Conflict between family and culture

Feeling stuck between two cultures can be really tricky; your family wants one thing but you want something totally different. While this is very common for young, multicultural people living in Australia, there are things that can be done. Get some tips on how to navigate conflict between family and culture, and what to do if nothing's working.

You should read this if:

  • Your parents weren’t born in Australia
  • You feel stuck between two cultures
  • You find it hard to see eye-to-eye with your parents about a lot of things
  • you want some ideas for how to deal with conflict between family and culture

girl on bench with sunglasses on

Two different worlds

Our culture is something that we learn over time and become accustomed to, until it forms a pretty central part of our identity. It shapes some significant things about us, like our values and our way of relating to other people. When you move away from your culture, and into another one, there are lots of challenges that come with adjusting to a new way of life. If your parents were born overseas, it’s likely that they went through this process. 

In Australia, there are loads of households where multiple cultures collide under the one roof. This is often a great thing; you get all the richness and benefits of two cultures instead of one. Sometimes, however, it’s the cause of all sorts of family conflict. 

Can’t we all just get along?

Culture is a complex thing, and in a multicultural family there are many different factors which can stir the pot. Some of the things that can be difficult to manage with a parent of a different culture are:

  • Language barriers, if they don’t speak English very well
  • Different opinions on things, like discipline, curfew or alcohol
  • Dating someone from a different culture to your parents
  • Identity crises; when you feel stuck between two cultures
  • Responsibility overload as you help your parents adjust to a foreign culture
  • Feeling different to your friends
  • Experiencing racism and distancing yourself from your parent’s culture as a result
If you’re experiencing any of these things, it can be really exhausting and distressing. Thankfully, there are some trusty steps that you can take to help you manage the situation.

How to manage conflict between family and culture

  1. Compromise. Talk to your parents about what’s most important to you, and hear what’s most important to them. Maybe you can find some middle ground that works for all of you. 

  2. Listen. When your family is talking to you and expressing their point of view, it’s incredibly tempting to switch off, think about something else or talk over them. Next time, listen to what they’re saying. If they see that you’re paying attention and acting maturely they might be more interested in discussing things with you. 

  3. Show an interest and ask questions. At the end of the day, your parents are from a different culture and that’s pretty damn cool. Cultural diversity is the reason this world is so interesting, so ask questions and get to know their background. You might learn a thing or two.

  4. Look at it from their perspective. It’s tough for your parents who probably grew up in a totally different environment to where they are now. They’re making some serious adjustments, so be patient with them. Change can sometimes be a real shock to the system and it can take ages to process it.

  5. Agree to disagree. Sometimes, just let it go. There will be some things that you are never going to see eye-to-eye on. 

Still struggling?

If you’re still finding it really hard to get along with your family, have a chat to someone from outside the family who might be able to give you a fresh perspective. It’s also a good idea to have a look at some more info on how to manage conflict with parents. Otherwise, make an appointment with a counsellor to talk things through and get some more ideas on how you can handle the situation.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 21 August, 2015
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