Supporting—and understanding—the immigrant parent 

March 8, 2013

blogblock_immigrantparentsImagine you’re a parent. Raising a child is one of the hardest jobs you have EVER had. Now imagine you’re suddenly doing it in a new country, where very few people can speak your native language. Where you know little about the resources available to your family. Where few—if any—of your family and friends are there to support you.

This is the life of an immigrant parent.

More than 24 percent of children in the U.S. – about 17 million kids – have at least one foreign-born parent. Parents raising a first generation in the U.S. face a very special and difficult set of challenges. Obvious issues such as language barriers and lack of access to resources often mix with the more personal stresses of isolation, confusion about cultural identity and legal issues.

Last month, SCAN produced a Parenting Today radio show on the topic, with guest Shirley Jones from HACAN (Hispanics Against Child Abuse and Neglect).

“Parents are isolated because of the language—because of everything, really—and so they’re just trying to cope the best way they can,” explained Shirley. “They need a lot of support, a lot of help, to obtain some degree of safety for their family.” [Listen to the FULL RADIO SHOW here.]

At SCAN, we serve hundreds of immigrant families every year through multiple programs. Many of the parents in these families have shared their fears and frustrations with us, and as an organization we want to be a source of support.

Resources from organizations for immigrant parents are valuable, but we understand very well that the isolation issue—when parents are feeling like they are on the outside of the very community in which they live—requires action on a person-by-person basis.

“They don’t know who to ask and where to go; that exasperates the isolation,” says Shirley. But by listening and being available, she insists each of us can have an impact.

“Slowly and carefully and lovingly, it can be done,” she says. “Invite an immigrant family that plays with your child to go to a movie, and now that family knows where the movie is and they will invite another immigrant family. Those sorts of things—just a little thinking and a little heart—will do it every time.”

This unique parenting experience is the norm for MILLIONS of parents today; the parents raising nearly a quarter of this country’s future citizens. It’s critical that we support immigrant parents as well as take the time to understand them.

Have you put “a little thinking and a little heart” into connecting with the diverse families in your community? Share with us – we want to know!