Challenges in a Bicultural Marriage

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 by Lolita Hafner-Monico

1. Introduction

Bicultural marriage and families like ours are getting more and more common this time as a result of more open opportunities to work and travel abroad. There are many anecdotes, sad and funny, about the growing member of bicultural unions, but these issues, I leave it to other members to share as we go on with our discussions and open forum. We would like to encourage and convince others to share their experiences and ideas with those who may be facing the challenges of biculturalism in marriage on issues and impacts or family dynamics related to such differences.

Being in a mixed culture marriage, we see it as a challenge to learn from each other. We try to combine the good from both cultures, and build a bridge between different cultures and help combat racist tendencies in the society we are in.

Problems and challenges in such marriage exist just like in monoculture marriages, issues maybe different or less serious than those concerning cultural differences but the bottom line is how these are confronted, managed and resolved. Problems range from basics like food, finances, works and politics to other topics as male and female roles, education and religion. The issues on raising children will be expounded by other members more knowledgeable by experience in the open forum. Also included, will be topics dealing with conflicts and violence, the rest, on the promises and joys of bicultural marriage. We hope that after this meeting, most if not all had gain insight into the challenges and impacts of crossing cultures.

The most common challenge in a bicultural marriage begins with the couple themselves. Each partner undergoes phases of adjustments like defining their roles in the partnership and setting common goals for the future. It is always a struggle of acceptance and tolerance between two individuals. As we all by now realize, marriage is by nature a practice of compromise. Each partner brings their own experience and wisdom to the union. In raising children, couples are put to test on how well they have learned to handle their many differences. With children, all issues surface and must be confronted. Usually in the end, differences don’t matter. It’s how they are managed that counts, or again how we decide is more important than what to decide.

2. Some Questions and Challenges in raising children:

· How should we raise our children? How do we help our children achieve a sense of identity? What tradition should the family follow? What food will be served? How will children dress?

· Should we speak two languages? Or what language will we speak?

· What kind of education do we want them to have? How will we teach them the things they don’t learn in school?

· Teach them both religions (if couple have different religion)?

· Should we celebrate holiday of both cultures?

· How should we teach them to behave and what method do we use?

The question list could go endless as there are differences, but we shall try to deal with the above as a start.

How should we raise our children? How do we help our children achieve a sense of identify?

Some bicultural families adapt one culture or the other. Others try to give their children the best of both. The goal is to give the children both cultures, to have them feel like natives in both countries, thus offer them a rich background. It is a challenge and a bit risky but the rewards is worth it. In the worst case, they will be outsiders wherever they are, feeling alienated and misunderstood, or they may embrace one culture and reject the other. Some may even set aside their own heritage and ethnicity so that they might survive with the majority. On the other hand, if we succeed, they’ll be at home in both cultures. They will have a unique valuable perspective. Bicultural children have the ability to see and are able to deal with the complexities of multicultural relations. The struggles they go through in clarifying their identity help them to become better people. They become interesting citizens with a broad view on human relations. They can be a bridge to two cultures as well.

There are no definitive answers or absolute rules to offer for each question. Approaches that work well for some families may prove a failure to others. What really matters are doing the work to discover which way will function for the family. Through experience, we learn to deal with the problems. In coping up, parents have to be flexible in resolving these challenges.

One practical advice from experience concerns the language. Knowing the language of the spouse helps one gain access to the culture. It follows that if a parent is willing to study and learn the language of the other confirms that language for the children and encourage them to be bilingual. It is observed that bilingual children have the ability to better bond and communicate with extended family. This offers them an essential link to their identity. It has been noted too that bilingual people tend to be more tolerant of others and flexible thinkers.

Often, it is thought that if you do not raise children in two languages from birth, they will never become fluently bilingual. This need not be the case. Many bilingual people learn their language in adolescence or even well into adulthood because of migration, or pure interest in another culture. In teaching both languages, it is important that children hear pure language, so that they can learn to distinguish the language from each other and speak them.


Just like in any family, bicultural parents are tasked an active role in children education. Children begin their informal education with their parents from infancy on. It is through their parents they learn those things not taught in school like the values, culture and tradition of the family.

Their formal education begins from kindergarten when they start socializing and from that time forward, the school takes control of their education. During this time of parenting, parents experience most of the joys and pitfalls, frustration and rewards of raising children. It is said that parenting young children and teenagers is one of the most demanding job parents can have. Though all children and families have the same basic needs and rights with regards to education, bicultural families face particular challenges in their children’s education. Most common problems result from coping and understanding with the demands of schools. In the process, both parents especially the immigrant parent could be faced with challenges like language barrier or inability to help in the assignments, or in some cases left out of the school activities. On the other hand, such situation gives the parent opportunities to learn with the children in their educational system.


The decision on how to raise children in interfaith marriages varies from couple to couple. If both parents are Christians, usually conflicts are less severe than when a partner has a different religion like Islam or Buddhism. Christian parents find it their duty to educate their children in the Christian values. They bring their children to church on Sundays, and teach them how to pray and share with them and their spouse their Christian faith. Often, children are expected to follow the religious affiliation of their parents. However, for some couples with different religion, they settle into compromise, they teach their children the fundamentals of their faith, and when children reach the age of maturity, they should be left to decide for themselves which religious affiliation they want to embrace.

In order to avoid conflicts of religion, it is best to discuss and agree before marriage about the future of the children. Failure to do so could put children in crisis and may disregard religion or refuse to follow either one.

Other Problems in Bicultural families

· Dealing with in laws – In-laws may be deeply committed to their cultural identity and unable to appreciate the ways that their adult child is broadened by or attracted to the partner’s culture, thus limiting contact or distant to the partner. Communication gap between the young generations to the old (grandchildren to grandparents) could also be a problem due to integration into the dominant culture.

· Racism / Discrimination / Domination / Oppression and Violence

· Parent-children conflict (mother - daughter; father - son; mother - son; or father - daughter);

· Financial problems – e. g., disagreements on: financial help to a partner’s relatives as well as extended family obligations, overspending, wrong priorities in the budget, vices, etc. Problems may also arise due to cost of living and few work opportunities.

· Stereotyping of such marriage – it occurs as a result of negative media reporting about socio-economic problems rooted in the homeland. Likewise, there are also prejudices towards racial groups or ethnic origins.

· Language barrier – misunderstanding due to little knowledge of the common language.

· Misuse of marriage – e.g., to legalize status, economic purposes, etc.

· De-skilling – raising a family and domestic duties leave no chance to apply or practice learned skills or profession. Different educational system can also hinder employment.

3. Promises and Joys of Bicultural Marriage:

While it is important to share and discuss the challenges and impacts of bicultural marriage, it is equally important to look at the other side of the coin. If there are so called pitfalls, then there are also its peaks. Most often, the joys of bicultural marriage result as much from overcoming the obstacles and confronting the challenges as from the adventure of merging two cultures. From the point of view of a spouse, adapting into the culture offers:

· New skills and knowledge - for example, housekeeping, driving, child-care, culinary skills, handicrafts, language and many more.

· Opportunities for travel and adventure - Holidays and vacation with spouse and families inland or abroad offers an exciting and enriching experience.

· Dual citizenship - provides additional security in form of pension, insurances, investments and other social benefits.

· Enhanced social life - belonging to one or more groups, clubs, or organization be it for religious, educational, political, cultural, sport or entertainment purposes.

· Greater opportunities of employment - knowing the language and settled in a community with the family, it is easier to find a job and avail of training new skills.

4. Recommendations

1. Learn all you can about your partner’s culture; become familiar with the background.

2. Learn to cook and sample the food of your partner; this way, children will grow up liking and appreciating both.

3. Keep an open line of communication – openness and sharing leads to closeness and growth while silence leads to misunderstanding and can erode harmonious relationship. The bond between parents and children are strengthened when communication is freer and there is mutual respect to each culture. This also fosters strength of characters among children who are brought up in the knowledge and understanding of their two culture. They then develop self-confidence and pride in their identity as bicultural children.

4. Tolerance and flexibility - Accept the fact that there are many correct ways of doing things like in resolving conflicts, and handling crisis or frustrations.

5. In dealing with in-laws, it is best to do things their way at their home and your way at yours.

6. Be an optimist in raising the children - growing up in a bicultural family can offer children a rich background. While children struggle into adulthood trying to define his or her identity, and to find balance between two cultures, it is important for parents not to compete for the child’s interest, but rather to let them see who you are and where you come from. Bicultural people don’t have to choose one or the other of their heritage. They are fully entitled to all of their family history, heritage and traditions.

7. Work out together a wise financial management whether one or both are earning. Compromise to settle disagreement, only then can both start to build a sound financial structure of the family.

8. Commitment to the partnership – maintain morale and keep marriage and family relationship strong. It should be based on mutual love, trust and honesty.

5. Conclusion

Bicultural marriages with its complexities and certain characteristics have its own share of promises and pitfalls just like in any other marriage. Although there can be many problems and challenges in this complex relationship, they can also be very successful. Most often, the joys and satisfactions outweigh the problems. Every marriage requires commitment, dedication and work, but bicultural unions require even more attention because of the many obstacles that a couple face. Some of the more serious challenges like child-raising pose a big task to the parent to bring up these children successful in the global environment in which we must function today. We believe, when tapped and developed, this intercultural competence in bicultural families is an important skill for success and interpersonal relations.

To the immigrant spouse, entering into the marriage means adapting into a new culture and undergoing transition. While some fit in easy to the new culture, some may need a longer time to overcome the shock, homesickness, language barrier and change of climate. At the last, being a visible foreigner to the eye does not necessarily make us different because the basis of most of the culture around the world is based on one known motto, “Respect and love to others like you would like them to do to you“.


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