Amidst the war and conflict of our world, love has allowed people from different cultures and creeds to be joined through marriage. Everyone loves a good love story. It’s what makes the world go round. However, as we have recently seen through the British Royal Family, love can cause a well-established family institution to reflect and also be affected by the change in a turbulent way.
The case of Harry and Meghan
The British royal family was rocked by the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which sparked many discussions of the intricacies of mixed culture families. As with most families, there is no right or wrong and many are doing the best they can in a situation where they are faced with unknown territory.
For all intents and purposes we know this family well – it is a family of vast wealth that is multi-generational and has upheld its values and vision and managed the family business for centuries. Like any other family of wealth, its members have had the opportunity to travel the world and meet new people. Yet what has remained steady and constant, is the commitment of the members to uphold the family values and maintain the family business.
For the first time in history, we have seen a senior member of the family decide to marry someone who has brought into the family all three dynamics of interfaith, intercultural, and interracial. Needless to say, this has opened up the challenges that come with such on a public platform. Where most families would have the opportunity of dealing with these things in their own privacy, we found the family is thrust into dealing with challenges such as derogatory comments in public, loss of contact with family friends, negative stereotyping, open hostility, sense of isolation and a rejection from the family itself.
Though some of these challenges have been assumed and unconfirmed, it is nonetheless important to explore the negative implications that can come with blended families. They indeed are not the first wealthy couple from a famous family to get married under such dynamics. Other examples include John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian, and Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas.
Interfaith, intercultural and interracial marriages are subject to specific stresses and strains beyond those experienced in most marriages. The main reason for this is that these marriages come with differences in areas that can be especially sensitive.
Sometimes interfaith, intercultural, and interracial issues are obvious early in the relationship. However, most differences often emerge during stressful times like during wedding planning. Usually, these difficulties involve the expectations of the two partners’ families of origin about the wedding ceremony, etc. Traditions and rites and cultural aspects that may be important to one may not be important to the other. Having children and raising them can also bring religious, cultural, and/or racial issues to the surface. Mainly because decisions about religious practices and education are confronted for the first time.
The family governance perspective
Taking all of these complexities, let’s look at it from a family governance perspective. As we already know family governance is the foundation of families successfully transitioning their wealth, history, social, and financial capital multi-generationally. But how do families with this complexity establish and manage their governance? Who’s history or culture, or faith is more important than the other? How do they choose what to combine or what to leave behind and which identity will the children align with or will a new one be created? Let’s not forget despite the mixed heritage aspect, all couples have differences. Even couples who share the same faith, ethnicity, and culture. No couple is picture perfect and couples can learn to manage and resolve their differences especially if their focus is on creating strength and advantage from their differences instead of seeing them as obstacles or “problems”. When a relationship has interfaith, intercultural, and/or interracial issues, learning to approach these differences in a constructive way is critical.
In the first place, it’s important to acknowledge and understand how contrasting customs and cultural backgrounds are likely to impact relationships, especially marriage and family life. The way individuals are brought up is the way they will live unless they make a conscious choice to embrace another option. Different customs and cultures teach different values and priorities. Normally, this means that interracial or multicultural families have a unique need to bend, flex, compromise, and accommodate one another’s contrasting ways of looking at life. This is especially true if a husband and wife grew up in different parts of the world. For family governance to work in a mixed family, there are three important things to know about cultural, racial, and religious differences, issues, and influences.
Problems and conflicts often involve assumptions and expectations.
We all have assumptions and expectations that are embedded in the fabric of our background and identity that we aren’t even consciously aware of. Couples and family members must explore their core beliefs in order to reconcile their own assumptions. Only when each member of the family feels clear about their own identity, can they participate in deciding how these beliefs will mesh with those of their partner or other family members. All couples negotiate differences when marrying. Creating a family is essentially two individuals from two different families who form a new identity and must choose what traditions, habits, and beliefs to bring into their marriage. Though this process is more complex for couples who are from different cultures, races, and religions, it is not impossible. Having open dialogue allows all members of the family to feel accepted and to feel as if their contribution is important to the family governance process. It also allows all members of the family to contribute their experiences which may be unique to the family.
In most cases, there may be differences that still embody similar values and in the end also the family to create a merged vision. Take time and educate yourself and your family about the other culture. This can ease surprises and defuse potential conflicts. Remember to ask questions of your partner, research norms and expectations, challenge false beliefs you or your family may have about the other culture. When two people marry, they generally “marry” each other’s families as well. That’s why it’s a good idea to discuss as a couple the belief system each person has and to explore the evidence supporting those beliefs.
Successful intercultural, interracial, and interfaith relationships have special challenges.
Nationalistic, ethnic, or social pride can drive a wedge between otherwise loving spouses and families. Sometimes one partner may subconsciously feel superior because he or she grew up in a “higher” socio-economic class than the other. Pride may also rear its ugly head when one spouse believes that the other’s culture or beliefs are inferior or strange, thereby discounting the other person’s importance in the relationship and their contribution to the family. Different cultural attitudes towards the respective roles of men and women in the home can further play havoc with this area of the relationship unless spouses can find ways to turn conflicts into opportunities for learning and growth. This can especially be the case when children are being raised and issues of succession and inheritance come in.
As much as we would like to see the world through rose-tinted glasses we have to acknowledge that successful mixed relationships also have special challenges, but in spite of this, they also have special rewards for those who are willing to manage their differences in core beliefs not only with their partners but also with their families, communities, and society at large.
It must be clear when going through the governance process that this transition, change, or management doesn’t happen automatically. It will take work and sensitivity towards self and others. Adjusting and adapting to one another’s cultures through compromise and communication is pivotal to the success of a family. This however takes humility and courage. It also takes a willingness to give up some of your desires in order to meet the other person’s needs. Listening to each other before identifying differences, problems, and solutions is a game-changer. Listening involves opening up yourself to other people’s perspectives without judgment and realising that all family members have equal influence in your legacy building.
The choices made to resolve cultural, religious, and racial differences will inevitably affect your children.
Parents need to be attentive to children’s reactions to their mixed heritage and the reactions of others to their identity throughout childhood. This is true whether the perceived differences are more external or internal. Notably, even choices around parentage, adoption, and surrogacy or step-siblings and step-parents must also be included and remain top of mind whilst dealing with governance.
These issues can not just be swept under the carpet and shelved for other days. Clear communication and creating clarity on parental standpoints and views are important for handling the tensions.
While our society is becoming increasingly multicultural, children are sometimes much more confused and less tolerant of differences than adults are. And as they become adults it’s important to start governance early by teaching them the values and heritage of the family and the shared history. As they grow, creating memories around the important dates and events solidifies for them family identity. In younger members of the family, these new traditions can become embedded in them and give them security.
Navigating patterns of difference
Families are embedded in relationships. Factors like business and wealth become a part of their life and their existence and therefore governance becomes a necessity instead of a luxury because they bring with them their own levels of complexity. It is important for family members, especially spouses to become intimate with their partners and for family members to be able to share their vulnerabilities. In blended families be patient as your partner and family adapt. People tend to gravitate toward familiarity and success; provide both as your family navigates and creates a path where you explore a revised and expanded way of living and perceiving.
The racial and cultural differences in your interracial marriage won’t necessarily cause the family to fail at governance. What can cause the process to fall apart is the inability of a couple and the family to handle their differences and a failure to talk about the stresses they experience. Most important in navigating the governance process is bringing in qualified and experienced practitioners who can lead and guide the process as the family begins this legacy-building journey.