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Professor offers advice to third-culture parents

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Jaime M. Kang’s new book is written to help parents of cross-cultural children but the advice she offers may help any parent struggling to guide their children through their developing years.
“Caught Between Cultures” (Woman’s Missionary Union, 1996) is a resource book for third-culture parenting. The author is a former associate professor of religion at California Baptist College who now teaches at a Christian university in Kyunggi-Do, South Korea.
In the book, Kang drew on her own experiences as the daughter of non-Christians who immigrated to the United States in 1978.
“I had an extremely difficult time adjusting to a new society and its school system,” she said. “All of my energy and attention was spent on emotional, social and academic survival. However, this seemingly negative experience has increased my awareness of the Christian education needs of other young immigrants.”
Kang identifies three types of third-culture children: children of immigrants, children of interracial marriages and children in the deaf community. Each faces similar problems in adjusting to their lifestyles, not unlike the problems Moses must have faced when Pharaoh’s daughter raised him as an Egyptian. Kang cites biblical texts to show that cross-cultural conflicts have been around since Abraham went to Canaan, the Hebrews were in Egypt and Jews lived under Greek rule.
The way the parents of these children see themselves has a great effect on their children, Kang notes. The parents can take a traditionalist view, meaning they live in a new or different culture but strongly retain their ethnic traditions. They can take an assimilationist view, meaning members of one culture take on the characteristics and values of their new culture. Or they can take a biculturalist view, meaning they combine attributes from their two cultures to form a new culture for themselves.
Most likely, Kang says, cross-cultural individuals slide along this continuum depending on their circumstances at any given time. The third-culture child, in particular, is drawn all over the continuum as she has to live, go to school and go to worship in three totally different settings.
To help these children deal with the conflicts they encounter, Kang says parents must first realize the needs of third-culture children. They are the same for any child: acceptance, empathic understanding, guidance, positive self-image, praise, love and modeling.
Then parents must look at themselves, just as all parents must, Kang writes. They must discover their own identity, their goals for themselves and their expectations of their child. They must know who they’re trying to please, whether the goal is to please themselves or please God. They must learn to delegate and realize they cannot rear their children alone. They must make a habit of prayer. They must take time to play with their children. And they should not see parenting as a burden but as pure joy.
Kang says responsibility for ministering to children lies not only with parents but with the church. She believes strongly in language churches, with the parents being both participants in and recipients of ministry.
By the end of the century, Kang says it is estimated one-third of the United States population will belong to a racial minority. To help meet the needs of these children and parents, and to help churches begin to find ways to minister to them, Kang offers guidelines for a third-culture parenting workshop at the conclusion of her book.
“Caught Between Cultures” is available through WMU Customer Service, 1-800-968-7301, or Baptist Book Stores.

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  • Sue H. Poss