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  • Marina Stepanova

To a 'Foreign' Mum

‘All you have to do to fit in is to just keep your mouth shut,’ was the advice one of my friends gave me a few years ago when we were discussing an issue I was trying to overcome at the time.

It happened about thirteen years ago, when I was still studying for my Bachelor`s Degree. I was going through a bit of a vulnerable time after facing some incidents of discrimination which were a huge blow to my confidence. They were not serious incidents; just some unpleasant comments about sending me back home and spiteful remarks about my accent. I was not very confident to begin with, but at that time my confidence level went down to about -2 on a scale from 0 to 10. I really enjoyed my life in England and planned to build my future here so I was desperate to overcome this ‘hurdle’ and feel that cosy feeling of belongingness.

Anyhow, since my friend faced a lot of discrimination growing up due to the colour of her skin, she felt like my problem was easily solved; I did not look any different from the main population of the country so if I kept quiet, I would fit right in. It was ridiculously stupid and sad at the same time, but it made total sense to me.

As humans, all we want is to fit in and feel accepted. As far as our brain is concerned, if we don`t stand out from our environment, we would be safe. So I have taken that ‘advice’ on board. That is how much I wanted to experience that sense of belonging. Thirteen years down the line I know that it is me who I must feel at home with first of all and then the rest of the world will follow. I didn`t know it back then.

Obviously, I still managed to socialise with my friends and work colleagues and they had no idea about my internal processes, because I felt comfortable around them and was actually quite loud and chatty. However, when it came to going into new situations or talking in front of the class, I felt completely mortified. Needless to say, I mumbled quietly under my nose with a speed of light so that I could get it over and done with. Not many people could understand what I was saying which made me feel even worse. It was a vicious cycle: I wanted to be understood and accepted, but did the complete opposite of what I was supposed to do to achieve that desire. That led to complete desperation and disappointment. Why could I not just talk to people normally without feeling so bloody self-conscious all the time?!

Basically, I didn`t want anyone to know I wasn`t from ‘around here’, so that they would want to be friends with me and not perceive me as someone different. I know that`s irrational, but majority of stuff you say to yourself in your head is total crap. Just think about it for a second and you will know what I mean. In addition, I tend to over analyse things, which is why I have probably chosen to be a psychotherapist.

To cut the long story short, I became a mum. I always had a plan to speak Russian to my children, because it is my native language. I was facing a dilemma: how do I go out in public and offer my baby a variety of social experiences and stimulating verbal interaction if I did not want to stand out and let everyone know that I was from somewhere else in the world. How do you solve that one?

This was the moment when I had to face my bullshit and challenge my belief system. So I started talking. In my own language. To my own child. Wherever I was. Surrounded by whomever. It was scary, but so freaking liberating.

I had some people ask me if I was ‘teaching’ my child any English. The answer was ‘no’. I feel my job is to make sure my babies can communicate with me and their extended family in my native language. My job is also to give them as many opportunities in life as I possibly can. How would you like to be fluent in two languages with no effort whatsoever? Until the age of five humans can learn anything effortlessly; when we are older, we have to make an effort to commit new information to memory. Emily and Daniel`s dad speaks Spanish to them, because it`s his native language. They don`t have a problem with that. In fact, they switch between two languages like it`s the most natural thing in the world. When they start pre-school, English will become their language. I know we will have to work hard to make sure they don't stop speaking Russian and Spanish.

It breaks my heart when I hear mums say to me that they don`t speak their own language to their children out of fear of being looked at in a ‘funny’ way or being discriminated against. Especially with the whole Brexit situation. That is such a loss to feel like you have to deprive yourself from that interaction with your child due to some people who may or may not have a problem with you. My experience shows that 9 times out of 10 it is all in our head anyway. Nobody thinks about us as much as we think they do. Even if somebody makes a passing comment, it has no reflection on you.

Once I was at the playground with my little ones and I could hear a mum talking to her child in English when we were in close proximity. Then, when she heard me speak my language, she just switched to hers. It was amazing to feel how the energy changed right away. In a split second that woman went from someone who felt like she had to perform in front of a stranger who didn`t care about her to someone who could just enjoy her child and their time together. I mean, she cared more about me understanding what she was saying, rather than her own child understanding her. Talking about wanting to fit in!

I am very lucky to have friends that I have. My little boy has a friend from when he was a new-born and they interact beautifully, even though they don`t speak the same language (yet). Children don`t care about accents, languages, skin colour, disability, social status and all other stuff that we teach them to care about.

I know sometimes parents worry that when their toddler has to go to nursery or pre-school they would not be able to understand what is being said to them. Well, firstly, they don't tend to listen that well and just do what they want anyway (or is it just mine?😂); secondly, they will learn really fast; lastly, I can harldy understand what three year olds are saying so I don't think it's such a big deal. Usually it is the parent who is stressed, not the child.

I want you to make a choice that is right for you and your family. I want you to follow your heart and deal with your insecurities along the way. You are amazing and so is your heritage. You will always belong with yourself and your family. If you let your greatness shine just as it is, the world will love you just as you are. My story may not resonate with you, but I know there is at least one woman going through similar kind of stuff and I want her to know she is not alone.

I am on this journey of finally finding and owning my voice, unpicking my insecurities and creating a new programming that would allow me to thrive and have a fear-free abundant life. And I am intending to inspire a bunch of mums on my way there.

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