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

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 and in particular parents whom they left behind. It is therefore important that we build ways to preserve our family roots.

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.

You can support my work by liking, sharing, commenting or purchasing Soulful Encounters, a hard copy of my 2nd Magazine which provides inspirational stories.

Love,

Magdalene

Inspiration for newcomers from BECOMING, Michelle Obama’s Memoir

“But as I have said before, failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result. And for me, it felt like that’s exactly what she was planting – a suggestion of failure long before I’d even try to succeed. She was telling me to lower my sights, which was the absolute reverse of every last thing my parents had ever told me.” Michelle Obama

I am reading ‘BECOMING’ by former First Lady Michelle Obama, and I am enjoying every word, every sentence, every paragraph.  The book is beautifully narrated and provides many pauses for deep reflection.   I am not quite finished yet, but I was inspired to stop and write my own thoughts on her quote:  “Failure is a feeling, long before an actual result.”

She narrates her experience of going to her counsellor to express her interest in going to Princeton.  

“I’m not sure.” she said, giving me the perfunctory, patronizing smile, “that you’re Princeton material.”

Has anyone ever made you feel that you are not good enough?  

As I read through the next few paragraphs, I could not help but think of the vulnerable groups of people I have worked with over the years, and how often I have had to counsel them to believe that they are good enough, worthy and have the God given rights to pursue their gifts and talents and to make a meaningful contribution to this world.  The newcomer population is no different and many of us who work in the sector take it on as a professional and personal mandate to help newcomers keep their faith and believe in themselves. 

In one instance, I tried to work with a recruitment company in ‘selling newcomer talent’ and was bluntly told that the clients of this recruitment company were not interested in hiring newcomers.  Newcomers were actually screened OUT of competitions, simply because of being a newcomer! It had nothing to do with their qualifications, skills or experience.  I felt so infuriated that the system was failing newcomers, even before they had the chance to prove themselves. 

I have witnessed people’s confidence spiral downwards as they fail to get screened into competitions, fail at closing interviews, fail at being told that they lack soft skills, fail at not pronouncing words ‘correctly’ or lacking cultural competencies… the list goes on and on. Sometimes, it seems that the result of failure is what happens long after a system has decided that that a person, a group of people or groups of people will fail… and somehow that expectation is fulfilled… not because of fact… but because of a long established belief in the mind and eyes of those with the power to control the decisions. 

“But as I have said before, failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result.  And for me, it felt like that’s exactly what she was planting – a suggestion of failure long before I’d even try to succeed.  She was telling me to lower my sights, which was the absolute reverse of every last thing my parents had ever told me.”

“I wasn’t going to let one person’s opinion dislodge everything I thought I knew about myself.  Instead, I switched my method, without changing my goal.  I would apply to Princeton… I sought help from someone who actually knew me… he agreed to write me a recommendation letter.”

She goes on to explain her journey in meeting people who had climbed the road to success.  “What I have learned is this:  All of them had doubters.  Some continue to have roaring, stadium sized collections of critics and naysayers who will shout I told you so at every little misstep or mistake. The noise does not go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them and to push onward with their goals.

Thankfully, I have seen many newcomers fight back like Michelle Obama.  They have owned their brilliance, laughed at the naysayers, done the work needed to establish themselves in successful businesses and careers. I have also seen many champions for newcomer talent and met those will step out of their comfort zone to stand up for equality, justice, freedom and equal opportunity. 

I know that the journey is not easy but it is important for all of us  to move from the feeling of failure… because that feeling happens long before the actual result of failure. 

My message to each newcomer who is struggling with that feeling of ‘Am I good enough to make it?’ I want to encourage you to:

  • go back to your heart space and find that inner wisdom to remind you that you are valuable, worthy and able to live your dreams
  • find that one person who will believe in you – a mentor, a friend, a coach… sometimes even a stranger! 
  • go back to your goals and find that little ball of fire to keep you grounded and motivated
  • reflect on all of your positive experiences and remind yourself that your education, skills and experiences are important 
  • connect with services to support you to develop the skills which you need to move forward 
  • don’t give away your power to anyone. Stand rooted and believe in yourself

Above all, never feel like failure.  Focus on your goals and turn ‘failure’ into success… that is how we WIN! 

Thank you Michelle Obama for inspiring me to use my voice.   

Love,

Mags

Can ‘not smiling’ interfere with securing a job?

I woke up this morning thinking about a young man whom I met this week and whose smile left a smile in my heart. I was taken aback because three years ago when I first met him, his face was always so serious that I found it very difficult to relax around him. He was a very qualified individual who secured many interviews but had difficulties in securing a job.

In a nutshell, three years ago he was struggling in adapting to his new environment and also with learning English as a second language. Automatically, it created a high level of stress as he tried to focus on interpreting what was being said to him. This deep focus caused him to lose his smile during his first interactions with anyone at all. His interviewers found him to be ‘too serious’ and ‘lacked interpersonal skills’. As difficult as this may sound, first impressions are very important during interviews and unfortunately employers don’t have the time to analyze why you may have lost your smile.

Three years later, it is so much easier for him to smile freely because the language flows much easier and he is now more comfortable with his environment. He has also been able to secure permanent employment and is now creating a plan for career growth. His interpersonal skills are much more visible now and he creates a great first impression.

Your facial expression, dress and body language are all interconnected.

So, what is it about smiling that connects us with others? Here are two quotes to think about:

“A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.” William Arthur Ward

“A smile is the universal welcome.” Max Eastman

Personally, I love being around people who smile, laugh and bring a positive aura into my space. Research proves that smiling and laughing create physiological changes in our bodies, even when we are not aware of it.

There are several huge benefits to smiling and laughing:

  1. The muscles in our faces relax and makes us look more approachable. It invites others into our presence. Employers and coworkers find that people who smile create a happier work environment. Even at home and with friends, our smiles and laughter enhances our communication.
  2. Endorphins are released into our bodies. Endorphins are happy hormones which has several benefits of lowering our blood pressure and reducing production of cortisol which is a stress hormone.
  3. When smiles break into laughter, it expands our lungs which brings more oxygen into our bodies. This gives the same feeling as though you have exercised!

My tip for this post: Practice smiling. If it does not come naturally to you, fake it until it happens automatically. Find things to smile about and hang around people who inspire smiles and laughter.

Love,

Magdalene

o

The Touch Exchange.

DSC07662

While sitting in the hot tub, trying to relax, this young man came in with an older gentleman and a young woman. His hesitation and examination of the water, along with a slow forward movement, as if saying “Can I trust this?” caught my attention.  Why was we being so careful? He eventually sat in the water with the young woman next to him and the older gentleman on the other side. I looked at him more intently and his body and eye movements made me realize that he might have a neurological disability.

After a few anxious minutes of looking around, he reached out and touched the hand of the young woman who sat next to him. She returned his touch and his face suddenly relaxed and with look of “O.k… it is safe to be here!” It seems that every time he felt anxious, he reached out to touch her and she returned each touch, each time.  It was like watching a touch exchange.

I watched them leave the hot tub together and they all went off swimming in the pool. He is a great swimmer. Later on, I connected with the young lady in the sauna and we had an interesting chat.  The young man was her brother and the older man was their dad.  It turned out that he was a normal young man with a great career in information technology who suddenly started hearing voices in his head.  At first the family did not make much out of it but it did not take long for them to realize that something was wrong. He is now being treated at one of the hospitals while they are working towards finding permanent long-term care for him.  He is diagnosed with schizophrenia.   She told me how this experience has changed all of their lives, including the fact that she chose to move from another city to support her parents and her brother as they all came to grips with this new development in their lives.  The touch exchange which I saw between them, is his safety net for reassurance.  She told me that when he is uncertain, he reaches out to touch her  or her parents, when they are around.

Mental illness affects more people than we realize.  It is challenging for families to keep it all together and to continue to live a “normal” life. As I write this blog, I am sending blessings to the many people I know who are struggling, trying to find balance as they deal with a loved one who is suffering with mental illness. Sometimes, we have to deal with our partners, or children or parents.  Mental illness quickly isolates families and friends – it is tough to understand; it is expensive to get proper care; it is still stigmatized and it is exhausting to cope with.

On my way home, I asked myself this question: “Who do you connect to when you need re-assurance or someone to reduce your anxiety?”  My answers were a lot less than I  realized.  My partner, a couple of great friends and my sister. Still, I can’t completely release all of my anxieties on those few people so I have developed coping strategies with journaling, writing, walking,  prayers and meditation.

Who do you turn to in your moments of pain, depression, anxiety, frustration, poor judgment?

When our daily unreleased stresses accumulate over a long period of time, we slowly adopt new ways of living and being present in the world. Sometimes, we resort to isolation or we avoid living an active life or we simply lose sight of our purpose and deny ourselves joy in our lives.  Sometimes, alcohol, drugs, sex, love addictions take over as escape routes.

TuneIn to recognize your anxieties.  StepUp and do something about those anxieties because the world needs YOUR POSITIVE ENERGY  to touch the soul of humanity.

Love,

Magdalene

p.s:  The beautiful dog above is that of my friend Ellen, who passed away two years ago.  This dog was her “touch exchange.”  It was a privilege for me to watch how Lulu comforted Ellen in her fight with breast cancer, even just sitting at Ellen’s feet while she went through her treatments. Ellen, on the other hand, loved Lulu and they become grounding forces for each other.