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Breaking Tradition: Understanding Why Millennial Haitian Parents are Challenging Cultural Norms

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

By Shirley Dor and Nathelie Zetrenne-Norman


It is a little known fact that immigrant parents and caregivers face hardships regarding their immigration and adaptation into their new country of residence. This in turn impacts their parenting practices. For many Haitian families, respect plays a vital role in culture and identity. From religious beliefs to social customs, these traditions are often passed down from generation to generation. However, in recent years, Haitian parents are challenging cultural norms and breaking away from the typical traditions, while preserving other traditions of their choice. Millenial Haitian parents are challenging cultural norms and breaking tradition.


“My wife and I are gentle parents which requires more patience, but it works for us. Things that I keep from my parents is the culture because being Haitian is everything and our love of God, we keep that in the center of our parenting” says Josh Regis.

 

Generations of Haitians experienced the strict authoritarian parenting style, known to Haitians comically as “lekol, legliz, lakay”. With many other parenting styles to choose from, society is now seeing an uptick in nontraditional parenting being broadcast. Some of the changes our generation of parents are making are due to prioritizing what they deem as important. While education has always been a priority in the Haitian community, education has shifted and taken on different characteristics in the eyes of others over time. We are seeing many Haitians breaking away from some Haitian traditions and cultural practices such as vodou ceremonies or even large family gatherings. Utilizing their time and resources to place more of an emphasis on informal and formal education. Stepping away from the traditional brick-and-mortar educational system and transitioning to homeschooling or even unschooling.


On education, we have recognized many parents are beginning to see educational struggles as more than just troubles in the classroom, but issues that may stem from educational deficiencies like learning disorders and even mental health. The open-mindedness of these parents allows for the parents to investigate the root of the issues their children are having. Enabling possibilities for resources to be utilized and success to be long-term. This is enlightening as it’s something the culture hasn’t engaged on much before.

 

As time progresses, we see parents tackling some unique situations and perspectives at a more frequent rate. With diversity, equity, and inclusion becoming more widely spoken about, we see changes in what society deems to be modern values. In addition to education, some Haitian parents are also embracing modern values that challenge traditional cultural norms. For example, the acceptance and celebration of LGBTQ+ rights are a relatively new concept in Haitian culture. However, some parents are choosing to support their LGBTQ+ children and challenge the traditional belief that homosexuality is a sin. That isn’t the only major change making its way to the forefront.

 

Haitian culture has historically been patriarchal, with men holding positions of power and authority within the family and community. However, some Haitian parents are now advocating for women's rights and challenging the traditional gender roles that have been in place for generations. This includes empowering their daughters to pursue education and careers and challenging the belief that women should only focus on domestic duties. Patricia White says the way she's parenting is by taking fear out of parenting her children. "My parents being immigrants, they're so afraid to do things wrong, especially in America. They created these false narratives about how to do life in order to be deemed a good citizen, a good child. [How I parent my kids] is so different from then what I grew up knowing and learning." Seeing newer generations of Haitians create their own norms and uphold their own personal values, living in the duality of their Haitian heritage shows progress within the culture, in ways many wouldn’t have expected.

 

The uptick of parenting influencers has provided the world with a glimpse of the many parenting styles that are utilized. Many have taken to gentle parenting and the conscious parenting style, while fostering more social-emotional positivity in their interactions with their children. “There isn’t anything about the way my parents raised me that I would like to replicate. I practice conscious parenting so that I can be intentional about my relationship with my kids. No hitting, yelling, punishment, shame, threats, or judgment. Connection and Emotional regulation are the main factors in my day-to-day dealings with my children. I’ve even changed my lifestyle. I live a modest life so that I can stay home and be there for my children as much as possible. I even walked away from my lucrative career as a beauty and fashion blogger, to pursue conscious parenting full-time, as both a parent and content creator. I can honestly say I don’t care about it much but parenting my kids the best way I know how. And I am now perhaps the happiest I’ve ever been. My life finally feels like it’s on the right track”, explains Lisa Jean-Francois.

 

There are so many shifts being made in society. It is said that once a person stops learning they are no longer alive. This outlook on life is one that exemplifies the desire many parents must learn and do more for their children. This privilege we have regarding access to resources, knowledge and so much more has provided parents with more options. “I believe as a parent you are constantly learning. Your children teach you about yourself and about the world daily. I decided to challenge the cultural and traditional norms I grew up with, so my children could grow up with a different type of parent. Taking my mental health journey seriously, I realized to parent my kids the way I hoped to, I had to reparent myself. Fostering an environment where kids can be both seen and heard, and are encouraged to use their voices, have boundaries and be authentic, requires that you do things differently than they’ve always been done before. But before I could expect to do the work with them, I had to do the work within myself. It’s a learning process to unlearn the negative behaviors you didn’t realize were harmful. Telling my kids, it’s okay to be angry but it’s not okay to hurt people or destroy things isn’t wrong. It’s just different” explains Nathelie Zetrenne-Norman. While many of the changes we see from today’s Haitian parents may be looked at in a negative light from past generations, it is apparent that times are changing. It is okay to do things the way they’ve not been done before.  

 

The Haitian diaspora has played a significant role in shaping the beliefs and values of Haitian parents. Many Haitians who have immigrated to other countries have been exposed to different cultural practices and values, which can often challenge traditional Haitian beliefs. As a result, some Haitian parents are choosing to embrace these new values and break with tradition.


The decision to challenge cultural norms and break away from tradition is a complex and deeply personal one. For some Haitian parents, it is a way to embrace new values and create a better future for their children. For others, it is a way to reconcile their cultural heritage with modern realities. Regardless of the reasons, the growing trend of Haitian parents breaking with tradition is an important development that highlights the evolving nature of Haitian culture and identity. How are you or how you plan to break tradition in parenting your kids? Chime in below in the comments.


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