When Parenting Styles Clash Across Cultures

Parenting styles

By Sheryl Parbhoo

Sheryl Parbhoo

Sheryl Parbhoo, Parenting Contributor

A Clash of cultures can also cause a clash of parenting styles in a mixed marriage.

The first time I laid eyes on my husband, fireworks went off for me – he was the one. We were teenagers from two oh-so-different cultures, but that didn’t matter to us. We were in so in love, and as time when by, I couldn’t wait to start a family with him.

When our firstborn was placed in my arms years later in the delivery room, I fell in love again, this time with the delicate little creature before me. He was my husband made over, this new little man in my life, and I was certain my husband and I would bask in the glow of perfect parenthood forever. My conviction was confirmed when I awoke the next morning to see my husband, with his head slumped to his chest asleep, sitting upright in a chair next to me, our son cradled in arms tightly. He had held the baby all night long.

Yeah, this man was going to be an amazing, doting father. My heart leapt.

But, frankly, in the months and nearly 21 years that followed, my husband’s doting nature became a source of frustration for me, and we found that our parenting styles were as different as night and day. He and I were each convinced that our own individual upbringing had been the best and would be best for our kids, too.

Love of one’s child is universal; it comes from the soul, untethered by culture. But, how parents show that love varies between cultures and my husband and I are perfect examples.

I come from American culture, where kids are often encouraged to be independent and self-soothing from the very beginning. Children are groomed to be capable of leaving the nest and venturing out on their own in adulthood.

In my husband’s family, things are often done for children and dependence is fostered between children and parents. After all, Indian families traditionally stick together throughout life and parents don’t push their kids out of the nest like Americans do, so it works well. Of course, these are generalizations of our cultures, but when we put the two together, we began an exhausting battle of parenting styles: Indian-style parenting versus American-style parenting.

parenting styles

Photo: Courtesy Sheryl Parbhoo

From the get-go, I wanted our babies to sleep in their own cribs and beds, and he wanted them to sleep with us. When the babies cried at night, he picked them up, but I patted them back to sleep in their cribs when it was my turn. I listened to the pediatrician’s advice and wanted to “Ferberize” them, convinced our babies would learn to self-soothe and be more secure people because of it. He, instead, held them at night, and wanted them to sleep with us, convinced they would grow up feeling more secure because of his way. As the kids grew older, our munchkins would sneak into our bed at night on his side of the bed only, because he was the one to open the covers for them. I would sometimes carry them crying back to their beds, grumbling that he was wrong and I was right, and try, often unsuccessfully, to put them back to sleep. He and I would wake up the next morning irritated with one another over the other’s refusal to do things the “right” way.

Photo: Courtesy Sheryl Parbhoo

Photo: Courtesy Sheryl Parbhoo

Kids have to eat, and one might think that two parents feeding them would be a no-brainer. Not so, in our household. Again, we were at odds in our parenting styles. This time over how independent we thought children should be.

I have pictures of each of our babies using their first spoons in their high chair, faces covered in food and making a huge, happy mess. Self-feeding with a spoon was a big milestone in my mind. My ideal was that our kids would learn to eat neat meals with forks and knives, without touching their food. Ah, this was the polar opposite of where his mind was.

My husband and his mother fed our little ones by hand, placing pieces of balled up food directly into their mouths. All the work was done for the kids at the table and there was no need for learning to use a spoon, because in Indian culture, food is eaten with the hands. I would be annoyed, he would be annoyed, and we ended up just feeding the kids our own way.

Our Indian versus American stubbornness has been a thorn in our marriage that has turned out to be a blessing for our whole family.

After many debates behind our closed bedroom door, he and I have agreed to disagree on our cultural child-rearing differences, because, ultimately there is no right way to bring up kids. I don’t care anymore if he or his mom sets a full meal in front of our seated teenager boys, as long as the boys know how to cook their own food and clean up their own dishes afterwards.

I’ve softened, too, about letting our youngest crawl into bed with us sometimes, because heck, he’s my baby and will grow out of it soon enough.

You know what the biggest blessing out of our cultural butting-of-heads has been for me? I realize that I have a husband who loves his kids and wife enough to do all of these things in the first place. He changed diapers when I had my hands full, rocked babies to sleep to when I was exhausted, and fed a growing brood of little people their meals when I needed to get out of the house. Our kids know to expect different things from each parent, and that’s okay. We both ended up teaching the older ones how to do laundry and fix their own food so they could survive at college, and when they come home, they enjoy being doted on by dad – and I admit it – me too.

Dare I say they got the best of both worlds?

Sheryl Parbhoo

He and I still do many things differently, and sometimes still snap at each other. Real-life is not tied up in a bow. There are times, though, like while I’m cooking dinner, that I’ll watch my husband holding our seven-year-old in front of a movie, yelling at the TV during football games with the older boys, or chatting with our daughter about college life, and feel so blessed. He is an amazing, doting father, the kids are turning out great, and I think we’ve done just fine by them together.


How do you manage different parenting styles with your spouse? Share your tips with our moms below!

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There are 3 comments

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  1. Namita

    I am trying really hard to be unbiased about how I read this article. While I feel the point of it is that both styles can work and also go wrong – I do feel like you have portrayed the Indian parenting style, as something really co-dependent over and over again. I feel like you are presenting to readers (who do not necessarily know of the culture) an idea that the parenting style makes children dependent.

    I beg to differ. I have had more than numerous friends from this side of the world now, that know nothing, despite their independent lives. Indians do stay with family for a long time (way too long) but Indian children do tend to pick up more after themselves and are more independent than children that are brought up in an all american family.

    I agree that American upbringing is to make a child ready to fly of the nest. But I think the Indian upbringing is to teach the child the value of the nest, and show the child how they will always have a home to come back too, even after they have flown away.

    I know you have good intentions in writing this article, but I do think you have explained your husband’s style of parenting, in a very negative light – probably because you do not agree with it.

  2. Sheryl Parbhoo

    Thank you so much for your candid opinion. The reason I share my experiences in my cross-cultural family is to open a dialogue just like this.
    My intention was not to portray Indian family values in a negative light, and if I did so, it was inadvertent.
    I reread the article after your comments and I absolutely can understand how you formed your opinion. I tell my perspective of the differences in child rearing from my own biased perspective, as I was indeed raised in an American family and do not understand, or agree with, all of the ways things are done in my husband’s family. And, if he were to be the one writing the article, he would say the same things about my ways of doing things. We annoy each other equally sometimes, but we agree to disagree and it works for us.
    I think none of us are immune to ethnocentrism, even within our own families, or when looking at people we know and evaluating the validity (based on our own values) of their lifestyles. Let’s face it, we all come from our own perspective and judge some times. Additionally, within each culture are people with differing personalities and values, and that is the level we truly operate on…what I know is the family of Indian people I am in, and how the dynamics of personality and culture interplay.
    I love that you emphasize that Indian families teach their kids the value of the nest and that kids have a home to fly back to. That is true and a beautiful thing, and it sadly is lacking in some American families. And I really appreciate that you took the time to share your thoughts and get it all out in the open.
    Balancing on the fence between cultures is tough for everyone involved, and open conversations are where understanding all perspectives starts!
    Thank you!

  3. Roshni

    Even within our own Indian family, I am the one who used to strive to have the kids be independent and self-reliant faster than my husband, who came from a joint family, and wanted to dote and pamper the kids. The part about the co-sleeping that you describe is exactly what happened in our family too! 😀
    I think generalizations are bad either way. If you have seemingly generalized about Indian families than so has your earlier commentor about American families! 🙂

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