By Neha Navsaria
Many parents across the world share similar parenting goals. If this is the case, why is it important to talk about South Asian parenting? Because the differences in parenting approaches to achieve these goals are highly influenced by culture.
Authors Sarah Maiter, PhD and Usha George, PhD studied parenting approaches in immigrant South Asian mothers in Canada. The authors (social workers and researchers of South Asian descent) conducted focus groups with eighteen South Asian mothers of children under 12 who had immigrated to Canada within the past 12 years.¹
Here is what they found:
Character formation. Mothers wanted their children to have personal qualities to build character and be productive citizens. These qualities represented mothers’ personal and cultural values. Some examples of these qualities are: respect for elders, modesty, humility, hard work, perseverance, and having a disciplined life.
Identity formation. Mothers found it important for their children to develop a sense of identity. They felt if their children do not have knowledge of their culture, they would not have a sense of belonging.
Using personal examples. Mothers felt they had to set a good example for their children. They hoped that modeling good behavior would prevent negative behaviors in their children and reduce the need to discipline them.
Religious and cultural activities. A number of mothers noted religion should be practiced often to learn discipline. Mothers varied in the extent to which they engaged in rituals and what they expected from their children.
Cultural norms. Mothers relied on what they know from South Asian culture—what they believe to be appropriate based on the only culture known to them. The authors cited a quote from one of the mothers that captures the essence of parenting for many South Asian parents in the study:
“Our children are everything; they are our life. We don’t like to go away on our own vacations or leave the children with a babysitter. We don’t have any personal life. Our life is our children.”
These findings tell us that South Asian parents, like many parents, want children who have a strong sense of identity and are respectful, disciplined and successful citizens in society. If this were the only take-home message we would be missing out on a lot.
What you need to know is that for South Asian parents culture heavily guides how they arrive at these goals. The authors state that South Asian parents truly believe the keys to parenting are to take an active approach to parenting, even into adulthood.
This type of parenting may be viewed as controlling by others, but the authors conclude that the goals for the mothers are for their children to succeed in life, rather than dominate them.
Back to the question at hand—have we learned something about South Asian parenting? I believe we have. It is important to note that this study was specific to South Asian mothers who live in Canada. We cannot assume it represents all South Asian parents.
What about studies of South Asian parents in different countries? For different lengths of time, such as second-generation South Asian parents? And the views of South Asian fathers?
There are so many different perspectives, so please share your thoughts and reactions. The more you share your stories, the more we understand the amazing, yet complicated world of the South Asian parent!
¹Maiter, S. & George, S. (2003). Understanding context and culture in the parenting approaches of immigrant South Asian mothers. Affilia. 18. 411-428.
Image by mckaysavage
Neha Navsaria, PhD is a child psychologist with interests in parent-child relationships, parenting issues, immigrant mental health and cross-cultural psychology. She is grateful that her connection to extended family, travels and family migration history from East Africa have given her a greater understanding of the South Asian diaspora in multiple countries. Using these international perspectives, she hopes to invite readers into the world of research and connect them with studies that mirror their lives.