Marrying a Czech woman has, in my experience, involved a certain amount of cultural blending. We have had to find some common ground between different attitudes toward family and parenting, and compromises have taken place on both sides. I’m sure this is the case with any relationship, but when you come from different cultures the compromises can be more challenging. Luckily, our relationship has also brought me in contact with aspects of Czech culture I may have otherwise avoided or missed.
The umbilical cord is long, get used to it.
I come from a large extended family, the members of which are pretty close. This still did not prepare me for how close my wife and her family are. When we started dating, we were over at their place almost every second weekend. At the time we were living in a different city, so my wife wanted to go home to visit, but twice a month seemed excessive. When I lived in the same city as my parents I think I saw them only on special occasions. Fortunately, my in-laws are very easy-going and somehow the four of us gave each other enough space in the panelák apartment. And as much as I grumble, there are numerous benefits along with the adjustments.
Boundaries? What boundaries?
The closeness means that, despite living in our own place, we spend a considerable amount of time with our in-laws. Family events figure as a part of the calendar and while duty may be too strong a word, there is an expectation that we attend. Fortunately the food is good, so I can’t complain. However, one aspect of the closeness I had to come to terms with was that my mother-in-law had a key to our flat. I moved out when I was 18, so it had been a long time since a parental figure even symbolically shared my living space. The fact she never turns up unannounced has helped me get over this. Maybe I would feel differently if she were a different person. But she respects our space and her having a key is a practical consideration. Plus, she helps look after our child.
Know that everyone is an expert on everything.
When people participate in raising your child, they will of course share opinions on how you should raise the child. Actually, I found that people offered opinions even when they had no family connection. However, grandparents and great-grandparents have much more investment, plus they assume their words have more clout. On the whole these opinions have not been too intrusive. My in-laws said nothing about the name we chose, nor made any childcare suggestions in advance. They have supported us through our own baby-steps in parenting. But there was one area where we had a disagreement…
You’ll face pressure to pierce.
My in-laws insisted on us having our daughter’s ears pierced. Having spoken with a few expat parents I know I’m not alone in questioning this practice. I had to wait until I was fifteen to get my ear pierced. (I’ve since removed it.) My daughter should be allowed to wait to make the same decision. Concerning this one issue they would not budge, so my wife got caught in the middle. On one side she had my arguments, on the other she wanted to appease her parents, and to a certain extent, saw it as custom. The grandparents also had opinions. Eventually, I buckled. It was more important to them to have it done then it was for me to stand against it. What can I say? It was a practical compromise.
Brace yourself for an early biology lesson.
Being a father here means that you come in contact with local attitudes to parenting. I think the general openness of Czechs to the body is well established and this extends to children’s entertainment. Krtek, the smiling emblem of childhood, has an episode in which a character is shown to give birth. I consider myself fairly progressive, but seeing the little baby hares pop out of their mom on the TV with all the family around was a shock. I think I found that in this area I had some development to do myself.
The village is part of the bargain.
The poet Bill Grace said “It takes a village or at the very least / A church of great heart to help raise a child”. A close-knit family is that village. The benefits aren’t just having babysitters nearby. My daughter is establishing a bond with her grandparents here which gives her sense of belonging. Moreover, the closeness means the grandparents aren’t only the dispensers of treats. She knows she can’t get away with murder.
Pet names can get a little weird.
Other aspects of being part of a Czech family are that you discover some funny Czech pet names for kids. On top of kočička (pussy), zlatička (sweetie) and sluničko (sunshine), you find that kids can also be called prdelka (little bum). When I first heard it, I did a double-take but I’ve been assured the use of the diminutive makes it okay, even sweet sounding. It is just one of those things which I’ve shrugged off.
Accept your Czech family’s help graciously.
Ultimately, marrying a Czech woman has given me a stronger link to the country. On the language front my wife has been really supportive, but it was her parents who really helped my language along in the early stages. I think it’s on account of them both being teachers. They knew how to speak to the class dunce. They also gave me support and made me feel welcome in the broader sense of belonging not just to the family but to this part of the world. This was perhaps best exemplified when my father-in-law quite early on pointed to their apartment and said that it was my home, too.
Now with a daughter, I am for better or worse – but mostly better – part of the family.
How do you get along with your Czech in-laws?