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‘Mixed’ family mums ensure minority culture continues in the home

Published: 15 May 2012

The mothers of Britain's ‘mixed families’ are ensuring their children learn about their heritage and culture, according to a collaborative development project between the University of Southampton and London South Bank University. Findings show even if a child’s father hails from a minority background, it will still be the mother who is responsible for teaching them about the father’s culture.

“Whether it's ensuring their children know about the history and culture of their ethnic or religious group, overseeing faith instruction, teaching them how to cook traditional foods, dressing in traditional clothes or introducing them to traditional music and dancing, it's mostly mothers who are taking charge of ensuring their children appreciate their cultural heritage,” says University of Southampton researcher, Professor Ros Edwards.

In a new initiative funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and conducted with the relationship support organisation OnePlusOne, researchers have used their recent research findings on ‘mixed’ relationships to develop online resources that raise awareness about the sorts of issues ‘mixed’ couples may face, and to provide relationship support where needed.

‘Mixed’ relationships, where each partner is from a different racial or ethnic background, are increasingly common in Britain. And, although all couples face many similar relationship issues, research on ‘mixed’ couple relationships suggests that they may have their own distinctive experiences, including:

  • Possible disapproval and rejection from others based on assumptions and limited knowledge about ‘mixed’ families.
  • Understanding and dealing with both cultural and individual differences within couple relationships.
  • Developing an identity and sense of belonging for themselves and their children.

“Once people come together in a ‘mixed’ relationship, we know that maintaining that relationship can be challenging for some couples, often because of other people’s attitudes,” Professor Edwards explains. “The issues that they may face can include having to deal with others’ disapproval, and in some cases, the exclusion from family and friends. Clearly, this can create stresses in their relationship and, based on our research, we provide examples of some of the successful strategies ‘mixed’ couples have employed to cope with these problems.”

Researchers stress, however, that it would be wrong to over-emphasise the challenges that ‘mixed’ relationships bring to a relationship. Findings clearly show that for many couples and their children, their different cultures and heritage were not overly an issue for them, or for the communities in which they lived. For many it was more often an issue for other people than those who are themselves mixing or of mixed race.

'Mixed’ couples deal with the same responsibilities and issues as other couples, and they see their family lives as no different to others in many ways. “In fact, much of the feedback we have received regarding our online resources is how pleased couples are to see their relationships treated as ‘ordinary’ not as something strange or inherently problematic,” Professor Edwards points out.

“This feedback is entirely in keeping with our finding that it is mothers in ’mixed’ families who ensure their children are brought up appreciating the minority culture in their home. In this regard, women in ‘mixed’ families broadly reflect what goes on in most relationships,” she concludes.

Notes for editors

This release is based on findings from the development project 'Facilitating relationship support for 'mixed' couples and families: a collaborative approach and evaluation' funded by the Economic and Social Research Councils (ESRC) and led by Rosalind Edwards, Professor of Sociology at the University of Southampton. Professor Edwards was Director of the Families and Social Capital ESRC Research Group at London South Bank University when the research for this development project was undertaken.

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