Getting to know all the family
This is the second post in a series reflecting on our son’s first trip to Mexico. This post focuses on one of the most important reasons parents aim to raise their child bilingually – family. I decided to blog about this aspect before writing about language development, because at this age and particularly as it was S’s first trip, the main focus has been on family.
At nearly 2 years old S has revelled in the attention showered on him by the extended family – from abuelos, tio abuelos and tios to little primos. He surprised us all by quickly feeling at ease with all members of the family (even those he’d not yet met on Skype); seeking them out for company, games and tickles and even comfort.
L’s parents are not strangers to international relationships. His mum is originally from Colombia; in fact many relatives from the Colombian side of family have set up home abroad, mainly in the US or Canada. L’s younger sister also recently married a Texan and is currently living in Houston. S also has a very international family as just to add complications with another international dimension – my mum and step dad live in the south of France. Unlike visiting Mexico however, they are less than two hours away by air and we still see each other several times a year – in fact I think we’ve seen them more times this year than my brother (he’s 4 hours away by car)!
As an international couple when you start a family you begin to realise that you need to work harder to maintain family bonds and relationships to carry them over into the next generation. Even within a country, families are often spread across different locations and require effort and organisation to ensure regular contact. However building family links between the UK and Mexico has the added complication of requiring both ample time ( think longhaul flights and jetlag) and of course the rising expense of travelling with a growing family.
We are fortunate that with modern technology keeping in touch is both accessible, affordable and allows even babies and little children to interact in ways that were impossible only 10 years ago. Since L’s parents returned home after visiting us shortly after S’s birth we have been connecting several times a week with the Mexican family via Skype. They have been able to watch him grow and develop through a window into our daily life, and share those first moments as he begins rolling, then sitting, eating, crawling, cruising, babbling and walking for the first time.
Often S will play along while the abuelos watch and we chat. He often likes to check they are watching him (and waits for an applause) when he finishes a puzzle or does a little dance! He also interacts directly with the family coming up to the screen and asking for their dog Pascal (a great dane) and playing peek-a-boo. As he grows older and both his communication and concentration skills improve there will be new ways in which we can use Skype to interact and continue to build family relationships. And I’m sure there will be other issues and challenges (like embarrassment or not wanting to speak the minority language etc), which we have to look forward to!
Despite the wonders of modern technology there is nothing better than a hug with la Abuela, sitting on Abuelo’s lap to watch youtube videos or sneakily changing the tracks on his Ipod or dashing around in hysterics as Tia tries to teach you to be a good Chivas supporter and shout out ‘GOL’ with both hands in the air. These moments build relationships; they are developed through spending time together and sharing activities. Our three-week trip this summer provided an important opportunity to strengthen these bonds and build a base for the future. I hope we continue to make time and space in our lives for regular visits to Mexico, to allow S to grow up feeling part of and identifying with his Mexican family, culture and language.
I’d love to hear how you build family relationships internationally. Please share your stories and tips below.