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On choosing identity

It’s complicated.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, but the very nature of my identity has made it difficult. What do I choose to share?

My passports state that I am Finnish and German. I’ve only ever lived in Germany for one year. I’ve never lived in Finland, although the plan is to move there for the first time next year. I will technically be a repatriate, but not really?! Another category I don’t fit in. I have lived in Ethiopia, Kenya and the UK most of my life and am married to an Italian-South African. Do you see the problem? Our daughters can choose between five passports and, in fact, two daughters have three passports each already.

I thought that my identity was complicated enough, but our daughters’ situation seems impossible to navigate. However, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way and these things have helped me not only to be at peace with my own mixed identity but to help guide the girls’ questions and thoughts around who they are. I hope they might be helpful to others, so here they are:

  • Release yourself from the guilt of having removed your children from your home culture. You are enriching their lives. Yes, there are losses along the way and I don’t want to in any way diminish those. That is another post. But there are also so many gains to be made!

  • Release yourself from the burden of feeling like you have to acculturate your children to your home culture. You yourself will change once you have left it and that is to be embraced. Once you have removed your children from your home culture, their identity will never be the same as yours was. Learn to accept that and even delight in it!

  • Set your children free to explore their own identity and allow them to choose who/what they would like to be. One of our daughters is about to move to the UK, another would like to try living in Italy and the others will soon get to explore what it means to be Finnish. It’s an exciting ride, for sure!

  • And finally, for those with a faith background, this is an opportunity to point your children to their true identity, which is not dependent on location or culture.

The point I really want to emphasise is that you get to choose an identity, both individually and as a family. How beautiful and empowering is that! You get to take all of your favourite parts of the different cultures you are exposed to and make them your own if you want to. The best example I have of this is our family’s Christmas celebrations. We have incorporated everything into one holiday, so we have a traditional Finnish Christmas meal for lunch on Christmas Eve, a charcuterie board German/Italian-style for dinner on Christmas Eve, a traditional British roast for lunch on Christmas Day and a South African braai on Boxing Day. We throw in American chocolate peppermint crinkles for good measure. Plus, our girls get to open presents on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We get the best of the best!

Ultimately, identity is a choice each of us gets to make.

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