Multicultural Family Life – Meet An Imperfect Mum

Because of the fact that we are a family made up of two nationalities, I am always interested to hear how other families in similar situations live their lives. And I thought you might be too. 

For this month’s installment of Multicultural Family Life I asked a fellow expat blogger to share with us how she, her Dutch husband and their children manage their multicultural family life.
Catie blogs at the Diary of An Imperfect Mum. It is a parenting and lifestyle blog with a twist. There she writes features about her family life, parenting, and craft ideas with some reviews, quotes and photography (one of her passions) thrown in. The twist in the blog is that she has a son with autism, so some posts cover issues relating to having a child with special needs. She describes her parenting adventure as taking the scenic route but with lessons that are very relevant to all families.
1.  To start with Catie, please tell us a little about your family’s background – where you’re from, where you’ve lived, where you are now.
I am a 40 something expat mum, wife and teacher. I was born in Middlesbrough in the Northeast of England but since 2005 I have lived in Holland with my Dutch husband.
We have two boys (born in July 2006, and February 2009). They are mad about computer games and animals and are bilingual. I work part-time in an international school teaching children English.
2. What languages are your children exposed to and how do you juggle these? Do you have a family language you speak at home or does each parent have one language they stick to?
English and Dutch. We use the one parent one language (OPOL) approach but hubby and I speak English together. Despite working in an international school (English speaking), we choose for our children to attend Dutch school. We did that because we plan on staying here and because we wanted them to have friends in our small village.
3. What have you noticed about your children’s language skills? Have they picked up on both languages equally well?
Before the boys started school their main language was English as they spent most time with me (papa worked in the UK from Monday until Friday). When they started school they began speaking more Dutch. The school reported a taal achterstand (language delay) based on their vocabulary assessments until around age 7. I do not like the term language delay and would strongly argue that the assessment they use is not relevant or fair to bilinguals.
At this point we decided that my husband would change jobs to one based in the Netherlands to ensure the boys had more Dutch input. Both children speak English and Dutch and switch easily between the two.
I would say that my oldest son is stronger in Dutch now but when I ask he says he has no preference. It is difficult to assess this as he is autistic so has some specific language problems relating to his autism. We were advised to bring our eldest son up as a monolingual because of his autism but we choose to ignore this advice and I am so glad we did!
He demonstrates the same language problems in both languages e.g. misunderstanding figurative language. But it didn’t stop him from learning either, in fact I would argue that having 2 languages has given him a larger frame of reference and therefore better understanding.
For the future: I am conscious that my boys are spending more time speaking Dutch now, with friends and at school and that is why hubby and I have chosen to continue speaking English together to give them more exposure at home. We also watch quite a lot of English television and read English books.
4. Do you or your other half have any of the stereotypical traits of your own nationality? Has this had any effect on your life in The Netherlands?
My husband is very laid back and easy going and I am the total opposite.
5. How different, if at all, would your life be if you lived in the UK rather than in The Netherlands?
We choose to live in the Netherlands because of the lifestyle here. Dutch children often come out top in the poll of the happiest children in the world*.
Everything here is orientated towards families. You see this most in the summer, as families finish work and all meet at the beach. If I could sum it up I would say the Dutch work to live they don’t live for work.
6. Have there been any child-rearing differences between you and your husband based on the mentality of your home countries?
Yes, my husband is far more relaxed, children are given more freedom to play outside in the street, walk or cycle to school or to a friend’s. My husband’s approach is to trust the children to do the right thing and will say to them; “Dare to say no!” I find it much harder to let my kids go.
7. Are there any Dutch customs you’ve adopted in child-rearing or anything else?
The biggest difference I have encountered in relation to child rearing was when my children were born. Firstly the Dutch do not readily give pain relief during labour. Secondly that when the baby is born you have a Kramzorg (anti-natal carer) who comes to your home for the first 8 days and supports you by helping you take care of the baby (including with breast feeding), cooking meals for you and your family and doing household duties like the washing and cleaning. It is amazing, I cried when mine left!
Secondly, initial schooling is different. Although children start the day after their 4th birthday they do not have to attend officially until they are 5. The first 3 years of school are play based and formal education e.g. learning to read and write does not begin until Group 3 (Year 2 UK equivalent or age 7). This has suited both of my boys and it is amazing how quickly they learn when they begin group 3 as they are ready.
We are lucky that English is a high value language here and the children will have English lessons at school and when they are older they could have the opportunity to go to a bilingual school.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us Catie. I lived in Holland as a student and loved it, but I didn’t realise quite how family-friendly the lifestyle there is. The Kramzorg service sounds incredible. It must be a wonderful support in the first week at home with a new baby.
The Dutch school system sounds similar to the German one that my children are going through, although here it is separated into kindergarten and school, with school beginning at six years of age. I was doubtful at first, but you are right. It is incredible how quickly six and seven year old pick up reading and writing.
I am no expert on bilingual children, but I think you were right to raise both your sons bilingually. Well done for trusting your instinct and going ahead despite the professional advice.
Best of luck to you and your family on your adventures in parenting!*Click here to read more about Dutch children being the happiest in the world

[Are you interested in joining the series? Contact me on the contact form on the right. I’d love to hear from you.]


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