The Importance of Learning about Culture and Traditions Early and Often

In her book, Letter to My Daughter, Maya Angelou tells the story of an embarrassing incident that happened during a trip to Senegal. She went to dinner at friend’s home and noticed a room where everyone was working hard to avoid walking on a very beautiful rug that was on the floor in that room. She remembered that she had once heard someone tell the servants that they should not walk on the rugs because only family and friends were allowed this privilege. Maya explains that she assumed that this is what was happening and became incensed. She decided to challenge this by walking all over the rug. Everyone looked on meekly and no one joined her in this act. Soon afterwards, the servants came, rolled up the rug and replaced it with a fresh one just as beautiful as the first. Immediately following they announced that dinner was served…you guessed it…they all sat down on the rug to eat the wonderful meal that had been laid out on the carpet. She of course was very ashamed and later warned others “In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions, or lessons.”

One of the Growing Great Families foundational modules, Module 4: Family Traditions and Cultural Practices, provides a conversation guide for beginning to learn more about the culture of the families with whom you work. If we think of culture in its most basic form as really just “the way we do things around here,” there’s much to learn from each family about the traditions and practices that they value. Sometimes families struggle to think of their own traditions so be prepared to jump start the conversation by sharing some of your own. This will also help them to feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts. These are moments that really serve as foundations in the building of trusting relationships. Take your time, dive deep, and move slowly through this module, exploring events and memories as much as possible.

Also think about ways that you can include all of the people who participate in child raising in these kinds of conversations. They might not all always agree on everything and this will give them each the opportunity to be heard. Spending time with them on the worksheet will encourage them to think more intentionally about their parenting. Deciding what old and new traditions they want to pass on can be an important step.

The new GGK Prenatal Manual also offers two more conversation guides that will be useful when learning about the cultures of your prenatal families. These can be found in Unit 4 and are Module 5: Your Culture…Your Pregnancy, and Module 6: Cultural Influences on Caring for Infants. The Family Mandela demonstration on pages 291-293 offers a fun and creative way for getting to know about each area of the family’s culture. Again be sure to allow participation by any family members who want to be involved. Often parents bring different cultural traditions to the relationship and this is a great time for them to be intentional about sharing this information.

Using any of these modules very early in your work with the family will hopefully allow you to gain the kind of insight that will help you to build strong relationships by showing respect for what is important to them in their family. This is also a great way to ensure that you don’t walk all over anyone’s metaphorical table. Incorporating cultural practices into home visits will also help to solidify the family’s identity and enrich their parenting.

As always, feel free to email any topic suggestions or questions to . Be sure to add Great Vine ideas to the subject line of the email.

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