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Navigating Parenthood in Canada

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Joanne Brown is a seasoned social worker who has spent 35 years navigating the complexities of family dynamics, particularly in the context of parenting and the parent-child relationship. Brown, who also serves as the coach chair of the Attachment Network of Manitoba, brings a wealth of experience and insight to her work, particularly in helping families cope with the stresses of immigration. 

“Relocating to a new country involves significant emotional labour and preparation,” Brown explains. “Parents are often so engrossed in the logistical and emotional aspects of the move that they might unintentionally overlook their children’s needs.”

Her own family history deeply influences Brown’s perspective. Her mother emigrated to Canada before she was born, giving her firsthand insight into the challenges and emotional upheaval that come with such a major life change.

“There’s a tremendous amount of energy that goes into immigrating,” says Brown. “From choosing a destination and securing employment to tying up loose ends in the home country, the process can be exhaustive and stressful for both parents and children.”

According to Brown, children are particularly sensitive to migration stresses. They often pick up on their parents’ emotional states and can feel the impact of their divided attention.

“During the relocation process, parents might unintentionally neglect their children’s emotional and developmental needs,” Brown notes. “This can lead to an imbalance where kids feel overlooked, which can manifest in various ways, either through withdrawal or acting out.”

Understanding these behaviours through the lens of attachment theory is crucial. Brown emphasizes that children form attachment habits based on their interactions with their caregivers, influencing how they cope with stress.

“Children’s responses to stress and change are diverse,” she says. “Some may internalize their feelings, becoming withdrawn, while others might exhibit outward behaviours seeking attention. These behaviours are not deliberate attempts to disrupt but are expressions of their need for reassurance and connection.”

One significant challenge in immigrant families is the role reversal that can occur when children quickly acquire a new language and culture, often becoming translators and cultural mediators for their parents.

“While this can be empowering for the child, it is also stressful and developmentally inappropriate for them to take on such a significant role,” Brown explains. “Parents might feel undermined and step back, creating an imbalance in family dynamics.”

Brown stresses the importance of parents maintaining their role as the primary caregivers and decision-makers, even in a new and challenging environment.

“Children need to feel that their parents are in control and capable of providing support and guidance,” she says. “It’s crucial for parents to acknowledge these shifts and address them appropriately.”

For parents to effectively support their children through the transition of immigration, Brown suggests they remain attuned to their children’s emotional states and needs.

“Parents should strive to understand the feelings underlying their children’s behaviours and respond with empathy and support,” she advises. “Creating a nurturing environment where children feel safe to express their emotions is key.”

Brown also emphasizes the importance of being mindful of parental expectations and avoiding undue pressure on children to adapt quickly.

“Allowing children to navigate their new environment at their own pace and providing consistent support can help them adjust more healthily,” she concludes.

Joanne Brown’s extensive experience and compassionate approach offer valuable guidance for immigrant families navigating the challenges of relocation. Her work through the Attachment Network of Manitoba continues to support and educate parents, helping them foster healthy and secure attachments with their children.


For more information and resources, visit www.attachmentnetwork.ca

– Yuliia Kovalenko, U Multicultural

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