- Date and Time Friday April 23rd 2020, for the duration of 2 hours, 11.30 to 13.30 CEST;
- Place Online, via Google Meet due to Covid restriction.
- This enabled Promimpresa to reach participants from all over the Nation;
- Participants 6 participants involved; for more detailed information on each profile, please refer to the Participants List.
General approach and conduction of the event
The Focus Group has been conducted in the form of semi-structured group discussion, aimed at collecting professional opinions, experiences and perspectives to guide our project partnership in the development and implementation of the planned activities. Overall, the event proved to be a fruitful occasion for reflection and exchange and for laying the foundation for the best approach to our project activities.
During the Focus Group, participants have been encouraged to interact among themselves and interconnect their contributions to those of others, in order to ensure a spontaneous and cohesive prosecution of the discourse. At the beginning of the Focus Group, the moderator provided a brief description of the general activities of Promimpresa Euprojects, and more in detail of the No Left Behind Children project, its foreseen activities and the objectives of the Focus Group; then, the group proceeded to introduce themselves and their professional profile to each other.
This report describes the main points of discussion, contents of the interventions and conclusions achieved.
Parenting and families across cultures
Each participant agreed on the importance of defining the meaning of the concepts of families and parenting – and therefore childcare – for each individual migrant parent, as those are highly culturally-determined models that may vary greatly depending on the Country of origin, or even based on the area of the same Country (e.g. urban or rural). In a Country such as Italy, very different migration stories from different areas cohabit and require different approaches. The physical distance and political situation of the Country of origin is also an element to account for in the process of developing and implementing parental education practices: in fact, the same situation of transnational families can present differently for parents coming for Romania or ex-Soviet Countries compared to a parent coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. Even though the caregiving profession often occupied by Eastern European migrants represents an obstacle in reunifications due to its characteristics, it may still be easier for those migrants to find cheaper flights and arrange visas and transport compared to others that may not have access to legal papers and may never have the prospect of ever returning to their families. Therefore, it is crucial to give voice to the parents themselves, asking them: How do they perceive themselves? What does being a parent mean to them? Despite the distance, do they still feel entitled to be parents, or have they entrusted this role to other family members? Why did they emigrate? Is it due to economic necessity, or is it a matter of protecting themselves or even their family?
Another important aspect to evaluate in the process of assessing a parent in order to identify the best strategy and tools to deploy for their particular needs, is considering the stage of the migratory process: How long has the migrant lived in Italy? Has he/she already found a job? Is he/she in the first phase? Does he/she have documents? In different phases of the migratory project there are also different ways of defining oneself as a parent.
Gender and age
The female parent carries with her a sense of guilt that is more rare to surface in a clear and transparent manner in the male counterpart. In this case, remittances represent a form of compensation. The same goes for the gender of the child: lots of cultural specifications occur in parenting a boy versus a girl. Variations also occur according to age, of both parent and child: How old is the parent now? How old was he/when becoming a parent? At what age did he/she leave the child and how old was the child? How old is the child now? For instance, it is not uncommon to meet parents who only saw their child being born before they had to be uprooted. This of course requires a different approach compared to a parent who left a pre-teen child.
Emotional aspects: sacrifice and guilt
There is also an idea of sacrifice felt in a very strong way, “I sacrifice myself for others”, present in a more or less clear way, both in the father and in the mother. It is, however, experienced differently: a mother’s sacrifice is the sacrifice of a person who does not see her child grow and cannot educate him. In many contexts, education is almost entirely linked to female figures, while the father is the one who allows the family to survive and checks that everything is carried out in accordance with the community canons and rules that the family sets for itself.
Moreover, sometimes the same person that leaves, abandons, emigrates, finds themselves not only unable to be a parent anymore, but also to represent an affective figure for other children, for instance in the case of domestic services and child-carers. This creates an enormous sense of guilt, perceived even more intensely if the distance from their children increases: for instance, if the child starts to call their grandmother or caregiver ‘mother’, or if the child refuses to to come to the phone because they do not recognise their mother; on the other hand, the guild is increased because the migrant parent is bound to also establish an emotional bond to the children of the families that employ her. These dynamics have a huge impact on the psychological and emotional aspect.
Communication & Narration
There is often a silence from the parent that is intended as protection but that actually becomes distance. There is an impossibility to tell about one’s migratory project and the impact that it has had on oneself, therefore creating a distance in the absence of communication of what is happening in Italy, of what one is obtaining, of the reasons why often it is not possible to have reunifications.
Mothers often leave without telling children, maybe because they are too young to understand, or because there is hardship in the separation. In this case, the process of reunification becomes disastrous, especially if the mother has re-married in Italy: the children find themselves having to deal with a mother they do not recognise, because there may have been other caregivers in the country of origin, a maternal figure but more often a more authoritarian vaternal figure.
What is the need, the reason, for a rite of farewell, a rite of reunion? In the narration, there is an element of re-elaboration of the mourning and of the actual loss of this child that the parent did not get to raise: this loss often remains a bit in the shadows, put in a corner because at an emotional level it hardly comes out.
In some instances, especially with African women, there is a split between the parenting, which is not narrated because the woman feels that she is here to be a worker and make a living, then later she can reconnect with her being a mother, as if the two things did not go hand in hand. Storytelling is a tool to connect educators to the migrant parent, but, although listening is essential, the educator needs to find the right way to bring out this inner dialogue: even if the educator is there, the migrant is actually recounting an inner dialogue of their own. An effective image is that of a mother stripping her clothes one by one the further she gets from her children, already starting from the rural area to the capital and then migrating to other countries, establishing a progressive distance with the past until she eventually makes a clean break to reinvent herself completely from scratch. If there is no possibility or capacity to elaborate the mourning of the loss, these profound tears are made: these cases require to learn to also communicate the different selves of the parent, intended as a woman, a worker, a migrant, a parent.
It is therefore essential to have a different narration even in the communication of one’s own migration project; sometimes, if the plan ‘I go, I make a fortune and then I come back’, there is a shame in declaring that the intention of improving the conditions is actually unachieved, so this doesn’t give the chance to the mothers to reconnect with their children: very long silences, video calls that are not made or are only made at the park, in order not to show environments or living conditions. Ofte, the perceived failure of the migratory project, is carried inside as failure of their own parenting. On the contrary, educators must ensure that migrant parents understand that often the difficulties the parent encounters and the loneliness he/she feels here is maybe the same loneliness the child feels at home. This distance becomes wider and wider because there is no communication, no direct line.
Even in cases where there was a declaration, for instance: I go to look for a job, to give you an opportunity, the child might be resentful in the sense of I didn’t ask you to give me an opportunity. While the mother sometimes feels guilt, she also is unable to connect emotionally, so she connects on the practical side: I made these sacrifices for you, but the child may answer But I didn’t want this. Yet, the impossibility to tell that there has been suffering in this separation on either side, hinders the chance to see that it is in this mother-son, father-son shared suffering that parent and child can understand each other. When one manages to reconnect with one’s own migration project, both in the difficulties but also in what is being achieved, and in seeing above all that all this is a process and a path, it is easier to reconnect with the children and their own difficulties. On the other hand, if there was not a re-elaboration and communication of the migratory effort, children are missing a piece of the narrative: adolescents who arrive in Italy and see a nice house with all the comforts that their mother has managed to build, are affected and do not understand.
Nonetheless, telling one’s story should not have a therapeutic purpose but a purely narrative one. Tales are a cultural element present across the board in all cultures: narration is a thread that reconnects and that enables the migrant to tell my story with the idea of transmitting it, narrating it. In some cultures, the therapeutic function is rejected and results in closure. The narration has to be understood on a fable level, handing down this story. Educators should be aware that storytelling can also have a re-elaboration purpose, but it must not be the ultimate aim presented to the migrant parent.
The involvement of the caregiver
In order to be effective, the communication and parenting tools developed in the project must take into account the filter represented by the caregiver. Even if the parent is in direct communication with the child, the parent must also have a good relationship with the caregiver. Even more so, considering that in most cases childcare is entrusted to the closest relatives, often grandparents, who may then pass away, thus creating a remarkable issue: if there is no community element the child risks remaining alone.
On educators and mediators
It is essential to fill in the gaps for professionals and mediators and to train the untrained – giving input of basic intercultural competences and interactive methodologies, and the ability to work within a team of educators and professionals. Parenting is usually addressed as an accessory theme of the person’s history and feeling, when in reality it must be placed as a central aspect, still remember that it cannot and must not be touched in therapeutic terms by untrained people.
A tailored approach that accounts for culture and personal history is needed: parenting practices should be analysed from an anthropological and cultural point of view, and therefore adopting a pedagogy with a strong sociological impregnation.
Moreover, educators must work on themselves, both in preventing an approach unconsciously misguided by cultural judgement, and also with reference to parenting or, if they are young people of 25-30 years of age, detachment from the family unit. For example, if the educator is supporting a parent in their relationship with their teenage son, and the educator is currently facing issues in their relationship with their own teenage son, they run the risk of allying with the most frustrated part of the parent they are trying to help. Therefore it is important to explore with the educators this issue of how they feel and what they do, otherwise there is the risk of having a negative impact with premises of which the educator may not even be aware.
The concept of time
For us, time is a line: there is a yesterday, a today, a tomorrow. Yet, some cultures do not envision this linear representation, there is no custom of birthdays or tracking age. Nonetheless, time is a crucial aspect of each person’s experience that must be taken into account.
The importance of the present
In developing project tools, create points of connection and contact with the present: in communication, try to encourage an all-present narrative, as spontaneous and true as possible to really create a contact. It’s not just about what I left behind and what I can give you, but I tell you about my present, my day through the photos of the places I went, the people I meet, the stories I live. Create moments of joint parent-child learning, about new things that they can share in the present and thus add to their family history.
When it comes to digital tools, there is the age-old issue of the digital divide between children and parents. This problem has to be bridged and evaluated to ascertain if the app is a suitable tool to account for all these aspects: the diversity of cultures, of generations, of the roles of participants in a relationship that is no longer just parent-child but is also the third person who takes care of the child on a daily basis. And in areas where the Internet doesn’t reach, how can people connect and work on the platform and app? The partnership should think of creating additional tools and more accessible forms of communication.
To be successful, digital tools must be very usable. This does necessarily mean overly simplified: rather layered tools can be envisioned, ones that enable users who can apply the necessary skills to make more complex use of them, but which are nevertheless within the reach of everyone, in the sense that the end user may be more or less capable. Moreover, the partnership should consider cultural aspects and degree of literacy, if users speak only a spoken and not a written language, which alphabet they use…
The app should enable to show ‘my experience here and yours there’. It should also put a lot of emphasis on the visual: use universally recognisable symbols, enable to share photos; create a form of personal diary such as a blog shared only among parent and child that each one can update at different times for the other one to read; a virtual space to comment and share, almost like a ‘family Facebook’.
Once again, the aspect of cultural difference must be remembered: not all games are suitable for all cultures. For example, manual skills and manipulation, especially in reference to the sphere of food, animals or physical movement, are a key to openness and reconciliation, universal and understood by all. On the contrary, some games such as jigsaw puzzles, that are based on the concept of putting the pieces together, or activities involving maps and the concept of orientation, may not be of immediate comprehension, especially for families from Sub-Saharan
Africa. An interesting project with symbolic imagery, transversal and comprehensible to all, applied to social games is Giocherenda in Palermo.
Giving voice to the people involved
In understanding what is effective it is necessary to give a voice and question the people directly involved. The risk is always that the educator ends up talking about them, telling their story. The involvement and adaptation of tools must be circular, otherwise it becomes a predetermined approach that does no one any good.
Think about consulting the parents. Getting parents to sit with each other in order to stimulate storytelling can be helpful – first they narrate and elaborate with a stranger, and then they can improve communication with the children – a kind of forum among parents. Dialogue between the two parents of the same household is also important, as they are often both in the same or different countries, but it is also crucial to consider that there are many single-parent families.
Even for educators, it is important to create a space for discussion, reflection and elaboration: it is a new theme also in how it develops in the various professional figures. A workshop can be held in which one tries to bring out from the group of people involved the need for competences and the range of skills needed to take such an action.