I know why you are raising your children multilingually.
Really, I do!
It’s actually fairly simple. Yet, we like to fancy it up with statements like:
“I am raising my children in more than one language because it is good for their brains.”
Which is true. Or…
“Multilingualism has so many benefits, I can’t even count them!”
Who can argue with that nowadays! Or…
“I want to make sure my child has better employment opportunities down the road.”
A commendable goal, indeed!
However, you and I both know that deep down that’s not really why we are raising our children multilingually. Those are fabulous nuggets of value that we can hold onto but they are not the inner sanctum. Those reasons are not strong enough to sustain us through the thick and thin of our linguistic feats day in and day out – raising children multilingually is no walk in the park!
We give those answers because on a very fundamental level, it feels good to be able to legitimize what we are doing, both to ourselves and to others. When we can answer questions about our most important choices with cold, hard facts, the rest of the world responds with that understanding nod of approval, and that nod feels really, really good. That nod says that what we are doing is the right choice. Everyone agrees. We are on the right track. Big sigh of relief.
But deep down we know there is so much more to it than the cold, hard facts. With or without approval, we’d raise our children multilingually anyway (and many of us do). That nod, a thumbs up, those luxurious facts, they give us a boost but ultimately they aren’t what sustains us through the thick and thin of our multilingual parenting journey.
So we have to dig down deeper, much deeper, layer after layer, under all of those thoughts and choices and deliberations we have made over the years until we come to something soft and subtle, gentle and true. It is something beyond research, beyond brain development, beyond employment opportunities.
And what do we find? We find ourselves. Our bold, beautiful, amazing, average, everyday, multilingual, multicultural selves. That is where we find the reason, the source, the most important nod of all. There we find the real reason for why we raise our children multilingually. That is where we realize that we do it for ourselves, from ourselves, as ourselves.
To raise our children is to share all of who we are. We give ourselves, our deepest selves, away to those we love. We can’t help it. And as our deepest selves are intrinsically intertwined with words and gestures, tastes and emotions, we give those to our children as well. We can’t separate them out from who we are. Our language, our multilingualism, is in our bones. It is who we are.
How can we not do it?
To raise our children is to step back in time. We step back into our own childhoods. Memories of our own youth are triggered in us: the events of that time, the childish pranks and silliness, the serious contemplations. Our own children remind us that deep down we are still children ourselves, and in that place we find a language, our language, which feels safe and vivid and complete. That language brings us home.
So when others ask us why we are raising our children multilingually, we can easily let the rote answers slip off our tongue. Of course we can, and we should. That nod of approval is a lovely thing.
But we can also smile. And look across at our children. And know that what we are doing is so much more.