Whoever said migrant parenting was easy?

Today’s guest blog is written by Dr. Carmen Kealy, a Postdoctoral Researcher in the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway and migrant parent of three children (15, 19 and 21 years old). Dr. Kealy returned to third level education in 2010 and submitted her doctoral thesis Parenting in Ireland: Polish perspectives on child-rearing and help-seeking in a culturally diverse neighbourhood in 2019. The following summarises some of the main findings of her thesis, which very much intersect with the main observations arising from LaFS thus far.

Dr. Carmen Kealy

Since 2004, immigration has transformed the cultural landscape of Ireland. As traditionally Ireland has been a nation of out-migration rather than in-migration, this change has seemed rather sudden and this new diversity in turn poses challenges, as well as opportunities, in terms of unifying different cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

I argue that the actual experiences of parenting and help-seeking for members of the migrant population in Ireland have so far been ignored. I chose to investigate the views of Polish nationals as they are the largest non-Irish group and predominantly in child-bearing age.

My study found that in the first instance, ideas about the nature of parenting stem from the parents’ own childhood experiences of the relationship between family and the Polish state, which in turn informed how parents perceived the role and responsibility of parents towards family. Childrearing in the post-migration context consisted of Polish parents negotiating between cultural ideas about parenting, which stem from their own childhood ecologies and competing belief systems in their immediate environment but also in the wider context such as school and employment.

The study site’s playground

I found that in the process of adaptation to a new environment and competing beliefs about what constitutes a “good parent” led to intra-familial dissonance. There were also parental challenges in an attempt to balance family time to maintain a close bond and employment. Another finding was that what was perceived as the local school’s lack of cultural competence led to disharmony with parents and competing cultural expectations. I argue that Polish identity is very much based in language and that as a result of children needing to integrate into the Irish education system, parents struggle to maintain the upkeep of their mother tongue. In some instances, neither children nor their parents were able to speak Polish at school grounds which clearly proves challenging to language and network upkeep.

My overall findings resulted in the creation of a new Integrated model which I believe more accurately explains Polish migrant parenting. At the centre, parents’ own childhood experiences build the foundation for Polish parents’ initial parenting ideas and behaviours which, as they become parents, are mediated by competing belief systems and practices, resulting in their actual child rearing practices. Under ordinary circumstances, this parenting construct is embedded in a relatively stable ecological system in Poland, where culture is proximal to parenting. This idea was evident in parental narratives of e.g., a Polish work ethic, interdependence, authoritarian parenting, a parentocratic education system but also lack of institutional support. However, migration, which in the Polish case is frequently transient in nature, impacts this embeddedness in a relatively stable system.  While previously positioned in Polish contexts alone, the parenting construct is now also embedded and expected to interact with the ecological system and cultural proximity of the ‘new’ country, which can contrast previous environments and beliefs significantly (e.g., autonomy, authoritative parenting, meritocratic education system, institutional support). To mitigate the consequences of migration, parents consolidate the two ecological systems influencing the parenting construct, through both partial adaptation as well as maintenance of previously held beliefs, e.g., authoritative parenting, transnational caregiving, Polish language maintenance, Polish work ethic. Polish migrant parenting is a complex, multi-dimensional and dynamic phenomenon, which requires insight to both Polish childhood experiences as well as specific cultural norms and values to better understand parental challenges in the adaptation to their post-migration environment.

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