cross-cultural marriage: mix and match

One of the things that my reading about cross-cultural relationships taught me is that in order to mesh cultures together, you need to understand your own culture and what's important to you. If you know what you value, then it will be easier for you to communicate that to your spouse. There will be things about your cultures that are in conflict. There will be things that are very important to your spouse culturally which to you seem weird, awkward, or even unacceptable. You will have to give up some things for them and they for you. This is true of any marriage, but perhaps the differences are more obvious in a cross-cultural one. Here are some examples of Rodgers and me each yielding to the other's culture.

In Kenya, when a woman has a baby, only women are present. Men aren't allowed in the room or even in the house. It's not that the men say, "I'm not going in there!" The women say, "It's time for you to leave." Men don't have anything to do with birthing, neither do they seem to have much to do with taking care of the babies before they are weaned.

In the US, men are increasingly expected to be present for labor and delivery and do their part in childcare from birth. I expected no less from Rodgers. Fortunately, he seemed excited to be the only Kenyan man he knows who has been present for the birth of a baby. I think he would have liked to actually watch the gross part, but there were so many doctors and nurses in the way that he couldn't see. Plus, I needed him to hold my head and shoulders.

I didn't sleep the last few months of pregnancy. Once Nate was out, the insomnia was gone, so Rodgers often got up with Nate during the night. I was taking a lot of Rx pain killers those days, too, so it was difficult for me to wake up. After a couple of weeks, we split the night - he would get up if Nate woke up the first half, I would do the second half. He still enjoys having an equal role in taking care of Nate. This is unusual for a Kenyan.

In the US, we value independence, especially financial independence. You should make enough money to support yourself, but you are not expected to support anyone other than yourself, your spouse (if any), and your children (if any). In Kenya, you are expected to support your parents and even your siblings if you are better off than they.

It seems kind of tacky to talk about the money we send to Kenya. Let's just say that we have sent, do send, and will continue sending money to my mother-in-law and siblings-in-law. They use it for real necessities.

If I wanted to stick to my Americanness, I would tell Rodgers that Nate and I are his family now, and he should let his mom and siblings take care of themselves. However, I know it's important to Rodgers that we do this. Sure, we could use that money ourselves. We could use it for good things, too, things that don't seem frivolous to most of my peers. I think I should feel a conflict of culture about supporting Rodgers' family this way, especially when we have a car that we want to replace, we rent an apartment, and our home is furnished with mis-matched hand-me-downs (well, we did get a few pieces new). But I don't feel any conflict about it. It's the right thing to do.

People have often commented to me that they are impressed by the way Rodgers and I mesh our very different cultures. I tend to think it's easier for us because 1) we are anticipating having differences, 2) our differences tend to be obvious, and 3) we both intentionally take on a culture, if you will, of following Jesus before our national cultures. I think that in same-culture marriages, people expect to have the same values, the same reactions to conflict, the same priorities, etc. But, of course, they are different.

Rodgers and I, forming our "Christian culture," meshing in bits of American and bits of Kenyan, have decided that we are inventing a whole new culture just for our family. It works well for us!


  1. I'm impressed you've figured out the "money thing" so quickly. It took me *years* to understand money culture in my husband's Vietnamese family. I'm no longer offended -- and might even respond -- when in-laws ask what we make, how much our house is worth, when we bought our new car, and what was the last piece of jewelry my husband bought me (all very important to Vietnamese).

  2. I really like how the "Christian culture" has helped you both get past your differences - that's beautiful!


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