Parenting across culture

No matter the language or culture, parents are parents and children are children.

And becoming a parent can be an isolating experience for a new mom. Add to that being a new mom in a new country and the difficulties are magnified.

That's what Lian Clark found when she became the mother of two boys.

"Everyone has a life and now it's different," said Clark, 30. "It just changes overnight."

Clark moved to Kamloops from China 10 years ago to attend Thompson Rivers University. She met her husband, Brian, and decided to start a family. Their first son, Owen, was born two years ago. Clark gave birth to Brendan little more than a year later.

In China, extended family plays a big part in child-raising, with parents and grandparents doing their part to bring up baby, she said. But Clark and her husband didn't have that kind of help.

Add to that the stress of being a new mom, and Clark found herself overwhelmed at times. Her children would break down and cry in the middle of a store or at the mall.

Clark said she couldn't get the children to calm down no matter what she did. She began to believe something was wrong.

Then she heard about the YMCA-YWCA's Nobody's Perfect Parenting Program, which is offered free to parents with newborns up to age five.

Clark attended the 12-hour, six-week-long program during the summer. Under the guidance of facilitators Janis Arner and Sarah Steele, the group of mothers discussed their way through a number of scenarios that, it turns out, all parents share.

A month and a half later, Clark felt more comfortable about her role as a parent. She also gained a close circle of friends with whom she could share parenting ideas.

"For me, it helped me with my parenting skills. It helped me learn to raise them in a different way," said Clark. "My frustration level went down. My stress level went down."

Then she got to thinking about other immigrant Chinese mothers and how they could benefit from the same support she'd received.

Clark approached Arner with the idea. Arner said multicultural programs had been held the past and thought Kamloops could benefit from a Chinese-language program.

It didn't take long to recruit four other mothers. The first session took place at the YMCA -YWCA in Aberdeen in September.

Using Clark as a translator and a Chinese language resource book as a guide, Arner, Steele and the mothers shared stories and talked their way through a variety of child-rearing concerns.

Parents set the topic for Arner and Steele to troubleshoot each week. Arner said these scenarios are resolved through problem-solving strategies.

"We're always looking at the parent as a unique individual and the child as a unique individual," she said. "It's all about isolating the experience and learning what motivates the behaviour."

Once parents understand the behaviour, they can discover issues around them that contribute to the problem, said Arner.

"Children behave a certain way because they are trying to tell us something," she said.

In the case of Clark and her kids' temper tantrums, she discovered spending hours running errands is hard on babies.

She taught herself to slow down and spread errands out throughout the week to make life easier, said Clark.

As for the other moms, they gained the support network and friendship needed to make motherhood easier, especially coming from a different culture, she said.

"It's can be really hard for a Chinese mother to approach a Caucasian mother," she said, adding the language barrier doesn't help.

Min Hu sought Clark out before the program started. She has been in Canada for two years and, once she had her son, was eager to have the friendship of another Chinese mother, she said.

Being a small community, Hu heard about Clark through friends. The two women actually bumped into each other at Costco one day earlier this year, she said.

Hu said the program helped her gain more confidence and patience as a mother and introduced her to a circle of friends who share the same culture and concerns.

One thing Arner has learned by facilitating the program is that mothers share the same worries no matter their cultural background.

"Parents are parents and children are children," she said.

Another Chinese language program is scheduled to begin in the new year. For more information, call Arner at 250-372-7791.

jhewlett@kamloopsnews.ca

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