
“Being a first generation college student, it’s a lot of pressure. My mom already says, ‘I am waiting for you to become someone in life with a career so that we can have a better life.’”
And while immigrant-parents push their children to succeed in the U.S., many still expect their children to also abide by the norms and rituals of their home countries.
According to Dr. Tali Shenfield of the Advanced Psychology Journal, “Immigrant parents likewise usually prefer that their children adhere to the rules and boundaries of their own culture rather than adapting to more liberal Western mores.”
The conflicting attitudes and beliefs can be difficult to ignore.
Such demands quickly extend even into the social lives of immigrant children. In his book Children of Immigration, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco interviewed a Ghanaian taxi driver in New York City who admitted, “I make sure I know my children’s friends, and if they want to come to my house, they have to follow my rules.”
Many children of immigrant parents find it difficult to satisfy the expectations of their parents—especially when so many sacrifices have been made on their behalf. This can be a further drain on the mental health of immigrant children.
According to Kenna Chick of Mental Health America,
“Many children of immigrants grow up conscious of the enormous sacrifices that their parents have made and spend the rest of their lives proving to their parents that the suffering was not in vain.”
As we have discussed in recent articles, the pressures of acculturation may impact both social and psychological well-being and simply take time to overcome. And when immigrant parents and their children do get accustomed to life in the United States, they frequently become more successful than natural-born citizens.
Just ask one of the many immigrants who have won the Nobel Prize.
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