Rearing Children in another Man’s Land

Raising children is no easy feat at the best of times, doing it in unfamiliar territory is doubly so. The experience is especially hard when you migrate with children at an impressionable age more so than for the parents whose children are born in the new land.


When parents have minds conditioned with different ideals or ways of thinking, it becomes a clash of cultures between the parent and the offspring. It would not magnify to a problem if parents make an effort to adjust to the new surroundings. Adjusting is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, we made the conscientious decision to migrate and make the new land our home. We can adapt while retaining our cultural identity.


The children in the former category struggle (initially) or try hard to be accepted by their peers in the new land. If they have to struggle at home as well with unrelenting parents, their life becomes one hell of a misery.

I have witnessed and heard comical stories of integration, or trying hard, down to a domineering fathers’ threat to take the family back to SL, if his daughter insisted on going out with her high school friends.   


Children in the latter category – ones born and bred here- are not in the same predicament as children migrating from SL. They have no need to force themselves to integrate as they already feel one of ‘them’.

For them Sri Lanka is a distant country their parents came from and an occasional holiday. They have no emotional connection with that faraway land and are inherently accustomed to the culture of the land they were born and living. Majority of the time parents too (have) become accustomed to a different lifestyle by the time the children reach the rebellious teen years making it easier to cope. Or should I say in-tune with the culture to understand the children better.


I fall into parents in the latter category. Yet, amidst getting accustomed and comfortable as time progressed in another culture I have simultaneously become more Sri Lankan, than I was when living in SL – if that makes any sense at all.

I have a newfound appreciation for homeland traditions.


My longing to make my children appreciate and have an understanding of their heritage has become a tough mission due to living faraway from a major metropolitan area. Expatriate SL community usually gravitate towards major cities hence SL associations and celebrations- an essential link for the overseas born and bred – held only in major cities.


When you live too far away from the big city, parent/s become the only educator of SL culture and sustaining is no mean feat. I have bought numerous basic Sinhala language learning books that are gathering dust. I start the teaching process with a passion that withers away as time rolls by, until I reach the next phase of “I have to teach the children to speak Sinhalese” – by which time the previous lessons forgotten.

I go through stages of “Sinhalese only in this household” and then forget the rule, as everyday life has a tendency of taking over.


When my children speak the smattering they know, they choose the words picked up from their visits to SL. However, it is of the unsavoury kind – ‘pissuda’, ‘modaya’ and similar.

I can only have a smile when they yell at each other, “oya hari pissu”  “mokada wela thiyenne modaya”

At least they are speaking in Sinhala.



12 comments so far

  1. Sujata on

    I am in the latter category of having raised 3 children who were born outside of Sri Lanka (One we took when she was an infant).

    They too have picked up only a smattering of Sinhala and it pains me when they miss some the nifty nuances of the Sinhala language.

    Lately I have given up worrying or being sad, because the kids are turning out to be interesting creatures with their own individual versions of Sri Lankanness.

    I have decided to sit back and enjoy the unfolding.

  2. Indyana on

    I know what you mean about the language part.The kids can speak Tamil, our language, but a broken , awkward version of it. As for Hindi, they understand because of the movies I watch…I’d like them to know both languages and go through similar Hindi only, Tamil only phases, that die out, sooner than later! Sigh! it’s WE that need to adjust, I guess.

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  4. mia on


    It is sad but it is fact


    I didn’t get what you meant by ” it’s WE that need to adjust”

    I look at children of expat Italian, Greek or Chinese, speaking their respective languages with such ease and fluency and wonder where or how I went wrong?

    I sometimes question if our colonial mindset still alive, making us place more importance to English first. At least that is what I did when the children were young.

  5. indyana on

    We= parents need to lower our expectations…

  6. the_jester on

    Placing emphasis on english was the right thing to do, so don’t feel guilty about it.
    Most of the european languages are more conductive to your environment. What I mean is, The society you live in, and where the other expat kids live, promote learning of those languages. By the other local kids, the parents, even the teachers. For example, French is more likely to be learned than armaic simply because tha former is a “romantic” or popular language.

    Most people don’t know what singhalese is, let alone that it’s a language. Just like some obscure African language(…none of which are coming to my mind as I type..). It’s just the mind-set.

    Change is inevitable. It’s change, or be left behind.

  7. Indyana on

    Mia….we brought them to a foreign land, and we are doing our best,and so are they I’m sure…be easy on yourself and them.Yes, you’re right,honestly speaking, even in India kids speak more English than the mother tongue in middle class homes…which is why I bent myself backwards trying to give them some amount of Tamil…And I’m happy with the result. Not the best…but then, I too grew up in a non Tamil region and speak better Hindi than Tamil…so I don’t expect too much of my kids….it’s their circumstances 🙂

  8. mia on

    Geez jester, you are wise for your age. I wish I was as wise when I was your age.

    Ok, let me tell you where I am coming from.
    Hindsight – English is a language they would’ve been proficient regardless, growing up here.
    Knowledge of Sinhalese – just so they are not like aliens fallen from the sky.

    Other languages are good but not necessary as such, except perhaps for a particular career path you might choose later in life or for travelling.
    If at all any, I would encourage them to study Mandarin.

    My son is studying Italian this year. That is only for this year (8) unless he select it as an elective next year and then continue and maybe do it as a subject for year 12 exams down the track, which I highly doubt.
    My daughter studied Italian too in year 8 and I don’t think she can remember anything now.

    You know, when I was young I studied German,French and Japanese. You could say i was fluent in German, by that I mean I was able to converse in German with a German. I was not good in the other two languages.

    All I can remember now is Auf Wiedersehen and few other words. That is all.

    Languages are like most knowledge based things, ‘you don’t use it, you lose it’

  9. mia on

    I don’t think I am hard on them or me as such but I do go through periods of emotions.

    It could be a sign of age catching up on me

  10. the_jester on

    Well, the new wave of smart young people has arrived! Move over old people. You’re crowding our planet.

    Aliens fallen from the sky? No way. There are plenty of people who have moved to various countries and have more or less become one of the people. Just look at Kal Penn, for example(Harold & Kumar…, Epic Movie). I’m pretty sure the guy’s an Indian or something, but even his name sounds different. And he probably doesn’t recite Hindu prayers at night…

  11. the_jester on

    P.S. – The only european and mideaval languages I’m learning are the shouts of Nazis in Call of Duty(Auchtung!) and the grunted comments of Vikings and Teutons in Age of Empires(Voooring Strum!). 😉

    But other than that, I’m literate in two and a half languages. Only conversationally equipped in one.

  12. mia on

    “Well, the new wave of smart young people has arrived! Move over old people. You’re crowding our planet.”

    Hey watch it, jester
    Who are you calling‘old’? 😛

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