PARENTING IN THE CITY #7 | Raising children in a different culture
An interview between Holly Satterthwaite and Fong Hah Chan
Romans 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We are all called to raise our children in a different culture to that around us. Our families are meant to stand out from the world and illuminate the love and grace of the gospel through a Kingdom culture.
Mother of two, Fong Hah Chan, shares with us some of her experience of parenting and culture.
Like many Londoners, Fong Hah grew up in a very different cultural setting to the one in which she parented her boys:
I grew up in Malaysia as the youngest of five children and was born when my father was the ripe age of 70. My mother came from China when she was 18 to marry my father as a second wife, to be a breadwinner for the family. She worked incredibly hard, sometimes away in another town, to provide for our family.
How did this family life influence Fong Hah’s parenting?
I was inspired by the sacrificial love my mother continually showed us. She had a hard life in many ways, but I never doubted how much she loved us. Even though she couldn’t always be with the family, because she was working away from home, I knew that she was always putting us first and she never complained.
It was that sacrifice which helped me leave my job to care for my first son, William, when he was very sick. I had learnt from my mother the importance of being there for your children and serving them in the ways that they needed most. My mother modelled a selfless love for her children.
She was also brave. She travelled to the UK twice to help me when my children were born, which was a very difficult thing for her given that she had never had the opportunity to go to school or learn to read and can only speak Cantonese and some local dialect.
It must have been very different parenting your children in London. How has this culture influenced you?
In the UK people give their children lots of hugs and kisses. As a child, I grew up in a culture where you didn’t show your love through physical affection or by saying, “I love you”. This is something I wanted to do differently with my own children. I can see the importance of affection and saying “I love you” and I always gave my sons lots of cuddles!
I missed some of the cultural norms that would have happened had I had my children in Malaysia. I would have been surrounded by my family to help. It’s expected that you have a period of confinement (around 30-40 days), during which it was common to hire a maid to help out and cook for you and any relatives who come to visit! My mum came for 5-6 months to help me which was a big blessing but not quite the same. She encouraged me to eat 7 meals a day to get my strength back – but I could only manage three!
Have there been times when your cultural upbringing and London culture have been at odds with the Kingdom culture you were trying to create in your family?
You have to constantly be looking to God and the bible to show you how to raise your children and sift out what is of God and what is of man.
In the Chinese culture, there was a very strong importance placed on respect and reverence for your elders and those in authority, which can be helpful and helps children understand and learn a respect for God and man. Discipline is also very important and we don’t tolerate rudeness. As a mark of respect, it is polite to wait to allow the older folks to start eating first at the dinner table.
However, in becoming a Christian I have learnt to let go of a lot of superstition and not let it control how I live. For example, I was taught that you shouldn’t wash your hair during your confinement period and that you should shave your child’s hair off when they are 1 month old. Jesus has brought me freedom from superstition in how I parent.
What advice would you have for parents who, like you, are raising their children in a different culture to the one they grew up in, or who are seeking to raise their children without conforming to the culture of the world?
Pray and bring every situation and need to God – nothing is too small or too big for Him. We have a very practical God and He is a loving Heavenly Father and He is there to help us if we call out to him. He will give us the wisdom that we need to raise our children.
Look to the bible and don’t be pressurised by what the world wants you to do, but focus on God and how He wants you to raise your children and fear God.
If you have missed any of our parenting series then check them out here.