Saturday, May 23, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Jess & Madhu


Jess writes a wonderful blog about their multicultural life in Sydney and raising their two gorgeous boys between two cultures!


Introduction....
I'm Jess. I was born in Sydney Australia, which is also where I met my husband, Madhu. Madhu is originally from Bangalore. We currently live in Sydney with our 2 boys - Sachin and Rishi.

Three words that describe you... 
Caring, happy and critical. 

 Favorite childhood memory... 
 I have lots of childhood memories, but the overriding sensation I get when I think about my childhood is love. I was surrounded by unconditional love.

Where/how do you feel most inspired? 
I feel mostly inspired when I am with my family. They push me to be a better version of myself. 

How long have you been together? 
We first meet in 2009 and have been together ever since. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse? 
His ability to always put his family first. Everything Madhu does is to help make our life better and easier. 

Favorite memory together as a couple... 
Finding out we were pregnant with our boys and then becoming parents.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship? 
Only what I seen on the National Geographic and I knew about the Taj Mahal. To be honest, not very much!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
I was very open from the start with all my friends and family about Madhu. My side was accepting - they had no choice - but just wanted us to proceed with caution. Madhu took longer to tell his family, and at the time I was very frustrated about that. Looking back, I can understand why he waited and it took them quite a while to get over the initial shock, but we made it in the end!

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life? 
I can't say that just my relationship has changed or enlightened me. Over the 6+ years we have been together we have grown from a couple to a family. In my opinion, being parents together has enlightened us so much more than just our relationship. Our appreciation for each other and love for our children has made us better people. 

Who proposed and how? 
We were going on a drive to Madhu's favorite beach and I was being such a bitch in the car on the way there! We walked a while through a bush track which looked over a cliff top, and then Madhu got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.. I cried - of course - and said yes. I can just remember thinking that I was such a bitch this morning and all this time he was thinking about proposing to me!!!

Describe your wedding... 
I was lucky enough to have 3 ceremonies. What more could a girl want!?

The first was a simple registry wedding at our home with very few guests to finalise the formalities. The second one was a small pooja in India with the priest and the traditional tying of the Thali. Last but not least - what I like to call "The White Dress Wedding" - in Bali! Again, just close family and friends in a tropical dream destination. 

All of the 3 were special and significant to us. We both needed to have the ceremonies that signified to us that we are married. Wedding traditions for everyone are very important and we both wanted to uphold them and pay our respects by doing them justice. And who doesn't love a wedding!? 


What does being married mean to you? 
It means love, respect, honesty and future. Being married is a choice. I choose who I wanted to marry and they in turn chose me. We made that choice and we have to respect it - for each other and our children. Anyone who is married knows how tough it can be to stayed married. It takes work, commitment and compromise, but it demands to be upheld and admired. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple? 
Happiness and longevity. 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends? 
The best advice that I have been told is to compromise. You cant have it your way all the time and keep in mind a marriage is two people and not one. The old cliché holds true about how ''there is no 'I' in TEAM''! 

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship? 
Openness and willingness to see and and try new things. I went and still go to India with a very open mind and it's definitely a part of my cultural upbringing. I don't think anyone is better than me and I don't believe that I am better than everyone else.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse? 
Honestly, this is something we struggled with after the birth of our children. We found it hard to connect and that caused tension. I think I was mainly to blame for the tension but I felt like I was being left behind. Madhu's ideals of marriage were different and we had many deep discussions about "us" as a couple which has helped. Now the kids go to bed, and we have dinner together and talk. Even if it's nothing more than how many poops Rishi had, or how the park was, we make an effort to talk about our day. Night time is our time as a couple and we cherish it. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
One main aspect is the food. We are a vegetarian household (no cooking meat at home) and I cook lots of Indian food. Mainly because the variety of vegetarian dishes is endless and I love the spice! 

 Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
They love a good curry!

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
Religion. I am not a religious person, I never have been. For me, religion makes people dependent on something and I don't like that. I go to the temple and be there for Madhu, but I could never convert. 

 Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed... 
I always use my left hand for eating food. I know they hate it and I try really hard but it's so hard to change a life time habit!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship? 
 I would have to say when our first son was born. The cultural ideas of how I should behave after having baby (ie. sitting in a dark room alone all day, co-sleeping and not letting a baby cry) was a huge wakeup call. Every thing I wanted to do for and with the baby was completely opposite to what he thought. The arguments were horrendous and it truly was a tough few weeks for us. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship? 
Lots of holidays and mix race babies is the best! The worst is not being able to fully appreciate the other person's language and culture. I know I try, but we are so far from India so it's hard. 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships? 
People just flat out think Its not going to work! I don't know how many times I have heard "See... you should've just married someone from your own race." When I question it, the answer is always the same "they are so different". Yes, they are different - but that's what I love and that's what I was drawn to! If I was to marry a white guy we would fight and he would be different too, but outsiders don't see that.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Australian women? 
When we first had our baby, there were people that thought I was not going to be a good mother because I was white, and that I would not love my baby as much as an Indian mother would. It is hurtful for people to think and say those things when they hardly even knew me. I sure proved them wrong because I know that I'm the best mum ever!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them? 
There has been one person (even after 6 years and 2 kids) that does not like me. I am completely ignored and would not be served food by her in her house (she literally skips me- it's quite hilarious) and I just ignore it and be the better person. She is just a narrow minded small individual that obviously has her own issues and tries to make others unhappy!

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
You have to be a united front. Going to either side of the family and telling them that you've met your soulmate takes some courage and you have to be there for each other.


(All photos courtesy of The Aussie Indian Bride)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Belated birthday weekend


Husband-ji's birthday was last weekend and I felt so awful that I wasn't well enough to celebrate it...but luckily by the time the weekend rolled around, I was feeling so much better!


For husband-ji's birthday this year, I wanted to get him something very special. Last year I cooked for him, which was a big hassle. The year before that I think I got him some random gift. This year, I wanted to give him a meaningful gift that would last forever. I got him the most amazing present.....a teak wooden mandir and Saraswati idol imported from Calcutta, circa the 1940s. On the inside of the mandir, there is a faded depiction of Ganesh and Lakshmi. It is fully loaded with positive energy!!!


Since I gave it to him, we have placed it in the North East corner of our flat, and every morning we light incense in front of it. It brings such a fantastic energy to the house, which I am welcoming with open arms after such a tough few months. Husband-ji was just in awe of it, and it meant so very much to him.


We also planned a really nice birthday dinner for him and celebrated it with close friends and family, at his new favorite dosa spot. My friend Frances of Darcy's Cafe made the most delicious layered eggless chocolate cake that all the kids went crazy over.


I also let him pick out my outfit for his birthday dinner, and he chose one of my brand new cream/turquoise embroidered Salwar Kameez that I got on our last trip to India. I felt so fabulous and glam!!!


The day after, our Tamil cousins dropped in for the weekend from Seattle, to spend time with us. Maya was absolutely thrilled to play with her favorite cousin, and we had so much fun staying all together like a fun joint-family sleepover


Overall, it was a weekend of togetherness, which we simply loved....I really needed this past weekend's celebrations - it made me feel so good again!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book review: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg



Recently I got a chance to dig in to the popular Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I had wanted to read it for a while, but don't you notice that sometimes books get sent to you like little angels at the exact specific moment in time that you are meant to read them? This was one of those books for me - especially since I had just started working again.

Originally, I thought I might not be able to relate to it too much because I'm not in a corporate profession. But this novel was very much a feminist manifesto - and the underlying theme was how to balance work with motherhood. The book touched on gender roles, work/life balance, self-confidence, and societal pressures on women - which is something that I deal with A LOT.

A huge message in the book was actually a call on men to step up to the plate at home and "lean in to their families" and "be more ambitious in their homes" - which is brilliant. Sandberg said that women aren't going to work or succeed if their husband's don't fully support them. And AMEN to that!!!


Here are some quotes from the novel that really spoke to me:

"A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes."

"We [women] internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives - the messages that say it's wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet."

"Many of these girls watched their mothers try to 'do it all' and then decide something had to give. That something was usually their careers."

"Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional - or worse, sometimes even negative - for women. 'She is very ambitious' is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost."

"When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend."

"Popular culture has long portrayed successful working women as so consumed by their careers that they have no personal life. If a female character divides her time between work and family, she is almost always harried and guilt ridden."

"Women are not thinking about 'having it all', they're worried about losing it all - their jobs, their children's health, their families' financial stability - because of the regular conflicts that arise between being a good employee and a responsible parent."

"For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life. For many women, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst. Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and career. They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they'll be harried and unhappy. Framing the issue as 'work-life balance' - as if the two were diametrically opposed - practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?"

"We need more portrayals of women as competent professionals and happy mothers - or even happy professionals and competent mothers. Our culture remains baffles: I don't know how she does it."

"Fear is at the root of so many barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overachieving. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter. Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfillment - and freely choose one, or the other, or both."

"Owning one's success is key to achieving more success."

"Women need to shift from thinking 'I'm not ready to do that' to thinking 'I want to do that - and I'll learn by doing it."

"It's easy to predict society's reaction [to becoming a parent]. When a couple announces that they are having a baby, everyone says 'Congratulations!' to the man and 'Congratulations! What are you planning on doing about work?' to the woman. The broadly held assumption is that raising their child is her responsibility."

"If we make it easy for women to drop out of the career marathon, we also make it too hard for men. Just as women feel that they bear the primary responsibility of caring for their children, many men feel like they bear the primary responsibility of supporting their families financially. Their self-worth is tied mainly to their professional success"

"As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home."

"When it comes to children, fathers often take their cues from mothers. This gives a mother great power to encourage or impede the father's involvement. If she acts as a gatekeeper mother and is reluctant to hand over responsibility, or worse, questions the father's efforts, he does less."

"Tasks like laundry, food shopping, cleaning, and cooking are mundane and mandatory. Typically, these tasks fall to women. Sharing the burden of the mundane can make all the difference."

"The image of a happy couple still includes a husband who is more professionally successful than the wife. If the reverse occurs, it is considered threatening to the marriage."

"When husbands do more housework, wives are less depressed, marital conflicts decrease, and satisfaction rises. When women work outside the home and share bread-winning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework."

"Employed mothers and fathers both struggle with multiple responsibilities, but mothers also have to endure the rude questions and accusatory looks that remind us that we're shortchanging both our jobs and our children."

"Guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers."

"As Professor Williams explains, 'These mommy wars are so bitter because both groups' identities are at stake because of another clash of social ideals: The ideal worker is defined as someone always available for work, and the 'good mother' is defined as always available to her children. So ideal-worker women need to prove that, although they weren't always there, their children are fine, fine, fine...Women who have rejected the ideal-worker norm and settled for a slower career (or no career) need to prove that their compromise was necessary for the good of their families. So you have each group of women judging the other, because neither group of women has been able to live up to inconsistent ideals' "


Click on the link above to purchase the book or add it to a wish list.

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Dear readers, which quotes speak to you?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Timo & Ruowei


Timo writes an amazing and insightful blog about being married into a Chinese family (from a guy's perspective!) and raising their beautiful son between two diverse cultures...


Introduction....
I am Timo and I am both Finnish and German. My family originates from those two countries so I ended up living in both places when I was growing up. My wife is Chinese and was born in the city of Xi'an. Right now, we live in Germany. We met during university in Finland and lived there until 2014. Together we have a little son Nathan and we hope that he will get the best out of our cultures. As I am always surprised by my Chinese in-laws I started writing my blog CrazyChineseFamily.

Three words that describe you...
Creative, quiet and loyal.

Favorite childhood memory...
Going for the first time to our cottage in Finland when I was a child. It was such wonderous place for me to discover as a little kid. The lake, the forests, the house itself...and so much more. Up till now I have been there every single year and this summer will be actually the first time when I have no time going there due to us moving to Germany and me getting a new job! However we hope to be able to go there next year again - especially for our son to be able to experience everything as I did when I was growing up.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
On bicycle and running trips around the countryside. During the summer, I always go on such trips alone to get my head cleared from the daily burdens and load up new ideas.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met at university in a language course. However it took over one year until we started dating...but I guess some good things just need longer to develop than others!

How long have you been together?
We got together in February 2010 so now it has been over five years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
She is able to see always positive things and how to turn bad situations into good ones. Because of her ability to plan perfectly ahead we achieved a lot in the past few years and I know I would have not been able to do so alone.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
This is a hard one as there are just so many good memories! I would say the most recent one is the birth of our son :)


What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I knew only few things which were not even able to cover the basics. When we got together, I started to study more things about my wife's culture as it is so much different than my own. On the other hand, my wife barely had to learn anything new as she lived in Finland already four years by the time we got together!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
I just told them without anything on my mind. My friends just accepted it as any other given relationship - especially at university, there are so many intercultural relationships that one more hardly matter to them. I didn't have any trouble telling my parents. From my perspective, they just had to accept it, what else should they do? My mother did have some mixed feelings about it only because she was thinking way ahead as to hoping that my girlfriend wouldn't leave me behind heartbroken in Europe and go back to China after graduating college. In the end everything worked out perfectly and my mother's worries were for nothing.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I became more positive about life, thanks to my wife. I was always rather pessimistic about everything and did not plan greatly ahead. With my wife, I suddenly wanted to plan our future, and wanted to make the best out of everything - even if it required to cut down certain other important things in my life such as my sports career which was anyways already on a downhill track due to injuries, I just didn't see it back then as clearly as she did.

Who proposed and how?
I proposed to her on her birthday in 2012. We went first to eat at a restaurant in downtown Helsinki and I had planned to propose there but I just didn't find the right moment as silly things happened non-stop - such as the noisy people at the next table, the waiter popping up at unexpected moments and so on. Due to this I decided that we should take a walk after we got back home to the nearby lake and I proposed to her standing on a berth just as the sun was setting.


Describe your wedding...
Which of the three weddings? We had one wedding at the registry office, one wedding in China and yet another wedding ceremony in a church in Finland. But I must say, the last of our celebrations was the best as we really had planned for it for over a year - as we got married at the registry office back in 2012 and we had the Finnish ceremony at the church in 2013! It was a wonderful celebration as we had guests from around the world there. Her parents came from China, my parents from Germany, my relatives from Sweden and Finland and our friends from China, Finland, Germany, USA and Ghana...the wedding was surely exhausting as it took the entire day and night but it was so worth it.

What does being married mean to you?
It means to be there for each other no matter what. There is no backing out because you don't feel up for it at that moment. Whatever you do you have think not only for yourself, but for the both of you. But I must say that I felt this way anyway already when we were still dating. Being married didn't change this as I always felt connected to her and knew that I can only be happy with her.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
To stay healthy and to have one more child. 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
I don't know if it is a really good advice, but my father told me that being married doesn't mean you are happy together all the time. Happiness is one thing - but being able to live together and be satisfied is what really matters.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I actually have no clue.... we never really viewed our cultural backgrounds as positive or negative aspects for our relationship.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
Whenever we feel like it, we do things together. We don't try to force some schedule upon us about what needs to be done but just let it happen. For example we both love Lord of the Rings and also Harry Potter so few months ago I just bought the Harry Potter movie collection and we spent the following weeks watching them and discussing what happened back then in our lives when we were watching those movies for the first time, as it was years before we met each other. We do not try to connect to each other because we have to, but we connect as the years go on in a way that now we know already what we both want and what is going on in our heads.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I started enjoying eating good meals during evening time! In my culture we eat barely anything for dinner except perhaps some bread. In China, on the other hand, dinner is the most important meal as a family or with friends and now I also enjoy it.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I do not think so because it is usually hard to adapt to such things for elderly people!


What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
For me, it is very hard to embrace this whole traditional stuff in China. Whatever they do, no matter how ridiculous it seems for Western people they always defend it with "It is tradition in China, it has been done like this for 2000 years". Well, my wife also hates this, but only after she lived abroad for many years. Now we just combine what we feel is best of our cultures/ what suits our lifestyle the best. 

My wife had and still has trouble to accept my beforementioned "only bread for dinner" and how often elderly people are just pushed away by their families into retirement homes and I agree with her on that.

 What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
The biggest challenges has been for the family of my wife due to all kinds of small things. For example, many Chinese people expect foreigners to be rich so they expect me or my parents to buy her family a new apartment, cars etc. Of course her family does not expect that, but they get constantly asked about these things and this can be hard for them as well.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
So far we had no bad thing - except of course the distance between our families. This means each year, we have to think how to use our holidays in order to visit both families in their distant countries.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
The biggest misconception is that people think that intercultural relationships are harder than "normal" ones. There is never any easy relationship. In order to make a relationship work, you need to commit yourself - but in the end this is needed in any relationship! Intercultural relationships are however perhaps more interesting as there are many things to discover about each others culture which is usually missing in a "normal" relationship.

 Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Wherever we go, we have heard stupid comments by people. Especially in China, it seems that many people do not agree with Chinese women marrying foreigners. So each time in China, there are few bad comments from random people on the street. In Europe, it has been less drastic so far but there were about a handful of situations with people who told me openly how this is a bad relationship because "foreigners are all evil" etc!

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Don't give up because you think there is some cultural difference which might be in the way because saying the cultural difference is making something harder is just an excuse. Work on it - and you will find a solution. I do not have any advice to give about telling parents as it always depends on the situation. You might be lucky, as we had been with our parents as they are understanding and supportive, but we heard also several horror stories where everything went basically downhill with the parents leading even to getting cut out of the family and death threats.


(All photos courtesy of  CrazyChineseFamily)
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