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For us to be upstanding members of our communities who play a vital role in the functioning of our society, we must have a solid identity. Our identities are shaped throughout our lives, and they inform our values, morals, and ethics. It is a priority for a parent to teach a child about who they are, where they come from, share history and language, and culture to anchor a child in their identity.

In South Africa – we are lucky to live in a multicultural, multilingual, multi-racial society with many different identities. It is not at all uncommon to have a family with a mixed background, be it a different tribe or race, parents often speaking different languages to their children, etc. 

Preserving Your Culture Whilst Introducing A Different Culture 

Steffi Asisi, an Indonesian woman married to a coloured man and living in Cape Town with a beautiful son shared important insights as to how her son is raised. She says,

“My husband and I decided that we wanted our kids to know our languages. I want my kids to understand Indonesian because it is painful not knowing your language because you cannot connect with people.” 

Languages are a central component of one’s identity and connection to our families and community. If we want a child to have a sense of their identity, particularly that of their parents it is important to teach children their mother tongues. 

Steffi Asisi shares that her cooking, singing traditional songs, and introducing her child to people back in Indonesia are all vital components of educating her child on their identity. 

Why Is Identity Important?

Feminist psychologist Dr Simone Peters shared fascinating insights about identity in children. She says, 

“It helps one have a healthy self-esteem, be able to navigate major life changes, be confident in, accept your flaws and all that you are.” 

Dr Peters also shares how a sense of identity helps a child navigate their environment and helps them find their place in the world. She strongly suggests that we should be mindful as caregivers about imposing our desires onto our children. 

“We also need to allow a safe space for children to share their emotions by asking how they are feeling, and reassure them that their feelings matter,” says Dr Peters. 

An interesting perspective Dr Peters shared is that boys are socialised into toxic masculinity because we are rigid with our perspectives on gender roles. She urges, “give boys dolls so that they can learn how to be loving and nurturing fathers. Give girls trucks and dinosaurs, so that she learns that she is not limited to motherhood or the kitchen.” 

Be Proactive Despite The Environment

Rozanne McKenzie, a South African woman married to a British man has a brilliant perspective on parenting her mixed-race children. She says it is important for her children to have access to the Cape Flats where she is from. She says, 

“We have worked hard to give them a comfortable life, but it wasn’t easy.”

Rozanne shares that for her and her husband having open communication is important. “We talk a lot about what our heritage is, and the kids really enjoy learning about where we come from.” This is an excellent way to parent children because it gives them access to their identities through open communication, traveling to their motherlands, without determining what they should or shouldn’t take into consideration.

Our Children Will Develop Their Own Identities

Overall, it seems as though children raised with a strong sense of identity and understanding of who they are can often be more self-aware with a good sense of self-esteem. It also helps children respect other cultures and traditions when they are raised with a sense of respect for traditions and culture. It creates a sense of empowerment to understand who you are regardless of your environment or parents from different backgrounds. 

An important factor to keep in mind is that as children grow up, they will discover additional identities and we need to be accepting of those identities. It is for this reason Dr Simone Peters said we must be aware of gender roles and conditioning. It may be important to keep gender roles at a minimum or discuss it with children. We may have children who later do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. We may have children who are gay, lesbians, bisexual, etc and we must safeguard our children. If we allow our children a safe place and communicate with them, it will be easier to navigate the world as a queer person for example. 

The Long And Short Of Identities 

We need to teach our children who we are, who our ancestors were, their connection to their land, and who their communities are. This allows them to have strong, sturdy roots. As time goes on with a strong foundation and open communication, children will naturally develop their own unique identities and share them with us. We need to be receptive to who they are apart from us. Children are individuals and each one will be different with a myriad of identities that encompasses who they are.