Raising a Multilingual Family – Planting the seeds for multiculturalism and diversity

29 04 2014

Donde esta la tijera? – my daughter asked one night as we were getting dinner ready. It was the first time I heard her use Spanish, which she had been studying since the beginning of the school year.   It was rather cool!

Upon becoming parents, my husband and I were pretty much on the same page regarding exposing our children to multiple languages and cultures. We both value multiculturalism, cherish our heritage, and have a keen awareness of what it feels like to be considered an ethnic minority in a country and province whose traditions and cultures are uniquely different from those practiced in our respective homes as we were growing up. Being raised by immigrant families in a province that has been fighting to preserve its own ethnicity throughout its history has instilled in us an openness and appreciation for all languages and customs.

  • How do you coach children on diversity?
  • What could we do to nurture and preserve the openness and acceptance that all children are born with?
  • How do you share your values with your children, without overriding their own innate values?

When the girls were born it was our choice to speak to them in Italian and expose them to the traditions we grew up with, by staying closely connected to our roots. As Canadians, we also wanted the girls to be able to communicate effectively in the official languages of their country of origin. As they reached school age, it was a unanimous decision to enroll them in a French school to enhance their abilities to read, write and speak effectively in French. Through pop culture, social media and living in a predominantly English neighborhood we knew that they would learn to communicate in English with ease as well.

Although the decision to introduce three languages to our children, in their formative years, an easy one to make, it was not so simple to implement. Suffice it to say that conversations around our dinner table over the years have been quite the mish-mash of accents and idioms. Despite our desire to expose our children to multiple languages, we were also very sensitive to our lack of eloquence and proficiency in the communication structures we used in any of the languages we spoke. Until the girls started school, I struggled with the dilemma of speaking to them in the simple dialect that I grew up with, a less than perfect Italian that was jarringly different from what I heard on RAI TV or the Italian radio channel. Was I making a mistake? How often would they use Italian anyway? Would the kids in the neighborhood make fun of them because they sounded funny? Would they fall behind when they started school and have a hard time adjusting because they only spoke Italian?

Once they started elementary school, we began the switch from Italian to French. We made every effort to support their learning to the best of our limited abilities. Again I wrestled. How effective were we in helping them academically when neither my husband nor I were mother tongue francophone?  Would the girls be able to maintain what they were learning, when outside of school they rarely spoke French? Were they doomed to inherit strange Anglicism’s when they spoke, like many of the other young people we knew who were studying French in a predominantly Anglophone environment? It was a tad disconcerting when the girls brought home grammar exercises, that seemed to serve as learning material for me as much as them! And I was considered the stronger linguist in the family? Yikes!!

And what about creating a strong foundation to read, write and speak in the language of Shakespeare? Being within the French school system, we questioned whether our children would develop a solid English grammar and vocabulary with limited studies that would commence only as of grade 4. Would watching TV and reading Harry Potter be enough to instil proper grammar? If the girls decide to continue their university studies in English would they be at a disadvantage given their formative years were spent studying in French?

Although some of our doubts have been laid to rest, many of our questions still remain to be answered.

Based on our observations so far, I feel good about keeping up with our multi-lingual efforts as imperfect as they may be. Once upon a time the girls resisted going to Italian school on Saturday mornings and now they are taking part in the student council, special events and pushing for another trip to Italy. When Spanish lessons were being offered after school this year, both girls asked to participate and are now keen to practice their new skills and have a renewed appetite for the Spanish children books I used to read to them when they were much younger. And even though the girls were not born francophone, they demonstrate an obvious pride in being a part of a very unique community that had to fight hard to maintain its French rights and culture.

My goal for my family is to continue to experience the beauty in diversity, and joy of communicating with anyone and everyone across cultural and linguistic boundaries, as we all continue to broaden our linguistic skills.

As we finally emerge from a long winter and begin poking our heads out and about my awareness is drawn to the plethora of languages I hear spoken around me. From Congolese to Mandarin, Portuguese to Russian we are a world united through the humanity of our experiences, WE ARE ONE. È vero, no?


The “Feel Good Challenge” Full Circle

25 03 2014

Wordle: Full Circle

We’ve had a busy couple of months and for those who have been following the “Feel Good Challenge” and participating in their own version of it, I invite you to share your experiences, thoughts and ah-ha moments – it would be a pleasure to read your comments.

On our end we’ve come full circle. How many time’s have I heard myself say out loud “No one can control how we feel but us…”; “I’m 100% accountable for how I feel and what other people do, say and believe about me is none of my business…”; “it is our choice to live as victims of circumstances or recognize that we are the creators of our own lives…” the list goes on and it is from this space that I assess the latest “great idea” introduced into my household – “THE FEEL GOOD CHALLENGE”.  Time for full disclosure, I feel like – for lack of a better word – a hypocrite!

hyp·o·crite [hip-uh-krit]  ( according to http://dictionary.reference.com)


1.  a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
2.  a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.


The original intent behind the “Feel Good Challenge” was to raise awareness on my offspring’s behaviour toward each other and diminish the squabbles and fighting. What folly to think I could control this – it’s all my ego’s fault  😉 . Sneaky little ego; she even had me believing that I was doing my marriage a favour in extending the challenge to myself and my husband. What else is there to say other than … LOL!!!!

I hereby declare that the moment of truth has arrived; I know I cannot control how my kids treat each other or anyone else. I can’t make anyone more altruistic, or empathic especially if I use bribery as the driver! Needless to say I’ve been humbled by this trial and feel very vulnerable in having written about it for the whole world to see and judge. For whatever its worth, the “Feel Good Challenge” has taken on a life of its own for each member of my family and at the very least has taught me that as long as I live my truth and have the courage to speak from that space I can transform how I feel about any situation; and sometimes speaking my truth means staying very quiet. The girls still fight, and I choose whether to react or not, I select to engage or disengage, and I am aware of how I enter the playing field. So for the readers who can relate to being perfectly imperfect, much like myself, I look forward to growing together and thank you for bearing witness to the wonder of my imperfections.


The FEEL GOOD Challenge – status update

14 01 2014


challenge noun

: a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do

: an action, statement, etc., that is against something : a refusal to accept something as true, correct, or legal

: an invitation to compete in a game, fight, etc.[1]

Well folks the FEEL GOOD  Challenge was accepted the morning after the proposal was forwarded.  Both girls wanted to take part and shared their tracking system for the “FEEL GOOD” success rate.  It’s been about a week since we started and no surprise that it has been an enlightening journey thus far!  My precocious daughters continue to keep me on my toes with their insights, observations and manifestation of their truth.  When I repeated to the girls how the reward for taking part in the challenge was to be revealed in 2 weeks time, my younger daughter, to my absolute delight, declared that she did not think a reward was necessary at all given that the “real” reward was going to be in just feeling good about herself and making her sister feel good…(pause for effect here – now start the fire works )



After this little exchange, I had already declared a premature victory, patted myself on the back and was almost ready to declare the mission complete; well, not so fast.  Despite the  wisdom expressed by my profoundly astute 9 year old, I also noticed that there wasn’t a huge change in the girls’ behaviour toward each other.  Not only has the bickering continued, but I also noticed that the brilliant “FEEL GOOD” challenge was bringing up feelings of injustice and hurt.  The girls were complaining that they did not have equal opportunities to make each other feel good.  They also felt that they weren’t setting each other up to succeed when they made attempts at showing a kind gesture to the other, since neither was acknowledging efforts made by the other.  After a family meeting to clarify the intent of the challenge once again (see above definition), we decided to forge ahead but from a different perspective.

Thanks to the keen insights of a veteran parent who read the previous blog post and took interest in this “FEEL GOOD” challenge, I realized that the frustration I feel when the girls argue is much more about me than it is about them.  My deeply held beliefs taught me that sisters are supposed to be best friends and they should support each other, not hurt each other.  Having had a tumultuous relationship with my own sister growing-up (whom I now love and respect for the woman she is), I’m ultra sensitive to this dynamic between my own girls.  But what if the bickering and fighting serves a greater purpose, as my wise elder suggested?  What if the fighting between the girls, although it hurts me, is actually creating a stronger bond that will stand the test of time for their relationship and the relationships they will forge with other important people in their lives?  I can still own the truth of my experience, without holding the girls to judgement about how they are choosing to interact with each other.


So it is from this new perspective that the “FEEL GOOD” challenge continues AND has expanded to include my husband and I.  We decided it would do us good to practice what we preach and now my focus has inadvertently shifted from the girls to my own efforts to make my husband feel good 🙂 and it already has become much more fun!  More to come on this as the challenge continues….

The FEEL GOOD challenge

7 01 2014

As the girls are getting older I’m noticing that their exchanges and more specifically their bickering are becoming more intense.  Honestly, it drives me nuts!  I’m the first to admit that my parenting skills are a continuous work in progress and I have to work hard at remaining calm, open and objective when the girls get into it.

I’m also very curious by nature and tend to ask a lot of questions to myself, my kids and fellow guardians of tomorrow’s visionary leaders:

  • How do we encourage our kids to focus on the good in themselves and others?
  • What do we do to stay positive and keep an affirmative perspective?
  • How do the words we choose serve us?
  • What does it take to remain authentic to ourselves and preserve our integrity?
  • How do we teach our children to do the same?

My husband and I often feel like broken records, as we coach the girls to maintain a positive perspective on life in general and in particularly challenging situations, not just between themselves but others too as they arise.  Focusing on the positive has become an unofficial mantra in our house and we do our best to live it.

After another testy night of what I’ll refer to as catty teasing, I had enough.   As we were driving to TKD practice, and tempers began to flare up in the back seat I decided to launch the girls a challenge.

The Challenge: For one month, the two sisters are to track how often they can make each other feel good! Of course, in the heat of the moment I hadn’t really thought this through and will have to follow up on the results of this little anthropological experiment if the girls buy in.

The parameters were set that the girls had 24 hours to decide whether or not they would take on the challenge (they always have a choice).  Should they accept, they are to confirm with mom and/or dad by telling us how they were going to keep track of the “feel good success rate”.  To make it interesting, I told the girls that the rewards

for both challengers would be revealed within 2 weeks from the start of the challenge (I needed to buy myself sometime to think this through more carefully…).  My ultimate goal is that we all end up winners in this challenge by the shear virtue of consciously noting and sharing when we make each other feel good.  Stay tuned as the FEEL GOOD Challenge continues!

Nurturing Unconditional Kindness

5 12 2013


The topic of kindness has been a running theme for me since I started this blog.

How do we nurture kindness in our children?  Can kindness, like love be conditional and unconditional?

My eldest daughter has made a significant life choice recently to adopt a vegetarian life style.  This decision was prompted by her innate love of animals and nature.  I would consider this an act of unconditional kindness – as she has chosen to step out of her comfort zone and give up foods she has enjoyed since she was much younger (good-bye prosciutto, hamburgers, homemade sausages and veal scallopini!) without any expectation of compensation or reward.   Pretty cool!!!

Have you ever noticed however how fear sometimes stops us from giving kindness unconditionally?  Its like we’re giving kindness with a closed hand when:

  • we donate to a charity for the tax receipt that can be used as a claim for income taxes;
  • we help out friends and family in order to make a deposit in the “help” bank that we plan on withdrawing from later;
  • we volunteer for a cause just to get school credits.

What’s with the “Quid Pro Quo” undercurrent in the name of kindness?  True, being unconditionally kind can make us feel vulnerable and being vulnerable takes courage, especially as we get older.  That being the case,  as elders, champions, coaches and guardians, we have a very unique opportunity to re-learn how to be vulnerable and show kindness unconditionally by teaching, observing and simply BEING with our children.

If you ever have the privilege of spending time with a group of children as they play together, notice the dynamics between them and how you feel as you observe.  Recently I experienced immense frustration as I witnessed children being physically aggressive toward each other in the school yard as they were “playing”.  Why were they more inclined to overpower each other physically than play collaboratively?  Why use a closed fist instead of open hands to express themselves?  How do we bring more kindness to the local playground?  Once we acknowledge the sources that continue to desensitize our children to other people’s feelings, in our homes, schools, and the wide, wide world of social media and entertainment, we can also choose to introduce something different.  We have it in us to engage our children in a new conversation in order to nourish unconditional kindness but it takes a village, and the objective needs to be a common one.

So fellow villagers consider:

  • What can you do to show unconditional kindness to yourself today?
  • How can the children in your life bear witness and learn from such an act?


This post is dedicated to the memory of the 14 sacred goddesses whose lives were taken at L’École Polytechnique in Montréal on December 6th, 1989.  Let the brutality of that event serve as a reminder that it is our mutual responsibility to nurture kindness in all our sons and daughters.  Kindness is the oxygen that can rid society of cancerous violence.

Do you want to be a Princess?

8 11 2013

Video courtesy of ABC News – You Can’t Be a Princess!

It’s been a few weeks now that my attention is drawn to how we continue to cultivate and nurture stereotypes between boys and girls even in my very own enlightened and progressive society.  For those readers who have daughters, have you ever stopped to take notice of some of the overt and subliminal messages we send to our girls?  There are so many platitudes we typically and dare I say irresponsibly use:

  • You are so cute!
  • What a sweet heart!
  • How adorable are you?
  • What a pretty princess!

Of course rarely are such statements made with ill intent, whether it be from family members, friends or folks we meet at the grocery store.  Regardless of the intent though, I believe such statements do reinforce stereotypes that detract from the essence of the person that is the child.  When we make superficial comments based on outward appearances are we noticing how smart, bright, strategic, creative, innovative, energetic, strong, or fast our girls are?

What about our boys?  If our girls are considered pretty princesses are boys handsome princes by default?   Not really, it seems that we hold a whole bunch of other stereotypes for them in the name of “boys will be boys!”   When was the last time you heard someone acknowledge a boy for his calm, gentle, artistic, or stylish nature?

I tend to live my life based on the belief that all people are equal and interestingly the Universe of late seems to want to prove me wrong!  Noticing how prevalent many gender stereotypes still are, even in the immediate surroundings of my evolved community, has created a direct challenge to my belief in equality.

I was struck by an observation my daughter made recently when reading a text for homework.  The text was in French and used the masculine context, which my daughter picked up on and questioned – why the reference to men and not women?  “Pourquoi ça dit avant l’apparition de l’homme et pas la femme?” Hmmm, why indeed! I was conflicted in searching for an appropriate response.  Was there no other text that could have conveyed the same information in a gender neutral way?

Following this interesting exchange with my daughter, I heard about a new game this week that was being played at a local elementary school.  In this game, young boys were enjoying themselves by taking female classmates “hostage”, lining them up against the schoolyard fence and running into them.  The matter was addressed but how does one explain how this can be happening in places where there are focused campaigns, programs and communications on anti-bullying?

Personally, as a girl growing up, I have generally felt encouraged to be myself.  I also had strong female role models to draw from and never really considered myself a feminist.  Now with two daughters of my own, I feel very protective of their freedom, their rights.  I wanted to stand up and cheer the mom whom I overheard telling her daughter after someone declared how cute she is, “remember what I say, it’s not how cute you are but how smart!”  As the future unfolds however, will this same empowering mom be able to guarantee that her daughter won’t be passed up for a job opportunity because she is either pregnant or on maternity leave; even if she is the smartest, and most qualified candidate?!

Gender stereotypes have the insidious power to shape the beliefs we form of ourselves and subsequently influence our behaviour and our interactions.  As parents we can inspire our children to live stereotype free by having the courage to stare our own labels in the eye and choose something different.  In taking a breathe, consider….

  • What adjectives do you typically use to describe boys or girls when you are speaking to them?
  • How do you define yourself as a man or a woman?
  • When were you encouraged to be yourSELF? How did it feel?
  • What will you do to encourage others to be themselves?

We all have the capacity to look beyond the braids, ponytails and baseball caps to see the real person beyond our own stereotypical filters, if we choose to.  Given that we also know that we become what we believe ourselves to be makes us accountable as parents to connect with our truth and be wise in the messages we communicate to our children and ourselves.  So my challenge is to build on my belief in equality by focusing on cultivating a more kind, good, generous, smart, bright, strategic, creative, innovative, energetic, WORLD through the children I encounter.  What’s yours?

The blessing is in the breaking!

23 09 2013

I recently heard this quote from bishop T.D. Jakes and it really struck me.  Having hit a breaking point a few months ago I didn’t quite see the blessing at the time and am still keenly aware of the feeling of despair, fear and hopelessness that threatened to swallow me as I stand in a very different space today.  As parents we can all relate to times when we survived a point of breaking in our lives; a broken heart, a broken promise, a broken dream, broken trust, etc. and most of us would not be where we are without having pulled through the tough times.  We have learned that we are stronger than we believed ourselves to be and this as a result of being faced with tough challenges that caught us off-guard.

How do we teach our children to find the blessing in the breaking?

I know that if I dawn the “Mommy fix-it” cap, when my children are broken or on the verge of breaking, what I want to teach is likely to back fire.  I did not get through pain and grief by having someone fix it for me.   I got through by accepting the pain, by sitting in it long enough to decide when it was enough!  Yet, suffice it to say, my perspective gets a little skewed at times when my kids are the one’s struggling with a situation, hurt or faced with adversity.  When it comes to my children, I momentarily forget that somehow, some people seem to land on their feet even through the most trying circumstances and some of them even flourish!  All I want is to take away their pain or prevent the breaking from happening in the first place – and then I wake up 🙂

I know that for me to teach my children to find the blessings in the breaking I have to challenge my own beliefs of my children’s intrinsic ability to survive and flourish in the eye of the storm.

So consider:

  •  What beliefs are you holding about your child’s ability to cope with adversity?
  • How do you feel when your child comes home broken on the inside from an incident that happened in the school yard?
  •  What is the conversation you have with yourself when your child is distraught over a conflict with a good friend?
  • What is moving inside of you when you observe the hurt and disappointment in your children due to a misunderstanding between siblings? 

Rather than brace against the inevitable breaks that will cross our paths as we live our lives, as a family that practices Tae Kwon Do, we are learning to push through the barriers we face and stay open to the blessings of obstacles overcome.  So remember parents, the moments to share are the one’s when we were down and out and rose again.  The toughest and ugliest situations we faced were the one’s that transformed us from the inside out, those very situations that we can now pull from as a testament of what we are capable of overcoming.  So naturally our kids can do the same! 

Thank you T.D. Jakes!

TKD Exam 26 Apr 13 005

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