Parenting in Immigration: Experiences of Mothers and ...

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Parenting in Immigration: Experiences of Mothers and Fathers from Eastem Europe Raising Children in the United States. Olena Nestemk*. Loren D. Marks".
Parenting in Immigration: Experiences of Mothers and Fathers from Eastem Europe Raising Children in the United States

Olena Nestemk* Loren D. Marks"

ÜSTRODUCnON Immigration and acculturation to a host country infiuence immigrants' childrearing practices and parent-child relationships. Immigrant parents face the challenge of directing their children's development in a new, unfamiliar context and deciding how to bridge the two cultures. The present study examines the experiences of immigrant parents raising children in the United States, using a group of immigrant professionals from Eastem Europe. We will discuss how these imniigrant parents negotiate and modify their childrearing practices and what cultural factors guide their decisions. . Immigrants from Eastem European Countries in the U.S.


After the collapse of the Communist regime in Eastem Europe in the early 1990s, the number of immigrants from Eastem European countries in the United States increased significantly— from 1.3 million in 1995 to 4.3 million in 2006 (Migration Information Source, 2009). Prior to the 1990s, only a very limited number of immigrants from this region were able to emigrate: mostly political dissidents and highly educated intellectuals dissatisfied by the Cpnununist regime, as well as Jewsfieeingthe Soviet Union in search of political asylum. After the 1990s, former Communist bloc citizens acquired the freedom to emigrate and many people left the region in search of better economic opportunities abroad. At that time, the transition from a centrally-planned economy to a market-oriented economy r;estilted in high rates of unemployment, economic hardship, and deterioration of living conditions (Roberts, Clark, Fagan, and Tholen, 2000). Many researchers and professors became impoverished, trying to survive on an average monthly wage of around $50 (Ispa-Landa, 2007). For many scientists, their planned careers disappeared and their education became obsolete in the disintegrated econoniies of the former Communist states. In addition, the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992-1995 resulted in large numbers of displaced people, many of whom found refuge in the United States. Collectively, these push and pull factors explain why, in the years between 1990 and 2000, Eastem European immigrants made up the largest proportion of Europeanbom immigrants in the U.S., with Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and Bosnia and Herzegovina being on the top 10 list of immigrant-sending countries (Migration Information Source, 2008). . . . • Department of Fatnily and Child Studies, Motitclair State Utiiversity, 1 Nortnal Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07043 U.S.A. " School of Hutnan Ecology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, U.S.A.


Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Unlike earlier waves of European immigrants at the tum ofthe 20* century comprised mostly of peasants, contemporary Eastem European immigrants are generally educated, young professionals from urban areas, attracted to the U.S. by better economic and professional opportunities (Ispa-Landa, 2007). Many of these Eastem European immigrants have come to the U.S. on job-sponsored visas as well as graduate students or post-doctoral researchers, who later secure employment with American companies. Generally, Eastem European immigrants have higher educational attainment than immigrants from other regions (e.g., Latin America) and have an income above the national median for all foreign-bom Americans (Gold, 2007; Ispa-Landa, 2007; Robila, 2010). Sixty percent of fomier USSR-bom immigrants hold a bachelor's degree or higher (versus 26% of all foreign-bom people), and 73% of USSR-bom immigrants are in professional occupations as compared to 54% of all foreignbom people (Gold, 2007). In 2000,41% of foreign-bom Bulgarians and Romanians in the U.S. were occupying professional positions and 18% were in sales and office work (Ispa-Landa, 2007). Refugees from former Yugoslavia are an exception: due to wars and accompanying disruption, they have lower educational attainment and income than other Eastem European immigrants. Overall, recent immigrants from Eastem Europe have integrated into the American middle class well, aided by their white skin, legal status, high levels of education, and occupational skills. An overrepresentation of highly educated individuals among today's Eastem European immigrants in the U.S. can also be explained by the legal requirements for entering the U.S. and the vast geographic distance between Eastem Europe and the Unites States, both of which preclude immigrants with insufficient human, social, and economic capital from immigrating to the U.S. Eastem Europeans with fewer financial resources and education usually cross the borders with Westem European countries to work as manual laborers, caregivers, and migrant agricultural workers, while Eastem Europeans with higher human capital and economic resources manage to immigrate to the United States (Robila, 2010). Therefore, although the participants of the present study are highly educated and are not representative-of all Eastem European immigrants in the U.S., they are representative of many. Due to their high human capital, occupational success, and a favorable reception in the U.S., the families of highly educated immigrants generally have an easier time adapting to the new environment ofthe host country. Compared with other groups of immigrants (e.g., refugees or undocumented laborers), immigrant professionals report higher levels of satisfaction and psychological well-being (Portes and Rumbaut, 2006). The participants of the present study belong to an understudied and sizable minority of inimigrant professionals that often occupy high-tech, science, or engineering professions, as well as positions in universities and the medicalfield.High-skilled immigrants are more likely than the low-skiUed to be geographically dispersed within the U.S. and to migrate intemally as they follow job opportunities (Kaushal and Fix, 2006). Because immigrant professionals are less likely to reside in ethnic conrmunities, they are thrust into high levels of interaction with the U.S.-born popularion. Such circumstances-facilitate incorporation ofthe new knowledge into their family interactions and increase assimilation (Portes and Rumbaut, 2006). '•

Parenting in Immigration



Expanding our knowledge beyond the largest immigrant groups in the U.S. (e.g., Latin Americans and Asians), as well as studying the inconspicuous immigrant groups (e.g., professionals), will allow us to recognize the tme diversity of the whole immigrant population. Immigrant Adaptation and Acculturation Strategies Acculturation is the process of cultural and psychological changes occurring over time, as a result of intercultural contact (Berry, 2007). Berry (2007) offers a useful framework for acculturation strategies, or the various ways in which immigrants seek to acculturate: assimilation, separation, marginalization, and integration. Immigrants who actively participate in the new society and do not wish to maintain their original culture are thought to assimilate. Separation is the opposite case, where individuals avoid interactions with a new society while holding on to their original culture. Marginalization is defined in cases of loss of the original culture and limited interactions with a new culture. Finally, integration strategy is an option when inunigrants become an integral part of the larger society while maintaining their original culture. This last type of acculturation is possible in multicultural societies oriented towards cultural diversity and is associated with the best psychological and sociocultural outcomes for the immigrants (Berry, 2007). The type of acculturation strategy that immigrant parents adopt will influence their childrearing decisions and parenting strategies in a host country. Parenting in Immigration


The research on immigrants from Eastem European countries is very limited; therefore we will review studies on parenting in immigration conducted with various immigrant groups. One of the key issues for immigrant parents is guiding children in the new culture of the host country (Kwak, 2003). As immigrant families undergo the process of acculturation and adaptation to the new culture, their behaviors change, altering their parenting practices (Ochocka and Janzen, 2008). The impact of the changes on the family system depends on many factors: family stmcture, ethnicity, culture, reasons for immigration, socioeconomic. status, and English proficiency (Booth, Crouter, and Landale, 1997; Portes and Rumbaut, 2006). Typically, immigrant children acculturate and become Americanized more rapidly than their parents (Berry, 2007; Falicov, 2003; Portes and Rumbaut, 2001). This disparity is often associated with a decrease in parental authority and control, especially if children become translators of the language and the culture to their parents (Bush, Bohon, and Kim, 2010). Communication difficulties and uncertainty of how to handle difficult situations in a new culture constitute common .challenges for immigrant parents, even though immigrants with higher education report smaller acculturation gaps with their children (Buki, Ma, Strom, and Strom, 2003; Nestemk, 2010; Ochocka and Janzen, 2008). Studies with immigrant parents from various countries show that, after being exposed to the child-centered culture of the U.S. and Canada, they become less authoritarian, more permissive, and report greater involvement in their children's lives (Ochocka & Janzen, 2008; Driscoll, Russell, and Crockett, 2008; Londhe, 2009). With longer residence in North America, immigrant parents develop more open communication with their children, adopt new strategies such as reasoning and negotiation, and grant more power to their children (Abbott and


Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gupta, 2009; Londhe, 2009; Ochocka and Janzen, 2008). Fathers become more actively involved in their children's lives as a result of influence from the host culture, as well as because of the lack of social support from extended family that many immigrant fainilies were accustomed to in their countries of origin (Abbott and Gupta, 2009; Londhe, 2009). The shift away from the authoritarian parenting continues in subsequent generations; the third-generation parents, who were raised in the U.S. themselves, were found to practice a more "American" style of parenting (Driscoll et al, 2008). Interestingly, as the parents become more permissive, their children's self-esteeni improves and the rates of behavior problems increase as well (Driscoll et al., 2008). While allowing children moré freedom may work for suburban middle-class immigrants, studies show that, in the context of poor urban neighborhoods, stem parenting promotes better outcomes and lowers the risk of downward assimilation for the children of immigrants (Portes, Femandez-Kelly, and Hallef, 2009). Although parents in any given country vary in their parenting style, each culture has a predominant style of parent-child relations emphasizing certain values over others (Kwak, 2003). The study of Remennick (2009) offers such an example of two cultures and the negotiation of childrearing practices, in the families of Russian inunigrants married to native Israelis. Russian immigrant parents in thé study were guided by the Soviet pedagogy that values respect for age, discipline, setting limits, and an investment in studies and future career. Consequently, Russian parents in Israel emphasized that children behave politely, have good manners, respect adults and not talk back to them, study hard, and strive for leaming. Israeli-bom parents considered these practices as "totalitarian and obsolete." In contrast, they encouraged the development of creativity, self-expression, independence, arid freedom of decision-riiaking in children, even if these qualities were accompanied by disrespect for authority and avoidance of hard work (Remennick, 2009). While immigrant parents support their children in acquiring education and cultural competency to succeed in the host society, they often resist what they view as the negative influences of the host society (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco, 2001). When intei"génerational conflicts arise, immigrant parents may compromise on what they perceive to be superficial cultural changes (e.g., music, movies, food, dress) or pragmatic asi)ects of life (e.g., encouraging daughters to pursue a career), but oppose changes to their core values and traditions (e.g., family obligatioris, dating and matchmaking, resjject for elders) (Buriel and DeMent, 1997; Patel, Power, and Bhavnagri, 1996; Wakil, Siddique, and Wakil, 1981). Immigrant parents are ofteri searching for a way to accommodate some of their culture and, at the same time, allow enough acculturation to ensure that their children assimilate into the host society (Hattar-PoUara and Meléis, 1995; Londhe, 2009; Pettys and Balgopal, 1998). Childrearing Values and Practices in Eastern European Families Each couritry in Eastem Europe has its unique culture, languages, arid traditióris arid it is iniportant to acknowledge this heterogeneity. At the same time, these forriier Communist bloc countries share an experience of living Under the communist political framework thàtpermeated all levels of society, strongly impacting individual and family life! As evidenced by emerging literature on Eastem European families and immigràrits from this region, they share a lot of similarities in terms of family life and parenting practices (Ispa-Larida, 20Ó7; Lobodzinska, 1995; Nesteruk, 2010; Nesteruk and Marks, 2009; Roberts et al., 2000; Robila,

Parenting in Immigration


2004, 2010). The majority of families in Eastem Europe have only one or two children and children occupy a central position in the family (Gold, 2007; ZhurzhenkO, 2004). Although norms of involvement are changing, mothers (more so thah fathers) are responsible for most of the child care, day-to-day activities, and upbringing (Titcow and Duch, 2004). Grandparents are very involved with the grandchildren and play an important role in their upbringing (Nesteruk and Marks, 2009). Family unity and interdependence among family members and across generations are very important. During thé Communist regime, the development of obedience in children was particularly emphasized by parents and professional educators (Bronfenbrenner, 1970; Pearson, 1990). Children were expected to unquestionably respect and obey their parents, teachers, and anyone in the position of authority (Zhurzhenko, 2004). As the society underwent inultiple transformations frotri a communist system to à democracy, thé childrearing practices have also been changing. Although children are still expected to obey and respect the authority of parents and other adults, contemporary parenting practices in Eastem Europeari families are becoming more democratic and child-focused than in the past. While physical punishriient of children is still common, parents increasingly oppose it (Titkow and Duch, 2004). In the last two decades, authoritarian practices gradually gavé way to more liberal parenting practices that allow children more independence and freedom (Robila, 2004). To summarize, the current study is focused on the experiences of immigrants from Eastem European countries raising children in the United States. In this paper, we examine the following questions: (1) How do these immigrant parents negotiate two cultures and modify their childrearing practices in a new cultural context? and (2) Which traditional childrearing practices do they keep, which new practices do they incorporate, and what factot;s guide their decisions? " " . • • MEIHM) The participants for thé study were recruited through a combination of newspaper advertising, personal contacts of the first author, and snowball sampling. Eligible participants were flrst-' generation immigrant parétits from Eastem Europe, at least one of the spouses was in a professiorialoccupation, and they had i-esided iri the United States a minimum of five years . to ensure familiarity with culture. Prior to the interview, each participant signed a consent form and filled out a demographic information sheet. Interviews typically lasted 6Ô minutes arid were recorded. Although attempts were made to recruit couples, it proved difflcult due to the participants' busy schedules, and, in some casés, reluctance' of the men to be iriterviéwed and discuss their family life. Therefore, there were 16 couple interviews and 18 individual interviews, mostly with mothers (13 of the 18). When spouses were interviewed together,, both spouses answered each question, altemating the order of the first response; In-depth serrii-structured iriterviews were used to solióit detailed narratives related to parenting iri inrnjigfätion and to understand participants' perspectives, motivations, conflicts, arid meariing-riiaidng of theirriewcircuriistances (Patton, 2002). The participants were asked 20 open-ended questioris on the following topics: the t)enèfits and the challenges of having" childi-én grow up in the U.S.; participants' perception's'of the differences béïweeri raisirig children in their countries of origin versus in the U.S.; the adjustriients they had to riiakè iñ a


Journal of Comparative Family Studies

new context; relationships with children and confiicts; heritage language and ethnic identity, and overall adaptation to the host country. We were not looking for generalizable facts, but rather were interested in how participants interpret their new circumstances and make meaning of their experiences of parenting in immigration. Sample Description A total of 50 immigrant parents from the following Eastem European countries were interviewed: Romania (14), Russia (14), Ukraine (12), Bulgaria (5), Poland (1), Belarus (2), and Bosnia (2). The participants had resided in the U.S. between 5 and 21 years (M = 14), in various regions and states. The fathers were between 34 and 56 years old (M = 41); the mothers were between 31 and 50 years old (M = 40). The participants were highly educated, representing 25 doctoral degrees, 2 medical degrees, 17 master's degrees, and 5 bachelor's degrees. The vast majority of the participants were dual-career couples. The average family income was over $100,000, and employment categories included the following: university (18), industry/business (18), medical field (3), non-profit organizations (2), self-employment (e.g., music teacher, freelance photographer) (4), stay-at-home mother or graduate student (5). In total, the participants had 66 children (33 girls and 33 boys) with ages ranging from eight months to 26 years (M = 11). The majority of the children were bom in the U.S. (47 out of 66). Nineteen of the children immigrated to the U.S. with their parents in early and middle childhood (average age was five years; the range was 1 to 11). The children were not interviewed. Data Analysis The study was guided by grounded theory methodology (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). Data collection and analysis for this study were performed simultaneously. Interviews were transcribed verbatim within a few days of their completion, and, when necessary, the first author translated interviews into English, with consideration of cultural context. Open and axial coding was used to identify the most salient and frequently mentioned themes (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). Notes and theoretical memos about potential concepts and themes served as a useful tool foi^across-interview coding. Finally, the first author compiled data analysis files with the record of quotes corresponding to each concept and theme, and re-read interview transcripts to ensure that all significant aspects of the participants' experiences were accounted for and that any exceptions were noted. To ensure confirmability, copies of transcripts, demographic information summaries, observational fieldnotes, and data analysis files were retained. The names of the study participants have been replaced with the pseudonyms, and their personal information was kept confidential. Reflexivity Because researchers' biases tend to infiuence data collection, analysis, and interpretation (Patton, 2002), self-awareness and refiexivity about the researcher's own perspective and circumstances are important. The first author is an immigrant from Ukraine married to an immigrant from Romania, living and raising afive-year-olddaughter in the United States. She started this research five years ago without any predetermined results to support, but with a • commitment to better understand the phenomenon of parenting in immigration. Her "insider"

Parenting in Immigration


status as an immigrant mother and professional, as well as having a shared cultural and linguistic background with the study's participants, facilitated their recruitment and helped build rapport. The second author, a married father, offered an altemative perspective to data analysis as a U.S. native. Such combination of the "insider" and "outsider" perspectives allowed for a true combination of the emic and etic approaches. FINDINGS

Three main themes related to parenting practices of the immigrant participants in the study are: (1) issues of discipline and decline of parental authority; (2) opportunities to build a child's self-esteem and confidence; and (3) a need to balance and integrate two cultures. We will present these themes and provide explanations rooted in the cultural, political, and historical contexts ofthe participants' native countries. Issues of Discipline and Decline of Parental Authority When discussing the phenomenon of parenting in immigration, participants initially commented that American and Eastem European cultures are very similar. Upon further reflection, however, one clear difference between the two cultures with respect to childrearing practices emerged, as summarized by Oksana, a kindergarten teacher with formal training in education and work experience in Russia, as well as a graduate degree in special education from a U.S. university. She described her native country as being more "parentand teacher-directed" and the U.S. as being more "child-centered and child-directed": I'm coming from a sort of rigid system of growing up; there were a lot of rules and we were supposed to follow them. And sometimes as a child I did not agree with those rules, but there was no way I could negotiate with parents and teachers. There were consequences for everything and punishment. But, in the U.S., it's different. There is so much understanding of child development, people are really trying to get to the child's level and listen to what that child wants to communicate to you by breaking a mle. Parents frequently contrasted the coUectivist culture in Eastem Europe with the individualistic culture in the United States, as well as drew a parallel between a culture's approach to childrearing and a country's political system. Sergey, a computer scientist and father of two, explains: We are talking about different systems. In the Soviet Union, everything was controlled by the govemment, thus respect for authority was a must. In the U.S., there is a more private attitude to life; a lot of things here are up to you. The same is with childrearing. Here you respect each child, each person's individuality, and the right to choose, while there you had to conform to authority. Although these parents agreed with the benefits of democratic parenting, many reported that, in their opinion, attention to child development in the U.S. was often taken to an extreme by a culture that idolizes individualism and adolescent rebellion, but does not emphasize


Joumal of Comparative Family Studies

enough respect for parents, elders, and teachers. And such approach, in the opinion of these immigrant parents, makes parenting harder. Diana: I think Americans are too preoccupied about the psychological aspect of their kids' life. Don't punish your children because you are going to hurt their selfesteem. I'm not saying to spank the kids, but I think the discipline should be in place; the limits in the U.S. are a little bit loose. In Romania, if a parent says something, you do not talk back. A child's job is to listen and be obedient. In contrast to the U.S., in the native countries of sttidy participants, obedience and respect were important values promoted by the larger society and state. Schools not only taught subject matter, but were also responsible for vospitanie of students ("character education" or "upbringing"). In his research of the "two worlds of childhood," Bronfenbrenner (1970) cited communist schools' responsibility for the moral development of its students as "the most important difference between Soviet and American schools" (p. 26). Following immigration to the U.S., however, parents realize that there is a lack of support in this regard and that they are on their own when it comes to their children's upbringing. Olga, a nurse and mother of two teenage boys, explains: From day one, we were teaching our sons that they have to respect other adults and anybody who is older than them. You are supposed to respect teachers, not to mention your parents and grandparents. Well, what they learned in the U.S. was that they can state their opinion in front of anybody and in any way they watit to. So, the downside of raising kids in the U.S. is that the first phrase they leam here is, "It's a free country." Immigrant parents face the challenging task of reconciling two cultures and making sense of what they obserye. These participants characterized childrearing in the U.S. as "relaxed," "lenient," and questioned the consequences of giving too much power to children and the effects it may have on. parental authority. As the participants see the problem, successful outcomes of parenting are possible when parents are involved and fiim boundaries between parents and children exist. Ekaterina: We were brought up in a stricter way and had more respect and obédience towards teachers and parents. But here, it is totally different. People in the U.S. are very afraid of the words like "child abuse" and sometimes people overdo it and do not discipline their children enough. I believe that when a child lives with parents she has to listen to parents^ advice, which is to the child^s advantage. We don^t want to hear from a child, "I will do what.I want to! And if you won^t let me I will complain about you." The parent is a main authority figure for a child, leading a child in the right direction. All we want is to give our children a better life ! While advocating for stricter discipline, many participants commented that the authoritarian approach to parenting, used in Eastem European cotititries, resulted in children who grew up "inhibited," "shy," "self-conscious," and "afraid to question the authority." Participants were critical of such practices in their countries of origin and praised the advancements that American society has made towards prevention of physical punishment of children. These

Parenting in Immigration


mothers and fathers also recognized cultural emphasis on developing a child's.self-esteem in the U.S. and appreciated the opportunities to do so with their children, as discussed in the next theme. Opportunities to Build a Child's Self-Esteem and Confidence When discussing the advantages of raising children in the U.S., most of the participants mentioned the opportunities for their children to develop self-esteem and gain confidence and assertiveness. These qualities were not emphasized when these parents were growing up and many of them feel as though they did not have opportunities to develop them as children. Growing up in a communist system, one's identity was defined through belonging to a collective (Bronfenbrenner, 1970; Pearson, 1990) and a child's main job was to listeri to the authority figures-parents and teachers. The outcome of such approach on a child is described by Snezhana, a mother from Bulgaria. I remember teachers always telling me-you are not special, you are just one of the group, you are nothing. This was part of the socialism, the idea that you grow up as a part of the collective. I grew up with an idea that I'm a number, I'm not special. In contrast, in Westem democratic states, the development of each person as a unique individual is more valued. Participants in the study shared their appreciation of how one's individuality and self-esteem are cherished in the American society and that children interact with adults on equal footing, freely expressing their opinions. For example, Lidiya and Vladimir are very happy to see their preschooler developing into a confident individual and a leader. Similarly, Gelya, a music teacher and mother of two, shared her impressions about schoolaged children from her daughter's class: [In Russia] children are all shy to say anything about themselves; they are too scared to share their opinion. In the U.S., children are not smarter or more talented, but they can express their opinion and have impressive public.speaking skills. They> just get in front and nominate themselves: this is why I want to be class president, because I am so good, I can do this and that. They value themselves and they are not shy to promote their qualities. And they actually feel good about themselves. A father from Romania and university professor also criticized the parenting approach typical of his native country for being too tough on children's self-esteem, and likewise "gave credit" to American society for facilitating children's self-expression and developing confidence. Comparing students in his native Romania to students in the U.S., he commented "back home, they know more mathematics, but here they have better social skills." Many parents, especially mothers, appreciated the opportunities for activities available to their children in the U.S. When they were children, they grew up "fully aware of their limitations" that prevented them from pursuing a particular activity ("I was told I did not have the ear to enroll in music school;" "I was a little chubby, and was not allowed into a dancing class;" or "I was 'too old' at the age of 12 to join a tennis club" are some of the examples of how children were screened at enrollment). In contrast, these mothers praised the approach that they witness in the U.S.-one can pay and join "any class, regardless of her


Joumal of Copiparative Family Studies

size, skill, or age." In addition, two mothers of children with special needs commented that "America is a great place" for such children and shared their appreciation for the services their children received that boosted their self-esteem. Margarita: When our children grow up in this environment they believe they are capable to do anything. They believe in their ideas, their dreams, they believe anything is possible. In this country, you can do anything you want, at any age you want. Interestingly, several parents reported that living in the United States made them realize that they lacked assertiveness and self-esteem and that they did not value themselves as they should. They attributed their own lack of confldence to the approach to childrearing practiced in their home countries and to "the way the [Communist] system worked" and influenced child developmerit. Several participants noted that although they had "good parents," it was the influence from the larger society that afl'ected their upbringing. A reflective story from a mother of two arid a physician illustrates the power of simple children's songs and characters, like Bamey (the'purple dinosaur), that she leamed about in the U.S., and what they made her realize about herself Diana: When we bought video tapes for our son when he was small, they looked kind of silly á!t first. But after watching them again and again, I realized that they are helping children to develop self-esteem. For example, I didn't like Bamey at flrst, but it was good to hear a song where it tells you to show that you are happy. We came out inhibited from our culture because that's how it was'home. But Americans have things I really like and that are good to some point; it does not have to be excessive. What's that song? If you are happy, clap your hands, let your face show it. And I said, nobody taught me this! Whether I was happy or not, I was not expressing it. And even when I did something good, I did not feel like if I did something good or I deserved anything. I was never proud of me because... I was not. And I think it is important for children to hear those kinds of songs because this is how you build your self-esteem. When discussing cultural emphasis on self-confldence in children, several participants extended this theme to future success in life. They perceive assertiveness and "social and communication skills" as crucial for one's professional success in American society. Based on their experiences in the job market, these parents have leamed the importance of not only having the knowledge and skills but also being able to present them to others. Ivana: We are trying to project on our kids our desire for ourselves and for them to be more open and social. In this country, it is very important. It's not only about what, you know and how you perform at your job, it's [also] about how you communicate your success, how you present yourself


However, these parents are careful not to overcompensate in adapting new parenting practices; they report searching for an acceptable balance between the two cultures, as discussed Jurther. . . -. : .: . ; • •• . . -, .

Parenting in Immigration


A Need to Balance and Integrate Two Cultures In this theme we describe how immigrant parents selectively adapt elements of the host culture while rejecting other parts, using examples of freedom in decision-making by children and praise expressed toward children. Based on the participants' perceptions, in Eastem Europe, parents have much more authority in deciding what is best for their children, compared to parents in the United States. However, after living in the U.S., participants report making adjustments and taking into consideration their children's opinions more than they would "back home." Sara: In any country, there are a lot of differences in how people treat their children. But generally speaking, in Russia parents are more authoritarian, while in the U.S. parents are more permissive. After living here we definitely changed-we give our children more choices and listen to their opinion. However, we still make sure that our children have responsibilities, and respect us. Although we are friends with our children, we are their/7aren/.í/íríí, and ultimately we make the decisions. Many participants report that their primary parental responsibility is to "enforce leaming," especially in education and preparation for the future. Children's education is a particularly important goal for these highly educated parents (Nesteruk, Marks, and Garrison, 2009), who monitor their children's school progress and insist that their children develop habits conducive to intellectual work. These parents shared their perceptions that there is too much emphasis on "fun" rather than hard work in U.S. schools and there are too many "distractions," such peer and pop culture, television, computer games, and the Intemet. Immigrant parents have to counterbalance new infiuences and guide their children to success, by helping them develop self-discipline. Several parents spoke about their dislike for allowing children too much freedom, including deciding whether to do homework or not. Oleg: The freedoms are good, but only if you use them sparingly. For example, nobody wants to do homework and many parents just let kids decide this. But kids don't leam what they are supposed to leam. So, we as parents, have to make the child do the homework. However much time it takes, until they are done. Such approach works, it worked for us. Although we may not know what our children want, we know how we can do the best in order for them to come to the point where they should be. Narratives from the participants demonstrate their belief that their professional success is based on hard work and on their parents' careful approach to children's freedom in decision making. In the former communist countries, parents and professional educators placed much emphasis on developing obedience and self-discipline in children (Bronfenbrenner, 1970). A child was expected to intemalize obedience and, on this basis, develop self-discipline. Only when these two traits are present in a child, can he be allowed independence because, "if a child does not obey and does not consider others, then his independence invariably takes ugly forms" (Pechemikova, as cited in Bronfenbrenner, 1970, p. 11). Besides discussing cultural differences in regard to discipline and decision-making, these parents commented extensively on the issue of motivation and praise. Although participants


Journal of Comparative Family Studies

want to encourage and motivate their children to succeed, they report reservations when it comes to praise expressed toward children. These parents' perception is that, in the U.S., children frequently get too much "undeserved" praise, and thus may develop "inflated selfesteem." Participants are reportedly reluctant to praise their children the way they observe "American parents do." Julia: I think encouragement is good and necessary, but there should be a limit to how much praise children get. It is part of the American culture to say, 'igreat" and "wonderful"-but these are overstatements. I think it triggers a wrong reaction and kids think better of what they have done; and in a sense it takes away their motivation. Participants also report feeling perplexed at the outcomes of various competitions when each child receives a trophy, regardless of his performance. Ramona, an engineer.and mother of one, describes a common view among the participants: I don't see schools teaching kids to be competitive. This is what I remember growing up: you know who is the best in class [academically] and you want to do better. But here they like to pretend that everybody is the same. The same is with activities: our daughter went to gymnastics, volleyball, ice-skating, and I see that at the end of competition all of them get medals! But some kids did better and you have to show them that they did better, right? So that others want to do better, to motivate them. But if they know that everyone will get a medal anyway, why work harder? As their comments show, immigrants from Eastem Europe are products of a culture that does not emphasize self-esteem and where feedback- is based on objective outcomes. Bronfenbrenner's (1970) research on former Soviet pedagogy explains that "if a child is already doing well in school and following the rules of conduct, he should not be praised for it;" the encouragement and praise are employed only when a child goes above and beyond expectations "to correct faults of character" (p. 12) or achieve exceptional restilts. These immigrant parents, however, do not view strict parenting practices as the best. Having been exposed to a new culture, they compared the pros and cons of being "too strict" with children, as in their countries of origin, versus being "too relaxed," as they perceive parenting in the United States. Participants were equally critical of extremes they find in both cultures. Mothers and fathers spoke about the need to find a balance between giving children unlimited freedom versus demanding obedience, as well as keeping children motivated and, at the same, time, grounded in reality. A quote from Ovidiu, a bioengineer and father of two, is representative in this regard. . • .


As a parent, you have to know how to keep it in balance. Don't make them feel like they are the center of the Universe and they are so great. Do tell them when they : are bad and tell them when they are good. And if they deserve praise-give it to them. . : . - . . : ... : , . . .

In conclusion, the following comments from participants show how living in the United States positively influenced them as parents and capture the approach taken by immigrant

Parenting in Immigration


parents in navigating between two cultures, in an attempt to give their children "the best of both cultures." Carmen: When it comes to childrearing, it's important to remember that our children are caught in the middle. We, as parents, have certain expectations, feed them our values, but the environment where they live is different; they get different ideas from teachers and peers. So we need to try to find something in-between; it has to be a combination of the two cultures. Ovidiu: I think, overall, the influence of American culture is a good one. It liberated us to do what is good to do. So if you look at the things here and back home, you can pick and choose the best parts regarding parenting and then have a freedom to combine those. Here, if you know hovv to keep the balance, you can lead children to great things. DISCUSSION This study presents the voices of a group of immigrant professionals from Eastem Europe as they discuss how they negotiate two cultures with respect to pareiiting practices. The narrative of mothers and fathers offer insight as to why these immigrants retain some of their cultural practices and give up others, as well as what elements of the host culture they accept or reject, in order to raise children who are well-adapted to life in the U.S. The results of this study indicate that, with respect to childrearing practices, the acculturation strategy used by Eastem European immigrants in the U.S. is integration (Berry, 2007), and is consistent with previous research on educated immigrants (Abbott and Gupta, 2009; Londhe, 2009). These mothers and fathers report maintaining elements of their culture and parenting strategies, while actively participating in the larger society and adopting new values and childrearing practices. Overall, these immigrants experienced accelerated incorporation into the host society, as many of them arrived to the U.S. with a good cotnmand of English language, spent years in American universities pursuing graduate degrees or working as post-doctoral researchers, and were employed in other professional occupations. The majority of families in the study are dual-income, with both men and women pursuing careers and continuously interacting with the U.S. society. Therefore, such common immigrant issues as language brokering and parent-child role reversal are less relevant to immigrants in professional occupations, who are incorporated into the mainstream with more success than the overall immigrant population (Nestemk, 2010). At the same time, additional themes emerged, such as an appreciation of the opportunities for individual development in children and a need for a balanceduseof praise, discipline, and freedom. • Both acculturation and parenting are dynamic processes that evolve over time. Immigrant parents in this study discussed that, as a result of exposure to the host culture, they were changing their childrearing practices to give their children more choices, take their opinions more seriously, and, overall, allow children rhoi"éfreedomarid pOWer in the family. At the same time, they reported that one of the difficulties of raising children in the U.S. was their children's dimihishing obedience and respect for the authority of parents, elders and teachers* a findiiig consistent with previous research with Latin American, Asian, Middle-Eastem, ahd African


Journal of Comparative Family Studies

immigrant parents residing in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain (Gorman, 1998; Ochocka and Jansen, 2008; Paiva, 2008; Pettys and Balgopal, 1998). These immigrant parents, many of whom are dispersed around the country, find it difflcult, at times, to guide their children in a new context, due to insufficient contact with extended families and ethnic communities that would help reinforce important cultural norms. Among the advantages of raising children in the U.S., immigrant parents discussed the opportunities for their children to develop their individuality, self-confldence, and public speaking skills. These abilities were not emphasized enough in Eastem European countries and, based on the participants' perceptions, resulted in children who grew up too "inhibited" and "shy." Based on their interactions in the new society, immigrant parents believe assertiveness and high self-esteem to be crucial for one's professional and life success in the U.S. and encourage their children to develop those traits. Although immigrant parents encourage the development of qualities important for their children's successful integration into American society, they are careful not to overcompensate. These parents retain many attitudinal linkages with their original culture that, they believe, keep them and their children "grounded in reality." While participants report increasing the use of praise toward their children, they do not exaggerate; in their view, undeserved praise may not only "overinflate" a child's self-esteem (a contradiction to their cultural value of being modest), but also decrease a child's motivation for hard work. The finding of cautious use of praise is not limited to Eastem European immigrants in the United States, but confirms what researchers find among other immigrant groups in Westem societies. For example. South Asian immigrants in the United Kingdom avoid excessive verbal praise to prevent their children from becoming "spoiled" and "proud" (Paiva, 2008). Using their dual frame of reference, immigrants continuously compare the contexts of living in the U.S. with those of their countries of origin. These mothers and fathers are aware that their children are being raised with much greater financial resources than they had during their own formative years in the former Communist countries. They are concemed that, growing up in a consumer culture, their children may take for granted material things and opportunities that they have in the U.S.; this may make it harder for children to develop the kind of work ethic and self-discipline that their successful parents developed, partially as a result of growing up in an environment with many constraints. Thus, participants report remaining somewhat authoritarian with respect to their children's freedom to decide important matters such as education and studying. Finally, in regards to within-group. variation, this study did not ñnd any significant differences in parenting beliefs and practices among the participants from different countries of origin or states of residency in the U.S. In terms of gender differences, the responses of mothers and fathers were surprisingly congment. However, mothers spoke in more detail about childrearing than did fathers, perhaps because in many Eastem European families parenting has been traditionally considered the domain of mothers. LIMITATIONS AND CONCLUSION

The findings of this qualitative study may not be transferred to the whole population of immigrants from Eastem Europe in the United States, who, like any immigrant group, will

Parenting in Immigration


differ in socioeconomic status, factors surrounding immigration, and the levels of acculturation. One has to be careful when interpreting the results of the present study, because in any country, parental attitudes and behaviors vary depending on adults' socioeconomic status, with the more educated individuals promoting curiosity and independence of thought rather than obedience in their children. At the same time, because people with similar cultural background tend to share tendencies in parenting, this study may provide researchers and practitioners with a starting point in understanding this immigrant group. It is also important to acknowledge that, in their responses and comparisons, study participants used a perspective of their countries of origin a generation earlier, when they were growing up in the 1970s-80s, and to a lesser extent the 1990s, when many of them immigrated to the U.S. Such tendency of the flrst generation immigrants to flxate on the norms, values, and specific social moment in the countries of origin was noted in other studies (Pettys and Balgopal, 1998). Immigrant parents' socialization during those times influenced their own identity formation and it continues to influence their parenting beliefs and practices in the new context of the U.S. However, it may not account for the actual social, economic, and political changes that occurred in the society, after the participants of this study immigrated to the U.S. Despite its limitations, the present study makes a contribution to the extant literature on immigrant adaptation and acculturation. The findings of this research deepen our understanding of the phenomenon of parenting in a new culture, adding rich descriptions of the lived experiences of immigrant professionals from Eastem Europe, and may be useful to practitioners working with this immigrant group. The themes that emerged from the interviews demonstrate consistency with other studies on the topic, as well as provide additional details and trends that may serve as aids in further research with this immigrant group. Immigration requires individuals and families to adjust to new norms of interaction in the host society. Immigrant professionals make relatively rapid psychological adjustment to the host society and generally cope well with multiple demands of immigration. They also "tend to develop a highly informed view of American society" (Portes and Rumbaut, 2006, p. 203), understanding both its great opportunities and its major challenges, which allows them to criticize what they perceive as shortcomings and to appreciate what they view as advantages. Throughout the interviews, participants assessed critically the extremes in parenting practices they observed both in the U.S. and in their countries of origin. They report that a balanced compromise is the best answer to the questions of discipline, self-esteem, praise, and freedom granted to children. Immigrant parents retain some of their original values and parenting practices while also integrating new ones, in what scholars view as the healthiest adjustment to the multicultural context of lives (Berry, 2007). The narratives presented in the study illustrate the process of how immigrant parents try to negotiate their past and their present and look for the best parenting practices, regardless of what culture they coine from. REÏERENCES Abbott, D. and Gupta, P.M. (2009). Influence of American culture on East Indian immigrants' perceptions of marriage and family life. In R.L. Dalla, J. Defrain, J. Johnson, and D. A. Abbott (Çds.), Strengths and, challenges of new immigrantfamilies (pp.93-U6).NcwYoTk:LexmgtonBoôks. ' '•'"•••' '•'


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