Today I’m lucky enough to have the highly lingual (she can speak five languages, people!) Olga from The European Mamma as my guest poster. Not only is she raising three children living away from her home country, she is also raising them to be trilingual. Can you imagine? I have a hard enough time understanding my kids as it is. I Hope you enjoy the fantastic post she’s prepared for you, and if you do stop by her blog and check out her other great articles on life in the Netherlands, being an expat, multilingualism, and parenting.
Take it away, Olga!
Like all moms I had very idealistic notions of raising multilingual kids before actually having them. I imagined myself reading to them, and spending a lot of quality time speaking Polish. I would never yell at them so they would not associate my language with anything unpleasant. I would talk and talk and talk so that they would learn it. I would make a special plan to ensure a successful linguistic future for my kids.
Like all moms I found myself saying goodbye to these idealistic notions of parenting in general and parenting multilingual kids in particular. Instead, on a particularly bad day, my reality looks more like this:
I nag my children in Polish, my native language. I then complain about them to my husband, I just do it in German. My children fight with each other using their own unique mixture of tongues, depending on the topic at hand, their mood and the alignment of the stars.
They also whine at me in Polish, at my husband in German, and correct my pronunciation in Dutch. Welcome to the everyday life of a multilingual family.
I am well aware of what a privilege it is, to be able to raise my children with so many languages and cultures. In fact, despite my struggles and problems, I am absolutely nailing this multilingualism thing. It’s the only part of parenting that comes easily and naturally to me. It’s what I was born to do. To me, this is the one thing that feels normal.
The rest, however, is hard and exhausting. Just because my children speak so many languages doesn’t automatically mean that they sleep through the night, don’t have temper tantrums, are always well behaved and never talk back. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have to potty train them, or make myself unpopular by introducing rules.
It doesn’t make me immune to sleep deprivation, crying, whining, or nagging, neither does it protect me from being pooped, peed and vomited on. When my children scream at me, no matter what the language, I want to do what any mom would do: hide under the bed.
I know all about the wonderful benefits that my children will get from speaking all these languages. I already see them coming true before my very eyes: the way they switch languages as if it was the most normal thing on Earth. The way my eldest quickly picks up English at school even though she doesn’t even have classes in this language. The way they take pleasure in playing with language and trying out new combinations of words.
Yes, I see raising multilingual children as my special mission, but the usual parenting stuff comes first. In fact, my family is not so different from all other families. We have our struggles and our problems as well. It is as hard for me as it is for other parents. The only difference is that I have more languages to worry about.
Of course some problems are definitely multilingualism-related: for example, I am already dreading the phase when my children refuse to speak my language to me. Like the terrible twos and the teenage defiance, it’s probably bound to happen. And then there are the silly comments, which, in all honesty, I could do without but have to deal with anyway.
But just like all other parents I have my moments of glory. And these are the moments that make me work hard and push through the challenges. These are the moments that help me continue to teach them my heritage languages, day after day after day.
These are the moments that make me realize that yes, my children whine. They’re children, that’s what they do. But as long as they whine in multiple languages, it isn’t all that bad.
Olga Mecking is a blogger, writer and translator living in the Netherlands. Originally from Poland, she and her German husband raise their children to speak three languages and appreciate different cultures. Olga still doesn’t feel that living in different countries prepared her for motherhood but she takes each day as it comes and tries to do her best. She blogs over at The European Mama, and is also a regular contributor on BLUNTmoms.