Archive by Author

A Juggling Exercise: The Work and Life balance

3 Feb

After Mia was born, my 17 months old daughter, I had one year maternity leave but decided that I wanted to take some extra time off work and resigned from the job I had at the time – it just seemed like the natural thing to do, because other than wanting to spend some more time with Mia, later I also wanted to find a new professional challenge.

So now I am getting back to the tedious process of looking for a new fulfilling job and all that this process entails. I am being picky because I feel that whatever I go to do next better be worth my time away from my daughter. Things were looking good, some interviews here and there, though nothing concrete. Then came an unpleasant interview, where I was asked four questions relating to my ability to manage being a mom and a professional. I never thought I would be intimidated by such questions which actually to me felt unnecessary, self-explanatory, not to mention bordering on illegal. The questions where along the lines of, ‘this  role requires  that on occasion you work late, would you be able to do that with small child?”, ‘your child is quite young, how will you cope with leaving her?’ and a couple of other similar questions.

During the interview I did not hesitate answering, I expected that some employers may want to know a little about that aspect, though found it odd that there were more than one or two questions. In hindsight, I should have said something that would not give him (yes, it was a male interviewer) the chance to further prove my private life.  But I must admit after the interview I was filled with insecurities and doubts, not about whether I could work and manage my work and home life balance, but by the thought that being a mom would put me at a disadvantage in the eyes of employers.

Having worked in the human rights field I am well aware of all types of discrimination against women and specifically we often hear about discrimination against women in the labour market, especially around all matters to do with reproduction – i.e. men being hired in favour of women because the women are of child bearing age, women cast aside from promotions because she just got married and therefore might fall pregnant, and the list of assumptions goes on and on- but it was weird to feel that maybe I was the subject of discrimination, at least that is what I perceived.

As I friend of mine rightly pointed out, being a mom gives us an added edge, we become great ‘multi-taskers’ and  become extra efficient at work simply because we need to finish on time to be able to tend to our other responsibilities at home.  I don’t deny that I won’t go through my own separation anxiety when I eventually go back to work or that it might take a little bit of time for me to adjust to the change, but in taking the decision to go back to work I am already preparing myself for this process and do resent that my professional ability is questioned because I am a mother, the role I am most proud of.

Next time I am asked anything about being a mother all I would say is this – ‘I have the support system I need  to cope with the demands on this role’, and say nothing more and nothing less. Also, I think I had the best teacher I could possibly have on being a working mother and that is my mom. As a single working mother she took her five daughters travelling around the world whilst she carried out humanitarian work. When we left my country my little sister was just 3 and my eldest sister was 13, so I bet if she could do it I am sure I can too!!

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Paty is a Dominican/Peruvian mom who lives in London with her Norwegian husband and 17 month old daughter, Mia.

Winter Wonderland with a bit of Salsa

21 Dec

Paty: I was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mom and Peruvian dad. I left DR when I was six years old and grew up in many countries around the world, mainly in Latin America but also in Africa and Europe. I guess you can describe me as a ‘Citizen of the world’, ‘Third culture kid’ etc. I speak Spanish and English.

I met Øivind at university in the UK, where we now live. He is Norwegian and grew up in Oslo, speaks English and Norwegian, and can defend himself pretty well in Spanish!

We have a little girl called Mia; she is the apple of our eyes, born in August 2010. I don’t speak Norwegian, but I better get my act together soon otherwise Mia and her dad will have a secret language.
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Winter Wonderland with a bit of Salsa

As we gear up for the festive season I’ve been thinking about the contrast between Ø’s traditions and mine; and about our cultural references surrounding Christmas. How will Mia take in these differences? Mia’s dad is from a Nordic country and I am from an island in the Caribbean, even though I left when I was very young. Most couples take turns on whose family they spend the holidays with; this means adapting to each others’ traditions; but in multicultural couples it is also about adapting to another’s culture.

This year we will spend Christmas in Norway with Ø’s family. It will be Mia’s first Winter Wonderland Christmas experience. Christmas in Norway is very different to Christmas in the Dominican Republic, or in my family’s home.

Ø’s Norwegian Christmas experience = cold and short days, a tranquil environment, a burning fireplace, carol singing, food, presents and a beautiful snow-white outdoor.

My Christmas experience = food, presents, a big family gathering and lots of dancing; and the setting was wherever we found ourselves!

My experience in Norway has always been very nice, though very calm compared to what I am used to. Despite that, it involves a packed schedule: Christmas Eve at my in-laws, Christmas day at Ø’s aunt’s house, and Boxing Day with some close family friends. In between, there are beautiful walks in the forest and by the stunning, frozen Oslo fjord.

At my family home, we celebrate Christmas Eve with a big dinner and the next couple of days are relaxed, meeting other families (if we are in the Dominican Republic) and friends, informally. In the background there is always music.

What traditions will Mia absorb? I realize that of course I cannot choose what things Mia will enjoy the most; we can only expose her to the things that make us happy in the holiday season. Having the Christmas tree up on December 1st marks the start of the festive season for me. For Ø the tree goes up a couple of days before Christmas. I could go down a list of all the things that we grew up with, from celebrating advent, the spiritual meaning of Christmas, Santa or no Santa, to the Three Kings day.

The truth is that I would love for Mia to just take in the best of both worlds – enjoy the traditional picture perfect white Norwegian Christmas with the warmth, and lively togetherness of my family celebrations. White Christmas with a bit of salsa!

Being far away from our families means that during the festive season we travel back to see them, but I guess that as time goes by there comes a point when we will start to create our own traditions in the place we call home, even if this place keeps changing!

How do you combine your family celebrations? And how do you do it if you and your partner grew up celebrating different holidays?

Best wishes wherever you all are during this festive season and Happy New Year!!

Mooo or Merrhh? by Patricia Melendez

19 Nov

Patricia: I was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mom and Peruvian dad. I left DR when I was six years old and grew up in many countries around the world, mainly in Latin America but also in Africa and Europe. I guess you can describe me as a ‘citizen of the world’, ‘third culture kid’ etc. I speak Spanish and English. I met Øivind at university in the UK, where we now live. He is Norwegian and grew up in Oslo, speaks English and Norwegian, and can defend himself pretty well in Spanish! We have a little girl called Mia; she is the apple of our eyes, born in August 2010. I don’t speak Norwegian, but I better get my act together soon otherwise Mia and her dad will have their secret language!

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The multilingual aspect in our multilingual home is the one I am thinking about of late because Mia is beginning to develop her speech. She spends most of the day with me and I speak Spanish to her, but when Ø gets home, we speak English between us and he speaks Norwegian to her. That’s pretty standard for a multilingual household, except for the fact that both Ø and I are developing a competitive streak about whose language Mia will pick up first – so it’s early days. Mia is saying a few words here and there and making animals sounds.

Although I knew that animal noises may sound different in different languages, I never thought it would be an issue in my household or that I would be telling hubby to stop saying ‘Merrhh’ when we sing “Old Macdonald Had a Farm,” because it’s not like the Spanish cow that says “Mooo” . The other day we were trying to entertain Mia, who was understandably unhappy about being in the car seat for an hour. So there we were, singing Old Macdonald … and making our conflicting animal sounds, when Mia and I start playing peek-a-boo. By that time I had moved to the back seat to be with Mia, when, lo and behold, Ø joins in on our game. Did you know that ghosts also sound different in Norway?!

Aside from the confusing animal sounds Mia hears, she is picking up the languages. Although now, my worry is how it will be when she soon goes to nursery. A Swedish friend of mine started taking her 18 month old to nursery and up to that point she had only spoken to him in Swedish. He was finding it hard to settle into the nursery because he was not able to understand. My friend was “told off” by the nursery staff because they thought she should have also been speaking some English to him.

Oh oh, should I be speaking to Mia in English more often? I wonder.

I have read that I should stick to my language, and be its “Leader”; and she will pick up the third language in school. But now, the anxiety of her not settling well because she can’t understand, aside from all other worries about putting her in nursery, are creeping in. By the way, my friend also had issues with the fact that English lions sound different to Swedish ones!

What advice have some of you received about raising a multilingual child? And how have some of you adjusted to sending your children to nursery in a language that is not the one primarily spoken at home?

Check out this fun site for animal sounds in different languages.
(http://www.quack-project.com/table.cgi)