‘Mom, look at my forehead! I have a little bit of white on me, that means I’m an English kid and I should live in America!’
So started a conversation with my Little Man, who began 1st grade a couple of months ago. I looked closely, confirmed that he was right, gave him a hug cause it was so cute and said, ‘One day we’ll go visit grandma in America, you start saving your allowance, and I’ll start saving mine!’
For a few days now he has been talking about visiting the States, moving to America, him being an English kid and how his skin is ‘white’ compared to his friends (technically he is a soft brown, but yes, definitely lighter than the other kids).
I gave it some thought and wondered why I found this so interesting… here’s what it was:
He’s the first of my children to identify with his American culture at this age.
The youngest of 4 kids, there is a 10 year gap between himself and the youngest of the older 3. By the time he was born, his siblings were in high school or Jr. high. Each of the kids were raised in an English environment until they started kindergarten at 4. I knew the Japanese would come along eventually, so chose to only use English at home. It took them at least a year or 2 each to become fluent in Japanese, but once they did, Japanese began to take over. And with Little Man, it’s been the same pattern, except for this:
At 6 he is identifying with his American culture more than his Japanese culture.
Around 6 years, or even earlier, my older kids began to reject the American heritage and latch on to the Japanese. It made me sad to hear them ask me not to go with them to school events but rather want their father (Japanese) to come along (but let’s be honest, I was glad for the couple of hours of me-time too!). It affected me when they’d ignore me if we met in the neighborhood and they were walking home with friends, or pretend I wasn’t around at school visit days. But by the time the 3rd child did this, I was used to it, and realized, this was just the way it was and I couldn’t force them to accept their American culture, I just had to keep being me and hope they’d come around.
The interesting thing was at about 14 or 15, that magic age when a teen settles down and comes out of their little cocoon of childhood and is suddenly an independent thinker capable of making many of their own decisions, they also began to re-embrace their American culture, realize the advantage and benefit of being not only bilingual, but bicultural. They began to see the flaws in the system here and realize that perhaps their other culture had something to offer and glad that their American mom taught them to be individuals with a strong independent streak, to not just ‘accept’, but to question and decide for themselves.
I expected Little Man to go through the same pattern and was fully prepared for him to draw away from both me and English. Hearing him suddenly begin to talk about being American and speaking English and wanting to move to the States was a surprise! And so now I have to help him balance it with the reality that he is also Japanese and is living in Japan and the many lovely things about Japanese culture he will learn through life.
And as always, I brought this up to his older sister, she had these wise words for me:
It’s cause little man has super cool big brothers and sisters so he wants to be like them, but all they had to look up to was a weird and strange mom, LOL!
–she could very well be right!
Let’s hear from a few other KA Moms about their experiences with identity and their kids:
J.F.: I think in one way it’s very exciting but on the other hand it’s sad when our kids identify with only one or the other.
My son is very much the other way around, he drew a pic at school the other day with Japanese zeroes at war complete with a bunch of Japanese flags. I was quite taken aback at this and am still not sure how to handle it. (for more info on Zeroes, check here: War Zeroes)
M.N.: My son is also very positive on his American identity – despite all my bad-mouthing the USA! The only thing that bugs him is if someone calls him “American” – to be mean. I told him to just reply: Jealous?
Surfing the Internet, especially You Tube, has definitely helped establish his US identity. Aikido and going to public school, his Japanese side.
Stacey T: My younger 2 are also a bit confused about their identity at the moment – N. is Australian, no ifs or buts; R. switches between Japanese and Australian constantly but when he does, it’s black and white, one way of the other, he was slurping his noodles and I said can you be a bit quieter? He said “I can’t, I’m Japanese you know!”
Catherine A.: I love the weird and strange mom comment!
My kids strongly identify with their US side. They are able to navigate the Japanese way, too. All that time back home with family and friends made a difference.
workaholic SAHM with a possible touch of ADD.
Favorite question: Free time? What's that??
Days are spent: raising 4 children, teaching part time, developing a jewelry business (http://facebook.com/offonawhim), and following the lives of the KA Moms! Cooking, cleaning and shopping are all secondary.