Lördags godis or not? Dagis or stay-at-home? To spank or not to spank? While some parenting disagreements are relatively trivial, others represent core personal values. What is a couple to do when they find themselves confronting essential differences in parenting styles? The answer lies in the concept “intentional parenting,” a term used to describe an active stance toward parenting. Intentional parenting is achieved when parents can articulate their own values in child rearing and move toward actualizing these values, so they can develop a sense of agency and joy in raising their children.
As described in a previous article in this series, Coping with Culture Shock, the experience of culture shock can re-emerge due to significant events in your life. Having children is one such event. Being faced with the differences between the way you were raised and the child-rearing practices in Sweden may evoke that fish-out-of-water feeling once again.
Under the combined stressors of raising a child and doing so as a foreigner, one can become defensive and closed-minded. You might find that instead of making intentional parenting choices, you cling to what is familiar in a kind of blind allegiance. This can lead to a “me-and-my-culture-against-you-and-yours” dynamic. This attitude leads to reactive rather than active parenting. The truth is that if had you had became a parent in your homeland you might very well have struggled with questions about yourself as a parent. Letting this questioning occur is a normal and essential part of intentional parenting.
The Swedish partner can fall prey to a similar barrier to intentional parenting. He or she might rest on doing things “the Swedish way” simply because it is supported in the culture, thus circumventing the process of making conscious parenting choices. International couples must avoid getting stuck in the superficial cultural conflict so that a genuine exploration of child-rearing attitudes within each partner has room to unfold. If each partner is committed to this process, the couple can truly begin to engage in intentional parenting as a unit.
One of the biggest dangers specific to the international couple is when the non-Swede uses parenting to assert his or her own sense of identity and competence, thus distracting from the child’s needs as a separate individual in his or her own right. If your self-esteem has taken a hit since you moved to Sweden, it may be important to evaluate the effect that your personal struggles may be having on your parenting. Although every parent has a right to derive pride and joy from their children, beware of unduly relying on your children to affirm your own sense of identity and worth.
In addition to the above mentioned pitfalls that international couples face, every parent is potentially haunted by “ghosts” from his or her own childhood. Mistreatments that we may have endured as children have a way of creeping uninvited into the here-and-now relationship with our own children. If you struggle with inconsistencies between your parenting ideals and actual parenting practices, you may be under the influence of ghosts from your past. It may be necessary to seek professional parent guidance in order to resolve these conflicts in order to succeed with intentional parenting.