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Transnational Families

The global patterns of immigration and settlement have changed drastically over the past two decades. Sometimes only one or two family members relocate while other important family members stay behind. In many cases, those persons may lack proper documentation or legal status. Settlement, while possibly extended for years, may not involve either integration into the mainstream or the likelihood of family reunification. Yet the absent members may, through telecommunication and other means, be in almost daily communication with the immigrant family. Some of these relatives play a large part in immigrant children's lives. Investigators and early childhood professionals need to be aware of such possibilities.

The transnational families report explores the experiences of Latin American families who have faced separation and reunification during their migration process to Canada by examining the particular situations of 40 mothers. In particular, it focuses on how mother-child relationships and family networks are transformed by transnational, multi-local family structures. The feelings of the mothers interviewed in this project ranged from anger and guilt to depression and hopelessness. They faced many challenges related to socio-economic status, legal status, lack of access to childcare, language limitations, and ideological expectations of “good mothers,” which in a few cases resulted in mothers having to send children back to be cared for by other family members.

Many mothers felt pressured to relinquish the role of primary caregiver but were reluctant to challenge decisions made by family members acting in their place in the home country. Grandparents, uncles, or fathers generally assumed decision-making and care-giving functions, but some of the children were left to parent themselves with varying degrees of success. In some cases, children became angry or aggressive while in others they became distant from their mothers. Upon reunification, many of the children no longer considered their mothers the authority figures and, especially after a lengthy separation, estrangement posed a serious challenge to their relationship.