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Why Caribbean Parents don’t say “I Love you.”

BY TARYN ST.LOUIS, JUNE 10, 2020

If you grew up in a Caribbean household, you probably can identify with this topic of interest. I grew up on a tiny Caribbean Island called Antigua, and my father was a huge disciplinarian. Being a police sergeant in the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, meant that he was exposed to the realities of many social ills on a daily basis. This also meant that when it came to his children, he always feared the worst. My mother was submissive within the marriage, so there really was no recourse for me as a child. My father’s way of raising myself and three other siblings was not up for debate. We were well taken care of, provided for in the best way possible, but we always lacked one thing. Genuine affection.

Why do Caribbean parents find it so hard to be affectionate? According to sociology research, parents in collectivist societies may be more restrained in the communication of close relatedness, but demonstrate their love for children through self-sacrifice and meeting children’s needs (Lim and Lim, 2004Rothbaum and Trommsdorff, 2007Clayton, 2014).

Change starts with us

What is a collectivist society?

According to study.com, Collectivism in cultural terms refers to a culture that privileges family and community over individuals. For example, children in collectivist societies are likely to take care of elderly parents if they fall ill and will change their own plans in the event of a family emergency.

I can only speak from what I’ve observed, and it appears that the Caribbean has a widely collectivist culture. In collectivist cultures, your group identity is very important: rather than thinking of yourself simply as an individual unit, you find that the group you’re a part of is very important. Things like decision making often happen within a family, and younger members look to and respect the advice of elders.

Think about it for a minute. How many times were your thoughts and emotions brushed aside as a child? ‘Speaking up’ was never an option, and your opinions were often taken as being ‘rude.’ Let’s contrast this with individualistic societies, such as those found within the suburban and wealthy U.S. demographic.

“Telling my children I love them isn’t a habit. It is my constant reminder to them that they are the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Toni Morrison

Individualism

An individualistic culture is quite the opposite to that of collectivism.There is a noticeable difference when it comes to communication and general ‘openness.’ Giving children the freedom to be heard changes the way they see themselves. Of course, this can cause incidences of abuse of privilege on the part of the child, so a balance must be maintained when it comes to authority. Children who are raised in individualistic societies tend to be treated as such. Individuals. They are often shown more affection, as their parents display a higher level of communication with them. This openness deepens the bond between parent and child, and it’s not ‘weird’ or uncomfortable to hug every now and then, and say… “I love you.”

How do we change?

The question is, do we need to change a part of us that has been with us for centuries? Or should we just continue to show love through our actions?

I am the mother of a 12 year old boy and despite the cultural norms and my upbringing, I am raising my son within an individualistic family dynamic. There is no discomfort when it comes to our displays of affection and it gives me joy when he randomly kisses my cheek. As a bonus, I take pride in the fact that I am preparing him for a future where he is unafraid to express love toward his mate and his children, all while taking on the serious responsibilities of manhood. This is how we break a cycle. Change starts with us.

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