parenting ideas that failed
I Am A Mom, Raising Multilingual Children

10 Multilingual Parenting Ideas That Got Thrown Out Of The Window

  parenting ideas that failed
This post was inspired by Babble’s: “10 parenting ideals that got thrown out of the window”. I’ve divided it into 2 parts because it’s rather long. I’ll post the second part later today. Enjoy!
This happens to every parent. You wanted to breastfeed only to find that your milk didn’t come in. You wanted to co-sleep only to find that your child hates it. Or you hate it. You wanted to only give your child organic homemade food only to find that your child actually eats sweets. And so the list goes. It is just so normal and very human.
The same happens to multilingual parents. It has certainly happened to me. So here’s my confession. I didn’t achieve everything I had planned to before I had children as far as their multilingualism is concerned. Here’s a list of things I either wasn’t able to do or they didn’t happen until much later.
1)      Reading from birth
As a certified book addict, I wanted to convey my love of books to my children. I was dead serious on reading to them from the day they were born, to turn them into as enthusiastic readers as I am. And then K was born. And you know what? I was busy doing other things. Like recovering from birth. Like dealing with a crying newborn and trying to figure out what she wanted. Like resting. Reading aloud to her just didn’t happen. I tried again later. Again, nothing. As it turns out, I resented it (I’ve always hated reading aloud), and K. just wasn’t interested. Books are for playing, and not for reading, don’t you know? And mom, please shut up, I’m trying to explore my surroundings here. But we had tons of books waiting for her to be ready, and she played with baby books a lot. She also often saw me on the couch with a book in my hands. Now, she loves it when I read to her, and I enjoy it because we can both chose books that are fun for us and talk about the stories. On the other hand, Julia loved when I read for her, so I did that. She loved being held and cuddled, and reading went greatly with that. So, not all is lost!
2)      High-quality time in Polish every day
I was so set on making every day a day full of high quality Polish language input. And then I found that having a child is actually beyond exhausting. There was crying, sleep deprivation, and my deep need for me-time. But whenever I had some or strength, I jumped on the opportunity. I talked to her. I took her with me wherever I went and explained, explained and explained. And I talked, and talked and talked some more. At the end of the day I was even more exhausted and took the next day to relax. Luckily, my husband helped a lot with the quality language input. Also I think that while multilingualism is important, there are other things that are important as well: like letting the children play by themselves. Like being silent for a while and resting. Like just holding your child. Multilingualism is not all. And I think that quality time doesn’t always mean talking. I already see that wherever I spend a lot of time with my children (talking or not), they are more likely to speak Polish.
3)      Consistency
I was going to be so consistent! I would only speak Polish, sing Polish songs, read Polish books and never talk another language with my children. I would also make sure that everybody else behaves the same. And what happened? I still only speak Polish with my children. But some of their favourite songs are in German/English or Dutch. Some of their favourite books are in German- even though I translate them. I also sometimes have to translate something into German so that the girls can ask their father something. The girls hear me speaking English, Dutch, German and Polish on a daily basis. But I keep thinking that maybe they will see that multilingualism is cool that way.
4)      Polish as their primary language
I really thought that Polish will become the girls’ primary language. After all, they spent a lot of time with me at home, and if only I spoke enough Polish, they’d pick it up. And after all, I am their mom, so that would automatically make my language their language? Wrong. It didn’t happen. Instead, German is becoming K’s favourite. Maybe it was due to my not being able to provide enough good quality Polish in input. Or maybe because Klara’s daddy’s girl. Or maybe because children just make language choices that are different from ours. Who knows? The important thing to me is that they speak it.
5)      Saturday school in Polish and Polish playgroups
I was desperate to find another source of Polish for my children, besides myself. I even became part of a Polish-speaking mom’s group. We met once a month at one of the mom’s places, and it was good. But the children were much younger than K, and it was important to me that she had somebody to talk to. And, as it happened, most of the moms went back to Poland, and the group was no more. I then found a Saturday school, and for a while I was convinced that this was the way to go. But well, a Saturday school, as fun as it may seem, is just that: a school that you attend on Saturday. Also, while it is every second Saturday, the children get kicked out if they miss class more than twice. We were pretty sure that with our traveling schedule K would surely miss more than two classes, so we decided not to go through with this. If we wanted to, we can still do it later, but since children in the Netherlands start school early- at the age of 4- we thought that maybe we should give her a break. After all, speaking Polish should be fun, not a chore!
6)      Having everybody on board

I hoped that if I just were dedicated and educated- and persuasive enough, I could persuade everybody that what I’m doing is beneficial to my children. Little did I know that I would be dealing with some extremely unhelpful and judgmental people. Knowledge and dedication to the cause is not something I’m lacking but I’m too tired to waste my time with people who can’t help or support me even though I know that what I’m doing is right. Sometimes the best way to deal with these sort of people is to ignore their comments and advice, and not to try argue with them.

7)      My high expectations
I set out on this multilingual journey with the utter conviction that my children will be poster children. After all, I am bilingual myself, and I’m writing this blog for everybody to read and be inspired, and hence my children should act accordingly, right? Wrong. Again, I had to adjust my expectations to K’s slow speech and language development. But you know, it doesn’t feel like a failure. Instead, I am proud that my children speak all three languages. I am proud that they’re catching up and progressing. In fact, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I just need to make sure my children are fine.
8)      Having a language plan
I can’t think of one instance where a plan proved useful. On the contrary, they fool my brain into thinking that I have done something when the only thing I did was actually writing things down. And while I can understand the usefulness of a language plan for some families, it wouldn’t work for us. We’re just trying to work out things for ourselves, and react accordingly to circumstances. It doesn’t mean however, that we don’t think about the future. Our choice of school proves it. The fact that I’m keeping speaking to them in Polish proves it. Another thing plans do is that they make you feel like we have control over everything, and we don’t.
9)      The idea that if I do things right, I would get the right results
I strongly believed that, just like in all things parenting, if you do things the right way, you will get the right results. And I believed that the same goes for raising multilingual children. Except, parenting isn’t mathematics. Sometimes you do all the right things and still get no results. You could do mistakes and your children could still turn out great. So, no, doing right things right doesn’t guarantee results. We are so desperate to believe that we can control how our children will end up, that we forget we really can’t. So, I can do my best, and hope for the best, but this is all I can do.
10)      The idea that it would be easy and natural
I have long ago heard that being a parent- and especially being a mom comes naturally. I have read about the mother’s instincts that will tell me all I need to know about raising children. And you know what happened when I had children? My mother’s instinct proved to be very shy and didn’t tell me anything. I had to learn everything from the beginning. Of course, I spoke Polish to my children, but talking to them still felt weird. They didn’t reply, they didn’t answer, and talking like that just wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t natural at all to force myself to say, for the zillionth time, “yes, this is a table”. Of course, it’s a stupid table! It wasn’t at all natural to me to change my way of talking so that my children can understand me. Argh! Sometimes I wanted to bang my head on the table. Luckily, now it’s getting better. Now I can finally talk to Klara more naturally. So I know it’s getting better, but I was in for a shock at the beginning.
What about you? Did you have any multilingual parenting ideas that had to be thrown out of the window? 

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  • Reply Aneta Nott-Bower February 28, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how different siblings can be? I’ve always read (and still do) loads with my daughter and she can’t stop reading herself whatever the language. Situation is different with her younger brother. He has to be in the right mood to read and he’s very picky with his books so sometimes we just play instead of reading. It’s the quality time spent with your child that matters.
    Sorry to hear that you’ve not had much luck with Polish school. Here kids go to school at the age of 4 too and understandably you’d like to leave their Saturdays free. They need time to play! But later on when they are 6 or 7 Polish school is indispensable. Cheers from surprisingly sunny northern England 🙂

    • Reply The European Mama February 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      Hi Aneta, thank you for your answer. Yes, I agree that while Polish school at 4 is not such a great idea, we can always start later. It is also important that they have fun with POlish instead of it being a chore! And yes, it does depend on the child- thanks for sharing your experience, it makes me feel somewhat better for not reading from birth…

  • Reply Amanda Miss Panda October 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    How I enjoyed this post! I love it. We definitely have been through similar stages even thought the languages we are working on with the kids are different. Sometimes we just need to have a good laugh and know we are not alone then we are recharged and ready for the next exciting round.

    • Reply Olga Mecking October 25, 2013 at 7:08 pm

      Thank you, Amanda! I think it is normal to have a gap where you want to be as a parent and what is actually possible. And writing this post was actually very helpful, it had the very outcome you’re describing: it made me feel better and normal and human!

  • Reply All You Want to Know About My Multilingualism March 30, 2015 at 10:52 am

    […] who gets into raising bilingual children heard the advice of having a plan. But you actually said that the plan did not help your family at all? What disadvantages you found […]

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