Why Making Friends with the F-Word Is the Answer to Multilingual Parenting

by Corey · 6 comments

Been letting the “F” word take over again?
It always seems to creep up when we least expect it, when we are feeling our best, feeling our strongest.

Your kids tell you they don’t want to use your language anymore and wham, the “F” word raises its ugly head.

Your neighbor tells you a story about a kid who never spoke the community language correctly because his parents raised him in a second language.  Yep, there comes the “F” word again.

F***, f***, f***.

On the one hand we want to ignore everyone around us, plug our ears and hum loudly when they start to tell us something negative about raising children multilingually.

On the other hand, it is like driving past an accident: we just can’t help but look.  We are drawn by a deep urge to know what happened, what could happen, what most likely will happen.  Is there something we should know that we’ve been missing all along?

“She was driving too fast around the curve and went right through the side rail off the road!”  Wow, ok, now we know.  We make a mental note: don’t drive quickly around that corner = dangerous!

But when it comes to raising multilingual children, there is so much information swirling about that it is hard to know which direction to take.  Most of us walk around with blinders, only pulling them aside when research or information is supportive.  Yet we often still have a nagging voice in our heads that asks, “Are you sure?  100% sure?  Not even one teeny, tiny doubt?”

F***, f***, f***!

The “F” word I’m talking about is F – E – A – R.

For most of us, we go through phases where it is hard to stick to our multilingual parenting journey.  Yet we constantly feel the need to stay strong, committed, unwavering.  To admit fear is to signify weakness, doubt and dissolution.

However, to feel fear or worry under your skin and to NOT admit it to yourself can break apart your multilingual parenting journey bit by bit – guaranteed.

What can we do about the “F” word?

The key to dealing with fear is to not run from it and to not ignore it.  Face up to that fiend and get to know it as well as you can.

Turn your fear into your friend and you will have the answer to conquering it.

  • Acknowledge
    Start by finding out where, exactly, your fears are coming from.  What triggers them?  Which comments cause your chest to tense up?  You don’t have to admit your fears to others but you do need to admit them to yourself in as much detail as possible.  Do you have a journal?  Write them in there – both small and big ones.  Feel comfortable talking about your fears with a friend or your spouse?  Then start there.
  • Define
    Once you know which elements trigger you, dig as deep as you can into why you think they get under your skin.  Are you worried that your children might feel that they don’t belong?  Were you raised multilingually and can still remember comments from friends about how “strange” you were because you spoke more than one language?  Is a family member or friend disappointed that they can’t understand you and your children when you speak together?  Dig, dig, dig until you find the possible sources.
  • Outline
    Start to come up with a plan for when fears start to raise their ugly heads.  What do you normally do when someone’s comment or a piece of research worries you?  How do you usually feel in that instance?  How would you like to react?  How would you prefer to respond when someone makes a triggering comment?  Or if fears creep up primarily when you are at home alone and things feel like they are getting too redundant and blah, how would you like to deal with the situation?  Maybe you need to agree with yourself that you will sit down and read a book or go for a walk with your child when you start to feel multilingual worries (instead of getting on the internet and finding articles which support your fears)?
  • Action
    The hardest part is to put what you have outlined into action.  This is where you need to catch yourself over and over and over again when you start to get worried.  Instead of letting the “F” word drag you down, see if you can get to a point where you can say to yourself, “Ah, there you are again my “F” word friend.  Thank you for reminding me of my trigger points!” and then remind yourself of all of the support, encouragement and positive research out there from respected sources (like Multilingual Living!).

Being human and raising multilingual children means that we will inevitably hit points of time where the “F” word appears in our lives and gets under our skin (even if you follow all of the steps above over and over again).  This is normal!

Fear can be our friend.  Let it help remind you of the areas that you need to address more deeply.  Let it encourage you to question your beliefs surrounding raising your children in more than one language and culture.  Be open to whatever you might be feeling, both fear and delight, and let your multilingual parenting take you to even greater heights.

The only thing you have to fear, is fear itself.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Have you felt any fears along your multilingual parenting journey?  Have comments from family or friends created anxiety inside you?  How did you combat your fears?  Have you been able to make friends with your multilingual parenting fears?

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 15, 14 and 12, in German and English.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alice June 22, 2010 at 5:51 am

Excellent article, Corey!!! You hit the nail on the head, as always! I think that there is always fear, or angst, associated with parenting. Though it’s odd that when it comes to MULTILINGUAL parenting, it’s even more profound. What is it about parenting in two or more languages that is so fear-inspiring, when actually, for most of us, it is the most natural thing to do? Hm.


2 Corey June 22, 2010 at 9:58 pm

So true, Alice! There is something so much more nerve wracking when it has to do with more than one language. What I find so interesting, though, is that the more I learn about my fears associated with multilingual parenting, the more I learn about my own general fears about life too (and now to work through fears in general!).


3 Ana Lilian June 28, 2010 at 12:04 am

Thanks for pointing this out, Corey. I’m lucky that I haven’t really felt the Fear up until now since both my husband and I speak Spanish at home and I am very confident her English skills will blossom without much help from us.
I do recognize, however, that the fear will creep in once she enters kindergarten and English takes over. I fear her strong will and having Spanish become a source of manipulation from either end. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it!
Thanks for the tips


4 Corey July 12, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Oh, I know what you mean, Ana Lilian, about never knowing when it will creep in. It seems that when I feel my best and most confident, that is when it comes. Arghhh! I love what you point out about your daughter’s strong will. Personality has so much influence in this whole multilingual journey, doesn’t it? Each of my three kids has a different personality and a different relationship with his/her multilingualism. So fascinating (and at times very, very frustrating)! So glad you commented. Sorry it took me so long to respond!


5 Katie Mildenhall July 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Thank you Corey. I love your advice on how to overcome this fear. It is definitely something that I need to sit down and calmly work through. Right now I allow every comment from friends and neighbors (negative, but also the positive ones!) to strike FEAR in my heart as the thoughts those comments ignite seem to spin out of control until the relatively harmless “I think your daughters speaks more Italian than English” become (in my head, of course) “I think your daughter will fail out of Kindergarten, never use her English prepositions properly, and therefore, be a failure!” AHH!!! If I could get fear under control NOW, and be more prepared for comments and questions from those around me, I think the pendulum of emotions associated with bilingual parenting will not swing out of control.
Truly, the reassurance I feel after reading posts on this blog is fantastic. Thanks for all of your hard work.

Katie (mother of 2 girls, bilingual in English and Italian)


6 Corey July 12, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Thank you so, so much for your comment, Katie! There is nothing more encouraging for me than to hear how a post impacted someone (both positively and negatively). As you can probably tell, I get the source of my posts from my own personal experiences and things that happen in my own multilingual family… so I can definitely relate to what you wrote! What I am finally learning is that the fear comes back again and again and again. The best we can hope for is to see it, greet it, welcome it in and let it go on its way without worrying about it (which is so hard when it grips to tightly and makes us want to do something NOW!). I am delighted you left this comment!


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