Life As A Multicultural Family: How To Make Marriage & Parenting Work

 Photo credit:   http://tapps.design/

Photo credit:  http://tapps.design/

Our Journey

It seems like a long time ago we met salsa dancing in our local city area and that was the beginning of it. I was with a friend, he was with his brother and his cousin. We met for the first time there and we all hung out. We began dating soon after that, were engaged 11 months later, and married I think four or five months after that. We have been married now for 10 years and we have two children who are 5 and 6 years old. Omar is from Guatemala, originally he moved here when he was 21 to the United States and he has since seen most of his family move here to Minnesota but they were all born in Guatemala. I am from Wisconsin. So we have a mixture of cultures, Guatemala mixing with Midwestern American.

What is it like being married to a Guatemalan?
One of the things that really attracted me to Omar at first were that he is from a different culture. Latin cultures are very warm, they're very friendly, they're very family-oriented, which was really attractive to me. It was fun, it was exciting, he's very romantic and so that was a lot of fun at the beginning of our relationship. I think a lot of initially what drew me to him was his background, his culture, his family, because they were so different than mine and I really enjoyed being around them. Again they were just warm and accepting and things like that.

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What drew you to Omar?

 I would say some of those characteristics initially were the fact that he seemed down to earth, he was relatable, easy to talk to, very romantic but then as I began to learn more about him, who he is, who his family is, I saw a depth there that was really attractive as well and so I heard stories about how much he looked up to his dad for example and who the person his dad was. He's passed away and I've never been able to meet him but to hear who he was through stories, through interacting with Omar's extended family, I just felt as though their family structure was very solid and that he was raised really well. A lot of that shone through then as an adult and came out through how he treated people and how he interacted with people.

To watch the whole interview with Claire, click on the video below. 

Facing Challenges

There definitely have been challenges. If anybody that's married that tells you there haven't been, they're lying! So of course there are challenges! That's what marriage is, it's being close to to somebody in sharing life. Putting two people that are different from each other in the same house, in the same life, is going to bring challenges, and for us that was definitely true. I would say when we became parents is when things started to get really challenging. Bringing children into the world is an incredible joy. It is one of my very favorite things about this life but it comes with a lot of work, a lot of challenges. What was happening at that time for me was where I was seeing the differences in our culture really manifest themselves in ways that weren't as pleasant, weren't as welcoming and attractive and so when you were raised two different ways, even if you're from the same area, there still are going to be differences in every family of origin--so that really was magnified at the time. When we were emotionally spent. Our boys are a year apart, so we had a one-year-old and a newborn at the same time and so we weren't sleeping, we weren't communicating well, things just were not ideal. That brought a lot of challenges which really magnified how Omar was raised, how I was raised, what our expectations are, what we were aware of, unaware of when it comes to parenting. When you're given the responsibility of a life, then it brings out the best and worst in people--it definitely did for us. So it was during that time that I really got to see Omar and myself and discover new parts of ourselves. Neither of us had parented before, neither of us had been married before and so just as much as we had to learn about each other during that time, we were also learning a lot about ourselves and and being thrown situations we had never experienced before. It really took a toll on our marriage. We had a really challenging season, a long season of disappointment, resentment, anger, bitterness, sadness, loneliness. You can feel very alone even when you're surrounded by people and so it was during that time for me. I really struggled in a lot of ways as so many new parents do, but I was disappointed. I thought that marriage was a fairy tale. I thought marriage was something that was happy and fun all of the time. That's my personality and so it was disappointing to see that marriage can be really tough, it can be challenging and so it was really eye-opening for me. This challenging period lasted a long time.

 Photo Credit: Jon Link

Photo Credit: Jon Link

TURNING POINT

I would say a big turning point for me particularly was when I realized that I did struggle a lot with depression and anxiety and stemming from that was the reality of being a new mom. It was a lot of expectation and pressure for me but once I admitted where I was and the things that I was thinking, the thoughts that I had... When I was able to sort of step out of my situation and look at it from the outside in and realize things aren't great. I don't want this to be our lives. I don't want this be my marriage. I don't want to raise children in this environment where you know we're not on the same team. We're not on the same page and each person in a marriage has to decide that. And so I decided that this isn't what I wanted. This is just a learning phase. So I did what I could do and I focused on myself. I focused on learning what it takes to live this new normal of being a parent, being in a marriage. Juggling a full-time job, a new home, all of the things that bring us joy can also bring so much expectation but once I was willing to be honest with myself, honest with Omar, I could admit where I was wrong. I could admit my part in our dysfunction. I could admit and own the part that was mine to own. Once I was able to do that I could start working on my piece of the puzzle and not settle for okay. Not settle for terrible or whatever the flavor of the day was at the time and really aim for something much better. Through that we were able to turn toward each other, and soften our hearts toward each other, and start naming the things that we wanted to be, what we wanted to see in our lives, in our marriage, in our home with our kids and start working on those things. Another part of that was to start being honest with each other and acknowledge the things that were just going to be different. Sometimes I think especially when you're sleep-deprived and you're emotionally drained, you can take offense really easily, you can take things really personally.  Once I was able say, I think this situation just is, or I think Omar sees things differently, and not be so offended and take things so personally it created some space to work together and work on the same team. It's constant and even not being in that early phase anymore with young kids, it's something that takes work always and so we're just committed to that. We're committed to making it work and talking things out all the time, really.

Hope In Desperate Times

 Photo Credit: Carlos Montenegro Photography

Photo Credit: Carlos Montenegro Photography

There were days of hopelessness. There were times of feeling like I don't know if we can make this happen. I don't know if we can make this work. And so that feeling of hopelessness was definitely present often in that season for both of us. We were able to find hope and strength honestly in God. When I think of the times when I don't have the strength to make something happen and I'm inadequate, I'm not enough, it's when I remember that God is my strength and can get me through really challenging times. So I had to look upward and find my strength in my faith. Another thing that really provided hope was to just constantly remind ourselves that people are married all over the world--people have have managed marriage for centuries, traced back to the beginning of time. If somebody else can do it, we can probably figure this out too. We needed to just give grace to ourselves and realize that we're human, that we are flawed. We needed to learn how to manage what we have and what to do with the skills we have--that we have the areas that we each bring to the table, that we can rely on, just slowly start to build on that, and realize that we are on the same team. My husband doesn't want our marriage to fail. I don't want our marriage to fail. And so because I can remind myself of that then we can really accomplish anything that life throws at us. It's during those times when we feel down or hopeless that honestly--our kids--just thinking of our kids and what they mean to us pulls us through an awful lot. We found a lot of strength being parents and realizing that we are able to love these two children so much that we would honestly do a whole lot more for them than we would even do for ourselves. That might be backwards but we've found a lot of strength in realizing who we want our kids to be. It's worth it to get through the ugly times, get through the difficult conversations, for ourselves and for our family. And what we want, it takes a fight sometimes to overcome.

PARENTING

FAMILY VALUES

Family. Our biggest value here in our day-to-day operations is family. Family is very important to us. We talk a lot about it as I mentioned Omar comes from a Latino background where family is everything and so we've incorporated that into our family. We teach our boys on a regular basis that family matters so much more than most of the things that we see in our day-to-day life. Our boys are in elementary school right now so they have a new teacher every year, they have a new set of friends every year, but what never changes his family. And so that's a big value for us.

Character. Our boys are asking questions like: why is it okay for this friend at school to get away with this at home and why do we have this rule or why are we this way? What I found myself focusing on when I'm having those conversations with my kids is not so much answering their questions of well you know so-and-so may do this because they make bad choices. I don't say that. I say you know what, who we are as the Montenegro's (that's our last name) is: we are kind, Montenegro's are polite, Montenegro's are helpful, and even if somebody doesn't help that doesn't make it right. This is what we can focus on--these are the values that we want to instill for our boys--to say this is who we are and even though other people don't live life that way that's their choice and our choice is to be whatever the characteristic is at the moment helpful, or kind, or apologetic, or whatever the word is that we choose but we can focus on that. 

Consistency. One thing  that's been really helpful for me to do as a parent is to be consistent in addressing things. My personality does not lend itself to that at all. I love people and I love them to all get along, and so I avoid conflict at all costs. As a parent I can't do that. I've really challenged myself to address things, have the conversation with my child that I would rather just let it pass. So when they come home and they tell me what has happened at school or how so-and-so decided to behave, we talk about it and I ask some questions like how do you think that went? Do you think that was a helpful or hurtful response? Or I'll just ask open-ended questions which keeps me accountable to being able to address things as they come up. Not to find the faults per se but to to be a sounding board for my kids so that they're having those conversations at home rather than leaving it up to the other six-year-olds at school to decide what their character is going to be. So for me a big piece is just entertaining the conversation, asking the questions that I might not want to ask and really dig in and even when my kids make mistakes, they make bad decisions, they're selfish, they're hurtful, when they are behaving badly to not judge them and treat them with kindness and help them to understand how a situation could be handled better but also not to excuse them, and keep them accountable for their actions too.

Parenting Challenges

In our family with two different cultures we go about life so differently, so when it comes to parenting how we discipline our kids, what matters, what doesn't, holidays, gifts, how we provide for our children, we both have definitely different opinions on just about everything. We've found that just talking about it ahead of time is helpful a lot of times we don't and things don't go as well but the times that we're able to set aside some time to know what's coming to be prepared. Holidays are a big one especially for us that we've had our conversation just the two of us in private without our kids hearing us to have a kind of game plan and some parameters set. I'm of the mindset that I'm more of a minimalistic approach to parenting. My husband loves to lavish gifts on our kids and so what we do is have that boundaries talked beforehand of what's our plan, what's our budget, all those kinds of things--knowing that we both come to the table with completely different motives and perspectives and so then we're able to just agree on that, compromise, move on and that's an ideal situation. Oftentimes we don't have the margin to have that conversation and then things don't go so well. We're committed to shielding our kids from some of that, to say you know what happens happens. We can have a conversation about it in private later and I think having that separation has been really helpful for us, of being really mindful what our kids are able to hear and not. We by no means want them to be shielded from difficulty, but I think there's a balance and so whether or not they go well depends if we have that time together either beforehand or after in private to set expectations and come to a compromise.

Parenting Advice

The three things I would just encourage anyone that's in a situation where you've especially got two really different cultures is... 

1. Chill Out. I would say and I'm telling myself that to to to have this idea that there is no right or wrong way to parent. When you
look at the entire world, all the cultures, all the traditions that exist they're all incredible and beautiful and worthy of being celebrated. So I would
say to remember that your your way isn't the only way. 

2. Ask Questions. The second piece of advice I would say is to just ask a lot of questions. Be a student of your spouse. Be a student of their family, of their culture, ask a lot of questions. How do you celebrate this holiday? What holidays do you have that are important to you? What are you know behaviors that you'd like us to have as a family? Ask relatives, ask just ask a lot of questions and be a student.

3. Embrace The Journey. Just enjoy it because though traditions and cultures can set our trajectory, they don't get to determine every single day that's something that you and your spouse get to determine. And so create your own family traditions and and blend the two two backgrounds as best as you can and and make sure that both sides are represented. Most likely there's a dominant culture based on where you live but make sure there's a lot of space for the other culture as well and and just embrace it and come up with your own way of doing things and and be open minded. 

Marriage Advice 

1. Chill Out. It's the same advice for parenting. You know there there are so many things that we could point at each other for doing wrong but just remember that each person in the marriage is failed and flawed and that's just the way things are. And so you have to accept that chill out, it's going to be okay. 

2. Think Big Picture. Live in a way or look at your life in a way that's a little bit bigger picture. We can get so caught up in the the tiny things that bring us pain and hurt that are either intended or unintended but, but those are tiny and when you look at the bigger picture it helps you to really see, okay, this is the general direction that I want us to bevgoing and that can help you get through those painful moments.

3. Assume The Best. That's so hard as humans but it's so important in marriage to assume the best, assume that they have good intentions, that your partner loves you, and is for you, and is for your marriage and your family. And so when you begin assuming that, then the conversation goes a completely better way than it does if you don't. So assume the best in each other.

 

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Hi! I'm Claire Montenegro, I'm 35 years old. Omar and I have been married for 10 years and we have two boys that are five and six. I am from Wisconsin, USA and Omar is from Guatemala. We currently reside in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. I work as a pastor at a local church. Omar is in the Army National Guard Reserves and works in management for a local school bus company. We love family time, hosting parties, and quality conversations over a good cup coffee or tea.