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  • Sanjay

First Generation Immigrants & Parenting: Five things to keep in mind to help your children succeed

The National Household Survey shows that there were 7,217,300 people classified as first generation immigrants in 2011 in Canada. Leaving your homeland and immigrating to another country is not easy. You might have come as an immigrant, refugee, student, or with a job on a work visa. Depending on your level of language proficiency, you may have had to learn English or French. Finding your first job was also quite challenging. Some of you might have even had to go back to school or re-certify your credentials. It was no small feat!

I have been mentoring new immigrants for the YMCA and providing counselling for the last two decades in Canada. Many of my clients that I provide counselling are first generation immigrants. As an immigrant myself, I have experienced how diverse cultural traditions and traumatic life transformations can heavily influence parenting. Having been blessed with two wonderful Canadian-born children, I understand the pressures of parenting in a new country. I work diligently to avoid making these common parenting slip ups that have proven not to be beneficial for either the parent or child.

The one common experience almost all first-generation immigrants have had, is the varying degrees of stress, anxiety, and depression they feel as they try to re-establish their livelihood. With the loss of familiarity and a comforting network of family and friends, the feelings of being a stranger and in isolation is rampant. Not to mention the looming pressures of financial insecurity.

With time, many first generation immigrants manage to become successful and amicably settle in their new country, Canada. However, for many, transitioning to a new country is an ongoing challenge. This experience of limited income, separation, along with learning to integrate into a new environment, plays a significant role in parenting styles and can affect the relationship they later share with their children.

Having been through this plight myself, I would like to share my top 5 parenting tips for first generation immigrants:

1. Refrain from constantly reminding your children about the difficulties of your immigration journey.

It is very tempting to share how hard you worked at various minimum wage jobs at restaurants, gas stations, or factories and emphasize the sacrifices you have made to save every penny to pay for rent and put food on the table. Sharing these anecdotes regularly will only increase the feelings of guilt and insecurity among your children. Furthermore, the story of your early struggle will end up losing any value.

This is particularly true when your kids are dealing with certain issues of their own. It is in such moments that you need to listen to their problems considerately and give them appropriate advice. I want to emphasize that children do recognize and appreciate the sacrifices that have you made. As parents, we all need to remember that our children have unique challenges of their own that may not seem big to you but it is to them. Try to avoid being neglectful or dismissive about their feelings and experiences.

2. Try not to follow the same parenting styles that you experienced as a child.

I understand that parenting styles differ from one family to the next, and very likely, from your country of origin. Parenting styles are deeply influenced by customs, traditions, and the surrounding environment. We adhere, whether consciously or unconsciously, to what we have experienced as children.

My father was the disciplinarian and had very tight rules that at times were rigid and controlling (brick wall parenting). It is beneficial to realize that what might have worked for you, will not work with children today. As a parent myself, I conscientiously try to be their backbone but set boundaries in such a way that allows sufficient room for creativity, resilience, and the ability for them to take responsibility for their actions.

3. Let them make mistakes and give them space to learn from it.

Children have many wants and as parents we would love to fulfill all of their desires. I too am tempted to do the same with my kids. However, providing your children opportunities to experience delayed gratification and an understanding of the value of money early on is a valuable life lesson. It is completely okay not to give your child the latest gadget or that branded shoe.

I have my children doing chores at home or for the neighbours to earn money and they are free to use it however they wish. It is surprising to see that they don’t end up purchasing items they wanted me to buy for them. In my private counselling practice, I hear parents sharing stories of how they constantly rescued their children from failures and bad decisions only to see their children depend on them even more. When I do speak to their children, they share how this has led them to have low self-confidence. Sadly, many kids, even adult children, expect their parents to fix their problems.

4. Avoid comparing your children to other children.

It’s so easy to fall into comparison – not just regarding our children, but what we have, how we live, and even what we do. One of the common complaints I receive during counselling is clients sharing how incapacitating it is when their parents constantly compare them to their relative’s or friend’s children. This comparison does not end just with school performance, but also plunges into other realms such as dating, choice of partners, marriage, following religious customs, and employment. Many of my clients feel they can never reach the level of accomplishment that will make their parents happy which elicits resentment and anger.

5. Try being a friend and actively listen more than you speak.

Listening is a skill you need to consciously learn and it is not easy as it sounds. It is often uncomfortable to really hear somebody else's point of view, especially if it is your child and they happen to be right in contradiction of your views. You might hear something you do not want to hear. It is uncomfortable to be challenged.

You might hear something that challenges your belief system, or makes you question your assumptions about life. Your children are constantly exposed to different points of view at school, with friends, and their community. To really build a deep trusting relationship, spend time consciously and actively listening when your children are talking to you before passing any judgement.

As Guy Kawasaki once said, “patience is the art of concealing your impatience.” I couldn’t agree more!


About the author: Sanjay Govindaraj is a first generation immigrant, speaks Hindi, Tamil and Kannada and has extensive experience supporting immigrants and refugees to Canada. Sanjay is a Registered Social Worker/Psychotherapist and has an active private practice providing counselling/psychotherapy at Aligned Health in Waterloo, Ontario. For more details about Sanjay, check Psychology today.

If you have any questions or comments, he can be reached at

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