This month we meet Canadian Mom Jen who shares her life about the challenges of being a full time working mum and the importance of bilingualism.
My name is Jen, and I’m a Canadian who has been here for 14 years. I came as a JET, but then met my husband. In a bar, of course, as you do. He was wearing his pyjamas, not very attractive! He went to bed after a hard day’s work and his friend came by to drag him out for his birthday, the day after mine. So we ended up celebrating at the same place and becoming friends. Eventually we got engaged and I ended up looking for a more permanent job. We registered our marriage on Ii-fufu-no-hi (good spouses’ day, Nov, 22). Or should I say I registered it! My husband had recently started a new job and couldn’t get any time off, so I went down to city hall with a friend, handed in the form, and got married. It was surreal! We had a ceremony in Canada the following summer, looking out over the Pacific Ocean.
At first, being a parent in Japan was very difficult because what I had come to expect would be normal (baby sleeping in crib by themselves, on a schedule, eating pureed processed food) just didn’t work for me here. I ended up being a pretty cruisey parent, despite the fact that the only parenting book in English in my local bookstore was the abusive Babywise! It took me a while to reconcile the parenting I grew up with rather than what worked for me in a different culture. Then my son developed an intolerance to the chemicals in disposable diapers and I had to start cloth diapering. I ended up enjoying that experience but both Japanese people and Canadian people thought I was a weirdo! I’ve long made peace with that though. I think there is something about post-partum emotions that makes you freak out if you think you are doing it “wrong”. My kids are kindergarten and elementary school-aged now so I have outgrown those worries and onto new ones
The temperamental volcano near Jen.
Being a foreign parent in Japan isn’t that difficult at all. Other parents and teachers have helped me a lot when I have linguistic/cultural questions, as long as I ask nicely someone will explain it to me. I think to raise bilingual children, it’s easier for us to live in Japan. English materials are plentiful and cheap here, and I am more interested in teaching the kids my language than my husband would be teaching them Japanese if we lived overseas. I think their language skills are about 60-40 right now, in favour of Japanese, but since it is the majority language that is to be expected.
Bilingualism isn’t something that just comes from having parents who speak different languages. I want my children to be literate in both languages, so we spend a lot of time doing afterschooling. I try to limit it to 20 minutes a day of reading/writing in English, but I am using a Canadian curriculum so sometimes it gets longer. I love to read and I love the share English books with my kids! So possibly my goal of literacy is self-serving. 😉
The hardest part of being a parent in Japan comes from being a working mother. Working mothers are treated as pariahs by many people in this country. I love what I do but my work colleagues don’t always understand what is required of mothers here, and I am expected to work a much longer day than I would be in Canada. Most of my fellow mothers at school are unemployed or work part-time so do not understand that as much as I would like to, swanning off at 2pm twice or three times a month is not going to happen. Even the moms at my kids’ daycare don’t understand quite how difficult this is- as they all have grandparents close by just waiting to help them out. It really hurts when my kid is excluded from something just because I work. My daughter wants to do dance but at her age, all classes are during the working day. So the kids suffer too. I hope that they become stronger from this experience and help people understand that just a little bit of give on behalf of PTA etc. will help mothers work full-time, which the Japanese economy desperately needs. Or at least, I hope they don’t need therapy.
The ash that covers everything.
The good thing about Japan is it is pretty easy to prepare meals as a working mother with a bit of preparation. I set the rice cooker in the morning so the rice is finished when I get home, then some quick soup on the stove with some veggies, a cold salad, and a main of grilled fish or chicken can all be done in 15-20 minutes. I wish I could drop by Costco for a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work sometimes though!
Another big challenge I have that most people in Japan don’t face is ash! We live quite near the most active volcano in Japan. It erupted more than 1000 times last year. What happens is a lot of gas and ash, and occasionally rock, is let out by one of the three active peaks, and it depends on the wind whether it falls on us or other people in the prefecture. It is a serious pain in the ash. (lol) We hang our laundry inside, and do a lot of sweeping. My kids carry white masks with them just in case. I don’t like them playing outside too much when there is thick ask on the ground.
Japanese Loves and Loathes:
Onsen Love! Nothing like being naked outside under the stars in a warm pool of water.
TakoYaki Hate- something about that
Karaoke – But only with all-you-can-drink and going with people who are too blotto to realize how terrible a singer I am.
I have a blog where I pretend I am a children’s librarian. LOL. If you are interested in English kidlit, please visit www.perogiesandgyoza.com
Mum to three very loud boys and wife to a patient Japanese man, I'm Australian and moved to the Kansai area in 2012. Aside from navigating all the craziness of being a mum in another country, I work semi-full time and try to keep my sanity! Of course I clean but I don't cook!