Friday, September 10, 2010

Parenting Now

This post is part of the September Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted this month by Maria at Fab Mums.

In talking and reading about bilingual (or potentially bilingual) families, I have often been struck by the conflict between an overly long-term and overly short-term view.

What I mean by that is those parents who give up on speaking an additional language to their kids for reasons in the short term like inconvenience, refusal to respond in the language, child not understanding the language as well so parent quits entirely, speaking majority language so the child will get on in school, and all sorts of other relatively short-term concerns. For example, in the short term it would have been easier for the Slovak to just speak English to her, or for me to speak Czech to her while we're in UK (so she would speak it when we move back), but I think in the long run those solutions wouldn't hold up.

I don't think that any of these are problems so insurmountable that the family should give up its language (because truly, stick with it and the child WILL almost certainly be fine in the end), but unlike a lot of the popular advice floating around, I DO think they are valid concerns and shouldn't be dismissed off-hand.

Then at the other end of the spectrum is the over-emphasis on long-term development. Every conversation I have about moving to a country where my daughter doesn't speak the language well includes the repeated reassurance, "She's so young, she'll be fine!" I have taken to saying it first, actually: "I know that at her age she'll be fine eventually, but [insert mild concern here]..." It is true! At her age we will ultimately be more concerned with keeping Czech from taking over completely as her dominant language. But.

What has struck me in the last year, faced with long-term reassurances like "She will be fine in the end," is that while she WILL be fine in the end and maybe even in the middle, I can't focus solely on the end result and ignore the present. I am her mother now. It is my job to be concerned about her welfare both present and future. I can't blithely go on, assuming she'll be "fine in the end", and ignore the real girl struggling today.

She will be fine in the end, but today she is sad because the children on the playground ignored her. She will be fine in the end, but today she is confused because the stranger on the bus didn't smile at her greeting.

She will be fine in the end, but today she kicks the ground and says with self-disgust, "I can't talk!" because she can't get the words out right in the other language.

I really believe that the long-term benefits will make the struggle getting there worth it, but I can't just casually dismiss the process without acknowledging it CAN be a struggle. I can look ahead to sending my trilingual third-grader off to Czech school with a smile, but in my haste to get there I can't overlook the tiny preschooler who is my today - and an over-hasty rush to say "fine in the end!" feels to me like overlooking and trivializing the tiny preschooler's real and current feelings. She won't even remember this, but I'm not just responsible for the parts of her life she remembers, am I? I have to watch and guide her and shield her from unproductive pain even if it is just transient.

She will be fine in the end, but I am not her mother just "in the end" - I am her mother now and every day until we reach that end in which we will be fine.


  1. I love how passionate you are about K's "I can't talk" : ( but I am sorry that she's struggling. I wish a little one could understand how amazing it is that she's learning so many languages at all! But like you said, that's not too helpful when the kids on the playground don't understand you.

    When do you reach the end in which all will be fine? I would like to know that secret...

  2. Afraid I don't have a good answer for you on that one. :) I'll totally blog about it when it happens, though...

  3. Your post bought a tear to my eye to be honest.
    We are in a similar position right now, and I am about ready to scream at the next person who trivializes my concerns with the old 'she will be fine in a year'.
    Thank you for highlighting one of the harder aspects of juggling small children and multiple languages.
    Oh, and our eldest (age 5) is just hitting the 'she'll be fine place' so I do know it is true. But it is still tough for the 3 year old (and Mama of course)!
    Lovely, insightful post - thank you.

  4. Thanks, Fiona. It is hard to see your child frustrated, isn't it? It was so much easier back when we could do everything for them.

    Wasn't it your daughter who was having "problems" in preschool because she understood words like snack and play but not words like sit down and tidy up? Because I found that hilarious and fully expect my little one to do the same sort of thing. :)

  5. K is fortunate to have such a caring mom who recognizes that she struggles sometimes and who helps her feel better about it now.

    It's also good to hear that Fiona's five-year-old is already entering the "fine" stage!



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