Families who migrate from other countries to the United States will often notice that family members adjust to living in a new country at different rates. There may be shifting values related to religion, cultural norms, gender roles and language and their may be grief related to their migration story. Family time may begin to take a back seat to expanding social circles and to the increasing demands of work.
This is certainly not the case for every family that migrates, but it mirrors the experiences of my own family and it is what I have seen through my work as well. This can sometimes lead to language issues, where younger family members may say that they can’t really understand what their parents or grandparents are saying. In most cases, the younger person can understand most of what their elders are saying, but they may be trying to express their experience of a cultural “schism” in the family. The family may be struggling to address differing levels of adjustment to the majority American culture, with each member having their own distinct experience.
Younger family members may feel that their elders don’t understand what it’s like trying to hold on to the family culture while trying to adapt to the majority culture. Their elders may feel concerned about changes they see in their children and want to protect them or may fear losing them to another culture. It is helpful to affirm the families’ experience and let each individual share there own experiences of adjustment. It’s important to allow each family member to describe their values, because more often than not and despite differing levels of adjustment, there are always core values that unify the family. This can reaffirm the family culture as it expands to incorporate new traditions, ideas and relationships.
Acknowledging the existence of differing levels of adjustment to a new culture along with values held by the family is a helpul way of moving forward in therapy and a way to help families thrive in a new culture. I love helping families in this process and encouarage all providers to incorporate this into their work as well.