Wishing you a Happy Family Day - thinking specially of Immigrant Families


Several years ago when Family Day was introduced as a holiday in Ontario, I remember thinking, 'hummmm… everyday should be family day.' At that time, my immediate family (3 kids and myself) was small and we spent quite a lot of time together with the everyday routines of cooking, doing chores, homework, shopping etc. One of the routines which I have always maintained at home is having meals together. When the kids were younger, this was easier to do on a regular basis. Now, it is more challenging. Holidays like Family Day adds a special day on the calendar which helps us to pause and creates another opportunity of getting together.

As a immigrant, it is inevitable that we lose connection with some of our family members. This is perhaps one of the saddest parts of immigration. The next saddest part is that children miss out on the dynamics of extended family, if they migrate only with their parents. Parents also face low moments when they wish they were nearer to their siblings, extended family and in particular parents if left behind. It is therefore important that we build ways to preserve our family roots.

During our Sunday dinner last night, I explained some of our family roots to my children and after dinner, two of them continued the conversation for another two hours because they were intrigued by some of what I shared and wanted to know more. I have taken care to be particular about what I share, based on their age. After relating a particular story about how our family lost some of it's inheritance over some of the deals which my dad made while he was drunk, my oldest son said, ""Now this example, right here, is why I don't want to drink to do stupid things like this.""

As I shared more with them, I became very nostalgic about some of my childhood memories. For example when my cousins came over to visit from the neighbouring towns and the fun we had playing together while our parents also enjoyed having their own adult conversations. I remember moonlight nights when we played hide-and-seek outside, running amongst the trees, behind the houses and scaring each other. I remember how two or three of our families would gather together over the summer holidays and take us all to the beach where the men in the family went out to collect sea urchins while the women cooked on fire pits and the children played on the sand. There were the days over the summer holidays when several family members went over to one home to build a new room or lay a roof over a house. Food was constantly exchanged, conversations were long and ongoing, quarrels were occasionally heard, the men drank rum and even though their wives got upset with them, they carried on with the business of the home.

Back then, when I think of the word 'family' it seemed encompass so many other people in addition to my immediate family of two parents and six children. These people who were all intermingled in our lives in an intimate way - there were uncles and aunts, cousins, grandparents, in-laws, in-laws of in-laws. godmothers and godfathers and neighbours who were not only those who lived next to you, but from the entire community. There were those who lived in the countryside where we lived and those who ivied in the city and those who lived in faraway lands like England who visited occasionally. When they did visit, there was a lot of fuss about preparing for them. They seemed to be more sophisticated than us.:) But most importantly, we all seemed to fell belonged to a tribe - we knew who we were. The sense of belonging to a big family was perhaps one of the most grounding forces of my young life.

As an immigrant mother, I know that my children have had great opportunities here in Canada and I will always be grateful to Canada and the amazing people I have met here. I know that I have wonderful friends who have embraced them us our family and this has helped in the integration process. Travelling back and forth can be costly but I encourage my children to go back to their homeland as much as possible to connect with their family. My daughter has been routinely making the trip home every summer and I can see how an understanding of her roots is shaping her young adult life. I can also see how those who don't go back often enough, life myself now, is also losing connection.

Living in both worlds has advantages and disadvantages but here are a few things which you can do to keep your family memories alive in the minds of your family:

1) Work with family members to create a family tree with photographs of family members. Keep photos of those who may not be here in Canada or may have crossed over. Over time, their curious minds want to know more about their history and photographs are great to start a conversation.

Genealogical tree of your family. Family tree with icons of people.

2) Create moments over days like Family Day when you can share stories about members of your family. Stories do not always have to be about perfect people - because most of our family members are not :). Share realities of life from your part of the world and the experiences which helped to shape you. Let them know the names of those who were influential in your life - in making both good and bad decisions. There are also funny family stories and sad stories which can be shared based on the age of the kids.

3) Expose them to very special foods and traditions from your family roots. When my kids were younger, I remember that they were not too eager about our foods but over time they because very appreciative about foods which my mom and dad prepared. Now, they are keeping the traditions going.

4) If you cannot travel back to your home country often, create moments when they can talk to family members over skype and other social media platforms. When they are small, they may not take much interest but as they get older, hey may be able to establish better connections. My friend Aparna shared her experience with her mom who lives in India, calling her grandkids every night to read them bedtime stories. This is surely a beautiful way to keep the connection to family.

5) Create new family through work and friends. Expose your children to the children of friends and create opportunities for them to meet and play with each other. Family does not have to be only through blood. Creating a family environment support social integration and removes the feeling of isolation.

Keeping family together is of utmost priority. I have learnt that gathering togehter for meals is perhaps the best way for long conversations that can create the bridge between countries and unite families.

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