Ask Sahaj: My husband isn’t sharing his culture with our kids

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Hi Sahaj: My husband is Persian (born there, immigrated here when he was 4 with his parents and never went back). He is not a “rituals” person and despite his parents celebrating Persian holidays and cultural customs growing up, he has no interest in putting in the work to incorporate any Persian traditions in our home. I’d love my kids to grow up with this cultural exposure, but it also seems like if my husband doesn’t value it or care at all, it’s strange for me to try to force it.

Also, I’m swamped as-is and not looking to pick up more work on his behalf, so is there anything deeper I/we should consider on the downside of our kids having absolutely no exposure to or connection with Persian culture?

My in-laws live too far away to be a source for it regularly, and they’re focused on not missing out on the big cultural American holidays with the grandkids (Thanksgiving, Christmas) and wouldn’t want to shift their visits to the Persian new year or something similar anyway.

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Wondering: I think blending cultures is beautiful. I myself married someone of a different ethnicity, and we have discussed the importance of exposing our future kids to my Indian culture at home. However, I agree that it would feel odd for my husband to do that if I weren’t interested.

It’s worth asking your husband why passing down this part of his identity and culture to his kids doesn’t feel valuable to him. Unless you dig deeper with him, you won’t know why he seems uninterested. Also, consider why this is important to you, so you can communicate this to your husband. Are you worried your kids will have questions you can’t answer? Are you concerned they will feel less whole if you don’t expose them to this part of their cultural identity?

I wonder how your husband was raised to have — or not have — a relationship with his ethnic identity. Is he White passing or does he have an Anglicized name or speak without an accent? These are things that may allow him to feel more integrated in the American, and Western, systems. Alternatively, I wonder if he had any negative experiences tied to his identity: Was he bullied for being Persian or does he struggle with his own narratives that might cause him to want to protect your kids from the same experiences?

Every person who identifies as multicultural acquires the host culture — and its norms, values, and societal expectations — to varying degrees. Some people may resist this and find pockets of cultural community to resist assimilation while others may reject their origin cultures to survive in the new country/culture.

By not passing down your husband’s ethnic culture, you may be choosing how your kids identify culturally until they are old enough to explore it for themselves. Your kids may be none the wiser unless they meet other Persians, or have experiences that force them to confront their cultural identity more closely.

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Most immigrant parents living in the West, like your husband, are on their own journeys of identity development, alongside their kids. Even if your husband isn’t explicitly passing down Persian traditions, I wonder if he is sharing cultural values in more implicit ways. This may be in the way he parents and partners with you, including expectations within the family, communication style, and upholding collectivist values.

There are ways to strengthen your kids’ connection to their Persian culture that don’t add much work or pressure to you or your husband. For example, if learning to cook Persian food feels overwhelming, maybe it’s ordering from a local Persian restaurant on Nowruz; or keeping Persian desserts/sweets in the house. Maybe it’s listening to Persian music when you’re in the car or, if you have a relationship with your in-laws, maybe it’s asking them to incorporate Persian traditions, language, or food into your Christmas and Thanksgiving holiday gatherings — no matter how small.

Traditions are allowed to evolve depending on the people upholding them, and as a parent to half-Persian kids, you also get to explore what it means to embrace this culture to honor your kids’ identity.

It’s never too late for people to reconnect with their cultures, so you shouldn’t feel a sense of urgency as the sole parent considering this. Your kids will internalize how important things are to you and your husband, but regardless of culture, instilling good values, creating a healthy home environment, and being curious and receptive parents are most important.

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