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Beliefs, Values and Practices

Impact of Migration

Barriers and Support

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Research Report


Impact of Migration and Resettlement on Attachment Beliefs, Values, and Practices

In the first section of the toolkit we introduced the concepts of culture and attachment and the important relationship between the two. We also introduced the idea that the impact of migration and resettlement on attachment needs to be considered in order to provide adequate support to immigrant and refugee families. In the second section of the toolkit we elaborated on the relationship between culture and attachment based on our research findings and program experience. In this section, we elaborate on the impact of migration and resettlement on attachment beliefs, values, and practices, based on our research findings and program experience within the Women's Health Centre.
The impact of migration and resettlement on attachment is a complex subject to tackle because the process of migration and resettlement and thereby the emotional experience associated with it differs for each person and each family.
    1. Factors that Influence the Impact of Migration and Resettlement on Attachment Beliefs, Values, and Practices
    2. Impact of Migration and Resettlement on Attachment Beliefs, Values, and Practices















a. Factors that Influence the Impact of Migration and Resettlement on Attachment Beliefs, Values, and Practices
The impact of migration and resettlement on attachment beliefs, values, and practices depends on a variety of factors. These may include: the reasons for migration, the age at which women and their families immigrate to Canada, whether women become new mothers in Canada and/or come to Canada with children, the level of English or French that women and families speak, and whether or not women and families have a social network in place in Canada when they arrive.

Reasons for Migration

Migration and resettlement inevitably result in the loss of a sense of home and belonging that is critical to achieving an optimal level of health and well-being. Although people who choose to come to Canada do experience this loss along with the many challenges associated with resettlement, their experience is not usually as difficult as that of refugees who are forced to leave their countries of origin, and have no choice over their destination. Refugees come to Canada to escape natural disaster, war, and/or persecution due to their race, religion, gender, nationality, political viewpoint, sexual orientation, or membership in a particular social group. Their experiences associated with their persecution often lead to severe emotional trauma that scars them for life.

"I have chosen with no obligation, in my case, I chose to come to Canada. Of course I have relatives who are refugees. I have two cousins who were refugees. But in my case, I was not a refugee. I chose to come to Canada. So it's my new home and there is no problem about that. When I came here, I really liked the idea."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Refugees not only have different experiences but are treated differently when they arrive in Canada. Convention refugees or "government-sponsored" refugees come into Canada with the prior approval of the Canadian government. As a result they receive a number of federal benefits. Some refugees are privately sponsored by churches or other groups and receive the support they need through these private sponsors. About 50% of refugees come into Canada as refugee claimants who apply for Convention status once they have arrived in Canada. Refugee claimants do not receive the federal benefits that Convention refugees do. When they have submitted their claims, refugee claimants are eligible for legal services, social assistance, and some health services, but many of them are not aware of these benefits. In addition, they are not allowed to sponsor family members, who may be stranded in refugee camps, until they become landed immigrants, often a long drawn out process1.

Age at Migration

Many women interviewed talked about the varying impact of migration and resettlement on attachment depending on the age at which women and their families immigrate to Canada.

Women described feeling that immigrating to Canada as adults put them at a disadvantage in learning new skills including language, understanding the new culture, and being able to adapt to the new culture. They described the adaptation process as being easier for their children, who come to Canada without as much 'cultural baggage' as they have.

"Obviously we come from different cultures and the culture is our first...the country of origin is this luggage, everything that shaped us, you know, the way we are. Unless someone comes here as a child, they can adapt more easily..."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Children's Place of birth

Other women talked of the varying impact of migration and resettlement depending on whether they came to Canada with their children, or whether they became first time mothers in Canada. Some mothers who give birth to children in Canada feel that their relationships with their children are less affected by migration and resettlement than if their children had been born in their countries of origin and migrated to Canada with them. Depending on how soon after migrating they give birth, they may not have to deal with some of the aspects of resettlement (finding housing, employment, learning a new language, etc.) while simultaneously having to care for their very young children.
"I guess the really hard one is the first year because it's getting used to it and everything. Well for me it wasn't as hard I guess as other parents who come with children. They have to learn the language and look after their children and everything. My kids were born here so I didn't have that problem with them."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)
Once women have given birth in Canada, if they are not working outside the home, they may not feel the impact of migration and resettlement on their attachment practices because they can focus their attention on their children, including transmitting cultural values to them.
"Because my kids are young, and they were born here...[getting used to being in Canada] hasn't affected [my relationship with them]. This is a newborn one. The big one is young, and maybe if I was going to work maybe she would go to daycare or something but I don't feel like for now she's affected and I don't think things have come between me and my children, here in this country."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)
Mothers also recognize that although they may not currently feel the impact of migration and resettlement in their relationships with their young children, they may feel that impact as their children get older, and start attending school, creating more potential for cultural conflict.

Fluency in Official Language

The impact of migration and resettlement on attachment beliefs, values and practices also depends on families' level of fluency in English or French. If they are fluent in English or French upon arrival in Canada, the process of resettlement is greatly facilitated, while if they do not speak either language well, the process is greatly complicated.

Presence of Social Network in Canada

Another critical factor is the social network that mothers and families have in place in Canada - whether or not they have other family members, friends from 'back home', or an established community from their country of origin in Canada. These two factors are discussed in the following section on the impact of migration and resettlement on attachment beliefs, values, and practices.

"I think, the biggest frustration is to come to a place where you have no place for yourself. What I mean by that is I moved from Ontario, where I could fit within the community. We had a bigger community, the culture was there, everything was nearby and handy. You have it at home and there is the extension outside home...so you find it within the place where you are living...When you come here, your culture...your dreams...they're just within your four walls. This is very irritating..."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

b. Impact of Migration and Resettlement on Attachment Beliefs, Values, and Practices

Migration and resettlement is a process that may start long before an individual's or family's actual arrival into a new country and go far beyond the first five years of their life in that country. The emotional process of migration and resettlement is never linear. Its different stages are intertwined and are strongly determined by the factors introduced above. In addition, the ability of an individual or family to cope with new and changing circumstances makes each person's and each family's experience of migration and resettlement unique. For the sake of clarity, however, this section highlights common elements affecting all women and families who migrate and resettle in a new country in an order that most closely corresponds to the chronological order of their emotional experience.

When families migrate to Canada, they lose their homes, their families and communities, their language, and their status within their communities. In addition, they often experience trauma in their migration process, and culture shock upon arrival into Canada. All of these factors, along with the process of acculturation that they experience as they adapt to life in Canada, have a significant impact on the mental health of parents and children and thus provide challenges to their attachment relationships.

"It's very hard to adjust to a new life. When you come here you don't know the language. It's the first barrier you have, to feeling like you're in your own country, plus you don't have your family here when you come for the first time, and it's as if something was cut and you're trying to find that part, and you don't know where to start, how to start, and that makes you feel bad. It's a process but it takes lots of time."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

At the same time, many families show great resilience in their ability to continue to promote secure attachment of their children despite the many challenges they face. Because of all the losses they have experienced, parents tend to focus their energy into creating a 'better' future for their children, a future where their children do not have to suffer from the same hardships they have endured. This entails evaluating their own beliefs, and values as well as the new ones they are exposed to, in an attempt to decide what is 'best' for their children and themselves. Newcomer parents often sacrifice their own needs to invest in the future of their children.


Loss of Home

The first part of the process that families go through when they migrate and resettle into a new country is the feeling of a loss of home. It is important to think of attachment in the context of whether or not parents feel at home. How a parent defines home, and whether or not a parent feels at home in the country they live in, has implications for their attachment (ability to provide love, nurturing, and security) with their children.
Many mothers equated their concept of home with a sense of belonging.

"Home is the place that you have a sense of belonging. You feel comfortable there. That's the place where you belong with your family. That's the most important part. It doesn't matter where."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

The loss of one's home and feeling of belonging has a profound impact on the relationship between a parent and child. If parents do not feel supported or secure, it is difficult for them to provide their children with a sense of security. Children themselves suffer from the loss of home and then are affected by the fact that their parents are suffering, and cannot provide them with support and a sense of belonging and safety.

"I have no job, no money, no income, no friends. I'm in a totally strange world in both my working environment and living environment. Sometimes I wonder, 'What is my future? What is the road I'm going to go through after migrating here?' I don't have the language, and I have no direction. If I can master the language well, maybe I can have a clearer direction. Then there is the money stress. Finding a job is the biggest depression. I am making a new start and I have no one to help look after my children. I have to depend on myself for everything. I have no sense of security. If anything sudden happens, then what? I'm worried. In my homeland, all my friends, family, extended family would come to help. Here, I have no one. I'm worried."
(Program Participant,Vancouver, BC)

Mothers recognize this and try to compensate by responding to their children's heightened need for love and support.

"There are so many things that I do. I give them a treat once in a while and tell them 'I love you'. Before I used not to tell them but now I do. They need it now. The way of living, everything has changed. Their father is no longer living with us. They need more attention, to know that someone loves them."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Many focus on ensuring that their children feel a sense of belonging in Canada, even if they themselves do not.

"We have chosen Canada to be home for our kids. We'd like them to feel they belong. When you belong, it is a very flourishing feeling."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Some get their sense of belonging from knowing that their children feel at home in Canada, the country where they are growing up.

"Canada is not yet home - for me...for the children maybe. They are growing here so they are starting life here. They don't know anything else. This is their home. And for us, home is where the children are."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Many of the parents interviewed are unable to think of their countries of origin as home, because of the political and social climates they left behind.

"We don't think of Afghanistan as home anymore. Now the situation in Afghanistan is not good. Every day there is fighting. The living is not good. Now we're living here. We're getting upset. We think 'Why there is fighting?' Women don't have rights, good situation in Afghanistan because the government doesn't want women to go outside to work. They want women to stay home, all covered. Like dead people."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Some parents no longer feel at home in their country of origin and are also unable to feel completely at home in Canada.

"I noticed a couple of times when I went back to Poland for a visit, I just had the feeling that my home is here, that Poland is not my home any more. Because so many years passed by and people there are living their different lives, but my children, my house, my work, everything...friends, new friends, who became like family members, are here...I definitely feel that there is always a price to pay for that because I also feel different. I feel like a different sort of citizen when you know, at work, I know that I am different. And I always say that the generation of our children, the ones who were born in Canada. They will feel like home but for us it will always be this different place and this is the price we pay for that."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Parents recognize that developing a sense of belonging and feeling at home in Canada takes time.

"I think it's only with time, with the passage of time and all these years in a different place that we are able to develop some feelings of home, of this different, other country being home...The beginning is always difficult."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)



Loss of Family/Community

The loss of their own children, other family members, extended family, and community, and the associated isolation that mothers experience also has an impact on their attachment practices.
Sometimes separation of immediate family members occurs during the process of migration. Some family members may come first while other family members follow a few months or years later.

"I lived in Ethiopia before I came to Canada. I had a little bit of stress. I was four years in Ethiopia with my kids while my husband was here. I had economic stress."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

During the process of migration, families may lose members either as victims of war or political violence or may get separated from each other while fleeing.

"In my country of origin, we hid during the day and escaped at night. My grandparents, uncle and aunt were killed. Some family members were disabled..."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Many mothers have had to leave children behind in the process of migration. Mothers find this very difficult because they understand the importance of their role in raising their children.

"I miss my children in India. If they're here, near me, I can give them love. It's difficult to raise my kids when they're in India. At a young age, they need their parents' support more."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

This separation not only affects the development of those children left behind, but also affects the parents' ability to be responsive (and thus a secure attachment figure) to those children who are with them.

"We think of Canada as home but we miss our children. We want our children here. Then we will really feel at home. Now is the time for them to be taken care of. We are counting every minute, every day to get our children. During the day, I have to stay focused on my son who is with me. I don't feel good to show him that I'm stressed out and not in a good mood. When he's sleeping, that's when everything comes up."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Parents may separate from each other during the process of resettling for various reasons, including the stress of migration and resettlement on the family.

"The father of my daughter's children was deported. He was deported and she was told that he would never be able to come back. So she got together with someone else. And now he's back and they have separate lives. My daughter says immigration destroyed her life."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Even if all immediate family members come to Canada together and stay together, most of the mothers interviewed are from societies where relationships with extended family and community are valued greatly. As a result, they really feel the loss of those relationships in Canada, where emphasis is on relationships within the nuclear family.

"The family is different here. You, your husband, and your children - that's it. There, it's your grandparents, brothers, sisters, neighbours."
(Program Participant, Montreal, QC)

"Canada feels like home in terms of security, but in terms of family, no. I am really completely alone here."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Cross-cultural attachment research has shown that it is possible for infants to display attachment behaviour to more than one caregiver. They can show attachment to 3 or 4 different figures, including their fathers. They can be raised in a network of attachment relationships but primarily be attached to one attachment figure (to whom they address their attachment behaviours most frequently). The most important figure is most often their mother, but other family and community members play an important role. The loss of these other relationships, due to migration can have a profound influence on a child's development.

"In my home country, neighbours took our children for a while. There were more people to shower love on a child. Here there is only the father and mother. And they are too busy. There are only the parents to show bonding to a child."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Some mothers talked of the importance of extended family in mediating the relationship between mothers and children, and the difficulty they face in trying to negotiate the multiple roles they have to fulfill as parents.

"The problem that I have is how to establish a strong relationship with my son in the relatively short time I have to spend with him. He goes to school and daycare. I pick him up at 5:30. We're both tired. It's a huge effort to connect with him. He has had to face challenges during the day without my help. We have no extended family here. When I was a child, if my mother screamed at me, I was devastated. My grandmother would mediate. She would tell my mother that she crossed the border or me that I crossed the border. We have to be stringent, consistent, authoritative and good friends to our kids because they have no one but us."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

The loss of immediate family, extended family, and community combined with the value placed independence over interdependence in Canada, leads to a feeling of great isolation in many mothers.

"In my home country we live together, not isolated and separate like here."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Many women interviewed spoke of the time of pregnancy and childbirth as a time when their feeling of isolation was heightened.

"In Zaire your family, mothers, sisters, stay with you after you give birth. For three to six months they don't leave you alone. Here you do everything alone, alone, alone."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Many mothers feel that there is too much pressure on them in Canada to supervise their children at all times, because other people in the community don't take responsibility and participate in "parenting" their children. They also feel sad that they have to teach their children not to trust people.

"Teaching them 'Don't talk to strangers.' For me, it's something new. Back home I didn't teach them that because there was always someone there for them. They say, 'But Mummy, that person looks nice. She's smiling.' "
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Single mothers in particular feel the lack of support and isolation for themselves and their children.

"It's not easy to be a single mother here. Not having a family. Everything it's you and you alone. Also it's hard for the kids. Back home they are free. Everybody, neighbours, family members are all around them."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)



Loss of Language

The loss of mothers' ability to communicate within their families and communities using their mother tongue has an impact on attachment. Mothers talked about the difficulty they have in expressing themselves in English, and the frustration, loneliness, and depression they feel as a result.

"I remember when I came here, I didn't have any friends. My husband was working all day. I couldn't understand any English. The only program that I could watch was Sesame Street, because in my country they used to have it too, and when you're used to talking and communicating all the time, oh, my God, it's so hard. So I was feeling so lonely, so depressed, and I thought I would never adjust to this system over here. It was really hard."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Some mothers experience this challenge in communicating with their own children, which of course affects their attachment with their children.

"My son, he gets very good marks at school, his marks are excellent. But I have a little problem with my son, in communicating. He speaks English and I speak Chinese. I want my son ...I don't want him not to know his mother tongue...My daughter is two and she is starting to talk. But she gets the two languages confused. She understands both languages but she cannot talk..."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Mothers also talked about the stress they feel about their children losing the ability to communicate with their extended family.

"Because all his little friends and...everything around him is English. He understands perfectly what I tell him in Spanish but he doesn't speak. He doesn't talk and it just breaks my heart because all my family is back in Guatemala. I don't want him to go and say 'Grandma' or something. My mother will die if that happens."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

"One day my mum came from Hong Kong and she talked with my son...and he could not understand...I cried."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Mothers talked about the challenges they face in learning English.

"When you don't practise, when you don't have the opportunity to practise, you forget. Learning English is not something that you learn from one day to another. It's something that takes lots of time."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

They also talked about the struggles they face in teaching their children their mother tongue when it is not part of their life outside the home. They feel a conflict between wanting to retain their cultural identity and wanting their children to fit in to Canadian society.

"But also I will force them at home to speak their mother tongue even if it is hard, it's awful hard. I try to read with them and it makes no sense to them because they just don't learn that language academically. But also what I want for them is to fit in, not to feel outsiders, just to feel comfortable with who they are and to feel Canadian."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

The loss of their ability to communicate fluently in the official language of the country they live in also acts as a barrier to women's participation in society, including employment.

"The fear I have right now is if I start working, because I never worked before here. I was all the time looking after my kids, and, like I said, giving to the community, helping people. And now that the kids are growing up and they go to school full-time, I say, okay, I have worked voluntarily for so many, I have stayed home with my kids, now it's time for me to do something, something for me, and ...see if I can work with the community, and I'm a little bit afraid because I've never done that in English before, and, I'll be forced to take that step and it's not easy. You know, it's uncomfortable."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Mothers noted that language acts as more than a mode of communication for them. It is an expression of their culture and therefore an integral part of their identity.

"I think the difference between the way you see things and the way we see it, there is a difference. You see probably language as just another spoken language. I see it further. It's special when it comes to Arabic. When it comes to Arabic, it is just not speaking the language. For us, it's to pray. We are Muslims. To do your prayer, to do your whole life, you need the language... The Arabic language cannot be compared to other languages...just to go and pray, make my prayer, I have to speak Arabic, no matter where I am from. Without Arabic I can't function, I can't be."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Because language is such an integral part of identity, the language barrier they face also affects mothers' feeling of belonging in Canada.

"How can I be funny in English? I'm just wondering. How can I make a joke in English? Really, if I were to try, I would be so self-conscious. What if the whole thing falls flat. While in my own language I can say one thing and be funny, and everybody would be laughing. You know, just one thing, one stupid thing too. You know when you should be frivolous, when you should be serious. It's everything is there, planned for you, as though life is known to you. Life is not really known to you in this country...And it never will be."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Learning a new language therefore involves a lot more than just how to speak the language.

"When you are immersed within a new society...learning a language is not just speaking a language, it's learning a whole culture together."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)



Loss of Status

In the process of migration and resettlement, many mothers and families have lost the status they had in the society they left behind. Many of them lived more comfortably in houses with property while here they live in small apartments.

"I live in a 2 bedroom apartment here. There is not too much space. In my country, I lived in a house. Home there is different from home here. There we had lots of space, land for the children to play on. There were no apartments. To me, home is a house, not an apartment, so I don't feel at home here."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Many of them have also lost the status that comes along with their qualifications and jobs - being in well-respected positions in their country of origin to doing menial work or being unemployed here (because of the language barrier and the lack of recognition of their qualifications).

"In my country, I worked as a nurse. I miss that. I can't do that here because I can't speak too much English."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

"Jobs are a major obstacle here, because at home the language is yours, you know the people so well, you know, what job is respectable, what job is not. And here you want anything, but that anything is not coming to you. It's just so hard really to find a job that is even appropriate to your academic training."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

There is an additional loss of status within their families experienced by women who were working in their country of origin and are now dependent on their partners.

"For my husband, working is not a problem. For me, I don't do anything here. I stay at home. It's a bit difficult. Here I have to ask my husband for money."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Mothers also expressed a sense of loss of status in their social relationships.

"I miss my family and friends, my culture. Here, you stay home alone. No one visits you. There, people say 'hi' to you in the streets. Here nobody sees you."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

"For me this is the exactly the same thing too. As I said earlier, I always feel different and it makes me so unhappy in a way because I know that, had I been in Poland, I would have been on the same level, on the same surface...the culture, the friends, the same experiences, the same mentality, the same sort of jobs. We just kind of move or sail, on the same wave. Whereas here, I work only part-time, three days a week, but every time I go to these two offices, I think to myself, 'Okay. What will happen today? How will I have to pretend or respond? Or will I understand what they say? Will he tell me another joke that I won't understand...' "
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Mothers feel this loss of status even in their relationships with their children.

"No matter how much English you know, or what you do, you just stay a foreigner. Even your children are better then you. You know, your children, you see them fitting in, able to joke together, among themselves, but you laugh maybe at their jokes, you try to make a joke, they will just look at you like that, 'That is..Mom, that is stupid.' You know, you translate a joke from Arabic and you laugh at it yourself but they don't. They laugh at you when they see you laughing so hard. So, that's the situation."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Some parents express the extent of their loss upon migrating to Canada.

"We left everything. Everything."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)


Trauma

The innumerable losses that women and families experience when they migrate and resettle are often exacerbated by their experiences related to war, or to the violation of their rights as individuals or as a group, based on their race, religion, gender, nationality, political viewpoint, sexual orientation, or membership in a particular social group. In many cases, mothers and families coming to Canada have endured several years of trauma in their country of origin. Their families may have been separated or totally broken. Women and children may have faced torture, harassment, rape, or sexual and emotional abuse, in the hands of government officials or of groups that are in a position of power over them. Their migration is often forced and is their only chance for survival.

    "With that kind of thing, war, you cannot cope. You can just suffer and then sooner or later realize that you have to go."
    (Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

    "Back in our countries, wherever it is, you have to surrender to the ruling government. What they say is what is life. You have to surrender...you have to flatter them; you have to please them. They can even accuse you without you [saying anything against them]. There is discrimination. It can be tribal, religious, or political. So people just escape; they just leave their countries...if they can manage. They don't want to see their children growing up in such a corrupted system."
    (Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

    "My parents and brothers were killed in the war. I was in another country and married. I couldn't go back there. I was very disappointed. They killed my parents, everybody."
    (Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

At times, mothers and families are left with the tragic choice of whether or not to leave their young children behind in order to save the rest of those fleeing.

    "My son was 3 months old and was crying a lot. He was not quiet so people said, 'You should leave him.' "
    (Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

The lack of support mothers and families have as they are going through traumatic experiences, because everyone around them is experiencing the same trauma, makes the experience even more difficult and often pushes them to leave.

    "There, there is no real support because everyone lives in fear. That's why we left - because we couldn't continue to live in fear."
    (Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

It is important to remember that these traumatic experiences will ultimately permeate the future lives of those who arrive in this country in search of a safe haven and a new life without violence. The emotional and psychological effects of these experiences go well beyond the time of arrival in Canada and they manifest themselves in different ways. For example, children who were disabled due to chemical warfare in their countries of origin, are a constant reminder to their mothers of their trauma, and pose an additional challenge to their process of resettlement.

    "In 1988 I left my country. The government used chemicals in the war. I was 3 months pregnant when I left. She was okay when she was born [but she began to have problems as she grew and developed and now requires full-time care]. When she was 7 months old, I was in [another country and decided to get checked]. I had an x-ray and everything was okay. In 1990, I arrived in Canada. After 3 years I was checked in the hospital and they found nothing. Then they found chemicals. With my next child, the doctor said I was okay but I still had chemicals in my body. My child doesn't talk; she can't eat by herself. I feel sad about them. I love them. But it is hard to look after two of them. I have support but I don't get what I need. I don't have time for myself."
    (Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Many mothers continue to suffer from the emotional and psychological impact of trauma when in Canada, particularly when some of their family members may still be in danger.

    "Part of the stress is because my family is back there. Although the war has ended, there are guns and there is violence and there are robberies, so I'm worried about my family."
    (Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

All these experiences have a profound impact on the way individuals and families react to their new environment, and cope with the challenges inherent to resettlement. As parents struggle with their own emotional and psychological recovery and resettlement in Canada, they are also struggling to provide adequate social and emotional support to their children who are also suffering from these experiences.

For these mothers and families, and particularly for those coming from societies where beliefs, values, and practices are very different from those encountered in Canada, the experience of culture shock further exacerbates their inability to overcome the pain and feelings of despair and distress they may have had prior to their arrival into the country.

Factsheets: (available for download in pdf format)


Culture Shock

Culture shock is the name given to the physical and emotional distress that comes from being away from one's familiar environment and having one's boundaries greatly changed. It affects almost everyone who becomes involved with a new culture. This includes facing challenges to one's beliefs, values, and practices and often feeling the need to change one's practices as a result. Mothers talked about making changes to their way of thinking and behaving while living in Canada.

"The way of people living is not the same. In my home, it's easy to greet somebody whether you know them or not. But here it's different. You have to know the person. I used to greet people here, but not everybody appreciates it."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

"I have to change my way of thinking, speaking, living, dressing, greeting."
(Program Participant, Calgary, AB)

Mothers talked about the stress they experience as a result of not fitting in.

"The feeling of strangeness is stressful."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Mothers also talked about the need they feel to hold onto their way of thinking and expressing themselves.

"I need my family, my culture, my way of thinking, expressing things."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Mothers and families have additional difficulty coping with the challenges to their beliefs, values, and practices, because they are unfamiliar with the Canadian 'system'. In addition, they do not have their familiar social support network to turn to and are not aware of the other resources available to them.

"At home you are familiar with most of the problems, and the stress, so you feel that you are not alone. If the police don't treat you nicely or if you go to the government office and they are not fair with you, you are not alone. Or at school, if the teacher shows favouritism to another child and not to yours, you are in the system. You will be able to solve all your problems because you know all the relevant matters....And also having your family, your mother or father or your relatives, and your friends with you, they can help you. They can help you to cool down if you are very nervous or mad about something."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

"I didn't know how to get resources. I didn't know there was a Parent Resource Centre. I didn't know there was anything. I had to look around and check."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

This isolation results in emotional distress and reinforces feelings of not belonging. In some cases it may imply rejection which results in a tendency of mothers and families to isolate themselves, diminishing their ability to overcome their difficulties. Culture shock has an emotional impact on parents and children and thereby on their relationships with each other.

"If they are not sensitized properly (parents and children), it is dangerous for them. Parents are more strict and kids hide things. It is a cultural shock for parents and children too. The next generation maybe will be okay."
(Service Provider, Montreal, QC)

Factsheets: (available for download in pdf format)


Acculturation/Adaptation

Acculturation is the process by which members of one group adopt the cultural traits of another group with whom they are in contact2. Acculturation, which is a significant part of the experience of resettling into a new country, involves the process of letting go of certain beliefs, values, and practices, from one's country of origin and adopting different beliefs, values, and practices that one is exposed to in the new country. The process and extent of acculturation that families go through in a new country is affected by the many different factors outlined at the beginning of this section (reasons for migration, age at migration, children's place of birth, fluency in official language, social resources). Many of the parents interviewed referred to this process as adaptation so the terms acculturation and adaptation will be used interchangeably.

"I came here as an adult and I brought my roots here with me."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

"The stress, it happens for most of the newcomers, the immigrants. It's the adaptation stage until we become integrated. The adaptation, it takes time to get used to even the weather sometimes. Sometimes if you have never been to the West or have never seen snow, that's one thing. And there is a language barrier...So it could be the climate, the snow, you don't know anyone...the school system is also very new to most people. Even people coming from English speaking countries...you have to know the system. This is adaptation. It causes inconvenience for the newcomers and for mainstream Canadians...Adaptation takes time and some people get it quickly and some people take time to adapt..."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

"So you still need some time to acclimatize yourself and to feel you're home. So it's...a change but you can adapt if you want. Provided you have a peaceful atmosphere."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Parents with young children often feel responsible for their children's process of acculturation while they are dealing with their own.

"For immigrant parents, it's too hard to raise children because you must try to keep your own culture within a different culture. And the children are so small. They don't understand when you try to tell them to do things because they are children. They don't know..."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Mothers' and families' attachment beliefs, values and practices discussed in the previous section (freedom, respect, independence/interdependence) evolve through the process of acculturation.

Some mothers talked of the advantages to what they perceive as increased freedom for women in Canada.

"Another advantage to here is that as women we are allowed to have more choices. For example, there is no stigma to being a single parent here. A big thing for Canadians is that everyone has choices."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Some mothers talked of adapting their concept of respect when exposed to the differences in perspectives in Canada.

"In my culture there is a tendency to say 'no' too often to a child. Canadian culture gives another option so that kids don't feel so much frustration."
(Program Participant, Calgary, AB)

Mothers also referred to the changes in their partners' relationships with their children.

"We do things differently here. In our country, we didn't have the habit of reading to children, hugging children, especially fathers. In our culture, the father is the master of the family. But here they are reading to kids."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Some parents stressed the importance of adapting the value they place on independence to the Canadian context, so that their children are better prepared to succeed in Canadian society.

"I give her more independence. It is a tendency back home to protect children. Here, each person has to be independent. It's necessary to blend the cultures. It is important for her to do things for herself."
(Program Participant, Montreal, QC)

Mothers and families base the changes they make to their attachment practices on the different attachment beliefs, values, and practices they are exposed to in Canada and their own experience of what is effective and what is not.

"I came here; I saw other children playing with no mothers behind them all the time and nothing happened to them. That makes me think that I can -- that influences me. And also the way I raised my older child didn't work very well. Like, now he said to me, 'You have raised me with a lot of -- afraid of many things, fears of many things.' He says to me, 'I don't like the way you have raised me.' "
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Sometimes that evolution happens more because of a combination of external and internal pressure to do what is accepted in Canada than because of an evaluation of the pros and cons of the beliefs, values, and practices that mothers and families bring with them to Canada.

"I must follow here because I live here. I follow and when some people from my country see me do that they say, 'You didn't grow up here. They didn't make you grow up.' Like that, but I must just follow. Yes, I follow mostly here. I don't remember doing something which I did over there."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

It is challenging for parents to keep what is really valued to them and to their cultural community, as well as to facilitate their children fitting in to Canadian society.

"We really try to make them fit in, in this society, that's the thing. Yet at the same time preserve some of the things we knew from the past."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Mothers themselves feel a conflict in their identities and find raising children in such a state of internal conflict very difficult.

"I find myself, sometimes, buried alive. I think about myself. I was brought up in Algeria. I knew everything I could handle. How about my kids? They are neither Canadian, nor Algerian...and that's very...I don't know...they have a lack of home...Last year there we had an exhibition in the Arts Centre...where one of the artists said, 'Within us, we are all homeless.' And I found that yes, in a sense, I am home. Yeah, this is my home. But am I really home? I go back there. Am I really home? ..You are a stranger between the two. You are neither there nor here. That is really dangerous. ....Raising children in such a 'philosophy', when you're in that kind of a state, is very difficult..."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

"...I want him to figure it out for himself, but I just don't know if that's the right approach...I am battling within myself what is the right thing to do..."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

They worry about what their children are losing, while at the same time recognize what their children are gaining.

"Our children do suffer. They are losing what we had ourselves. It's very hard to give it to them..."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

"But also, they are getting something that we didn't have."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Children often acculturate more quickly than their parents and thereby become the cultural brokers in the family. This changes the power dynamic within the family, making parents feel inadequate, and giving more power to children, which often ultimately results in conflict between parents and children.

"Parents want to hold onto things from their own culture and children want to be Canadian."
(Service Provider, Montreal, QC)

"The most prevalent issue in dealing with parents is the generation gap, the conflict between parents and children. Everyone is trying to adapt, trying to learn the language. Children usually learn the language more quickly so there is a lot more freedom for them. They want to forget everything from back home. The dress, the language. They don't want to follow religions beliefs or rules. In addition, children are often expected to do business transactions. Parents become children, and children become parents."
(Service Provider, Halifax, NS)

"Sometimes even when the parents go to hospitals or anywhere, they use their children for interpretation. So the children know 'Okay, they don't know and they can't communicate anything.' That's why we tell the parents when they go for anything important, 'Don't take your children as interpreters because it's not good for you.' "
(Service Provider, Montreal, QC)

In conclusion, the process of acculturation becomes a life-long challenge for every member of a family that migrates to this country. Parents struggle to keep what is really valued to them and to their cultural community, while at the same time trying to facilitate their children's integration into Canadian society. The struggle to find a balance goes well beyond the initial years of re-settlement and adaptation to their new environment. It arises over and over throughout the different life stages mothers and families face. It ultimately re-defines and permeates almost every aspect of their lives and every decision they make in building a future in Canada.

"I try to build a network with friends from immigrant associations, multicultural organizations. I try to maintain contact with my family in Bosnia. I am trying to make him feel good about being Bosnian. I want him to feel strongly about his origin. I want him to accept the new environment where he is, but not to feel that there is anything wrong with his mother and relatives."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

"You have two countries. You are a person of two countries. One foot in your country of origin, and one foot in Canada. You can never really bridge that gap."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)


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