Chapter 9: Newcomer Family Settlement in Canada

Changes in Family Roles

When immigrants move to a new country, they often take on different family roles. For example, daily chores such as who should do the dishes, who should bathe the kids, who should go to work, and who should stay at home may change. The migration process to countries like Canada often brings about significant shifts in traditional roles within families. Roles such as “men work and women stay at home” tend to change. Such changes can make big differences in a family. Typically, the experience of shifting traditional family roles varies widely among individuals.

closeup image of a man holding his daughter
Man holding his daughter

The following summary details how traditional family roles can change when people immigrate to Canada and has been sourced from the chapter “Immigrant and Refugee Families” by Dr. Usha George:

According to George (2023) in a study on parenting among newcomers in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (Ochocka et al., 2001), parents recognized how their own parents influenced their values such as respect, family importance, and passing on traditional religion and culture to their children. The research showed that parents adjusted their parenting approaches in several ways, including being more tolerant, allowing more freedom and independence, changing how they manage time, adjusting disciplinary methods, and experiencing role reversals.

      • Freedom and independence: Parents noted that Canadian influences, challenges their kids faced, and role changes resulted in them giving their children more freedom. However, they worried about potential issues related to development and differences in treatment, such as gender. Independence was viewed as a key value in modern society.
      • Time management: Many parents spent more time with their kids in Canada compared to their home countries, leading to both positive (closer relationships) and negative outcomes (feeling isolated from other support networks).
      • Discipline changes: Spending more time with children altered discipline approaches as parents aimed for more balanced relationships. Mothers often led this shift, whereas fathers sometimes struggled with changing dynamics. Parents noticed changes in their kids’ behaviour, which led to mixed reactions.
      • Role changes: Children often adapt to Canadian culture faster than their parents, causing shifts in parent-child roles. This change posed challenges for immigrant parents in their parenting styles. Some parents faced friction, whereas others tried to balance traditional values with changing dynamics. Many immigrant parents viewed Canadian parenting as too lenient and desired stricter methods. Mothers tended to adapt more readily to these changes in dynamics (Ochocka et al., 2001).

George (2023) also writes that in the host country, cultural changes affect parenting and gender roles. Traditional expectations often see fathers as providers and mothers as caregivers. However, immigrant fathers can face challenges with low-paying jobs or unemployment, affecting their self-worth and family perceptions (Lamb & Bougher, 2009). Sudanese refugee men in Canada tried to maintain their roles as cultural guides but found it hard because of job challenges and fears of cultural loss in their children (Este & Tachble, 2009, in Chuang & Tamis-LeMonda, 2009). Immigrant men may struggle more with cultural adjustments and workplace hostility than immigrant women (Gungor & Bornstein, 2009, in Lamb & Bougher, 2009).

Many immigrant women quickly find full-time jobs to support their families, sometimes taking lower-paying positions for survival (Ali & Bitubayeva, 2019). South Asian women, as studied by George and Chaze (2009), use existing and new social connections to enter the job market, gaining status as earners. However, this doesn’t always mean men increase their household duties. Juggling work and home can lower women’s happiness and time with children (Qin, 2009, in Lamb & Bougher, 2009).

Transnational Parenting

George (2023) says that many Chinese families in Canada and Australia have members living in different countries, known as “astronaut families” (Waters, 2003, in Chiang, 2008). Typically, fathers remain in places like China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan, while mothers move to Canada with their children. Although the mothers are often viewed as passive participants, Chiang (2008) highlights that these women face complex challenges. Some appreciate their new independence, but they also struggle with frequent travel, changes in family dynamics, and added pressures regarding their children’s education.

Many refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented migrants engage in transnational parenting because of family separation. They often send money home but worry about their family’s safety, especially if their location is uncertain (Merry et al., 2017). In Canada, the Live-in Caregiver Program brought mainly Filipino women to work in child care and elder care; after two years, they could seek permanent residency and family reunification.


George (2023) further says that young people play a big role in how traditional family roles change. The way they interact in their family and community affects the way they see roles in their families and community and how they see family roles changing in the future. For youth, relocating affects various aspects of their lives, especially for refugee youth escaping violence and challenging conditions, which can harm their mental health (Guruge & Butt, 2015). These young individuals may have faced war, violence, and family separation before arriving. Once in Canada, they often feel socially excluded and struggle with adapting to a new culture, facing discrimination, and experiencing reduced status (Guruge & Butt, 2015; Merry et al. 2017; Woodgate & Busolo, 2018). Language becomes another hurdle; while English proficiency is beneficial for youth, it can create distance if they do not speak their native language with family (Burgos et al., 2019).

Beyond the typical challenges of youth, immigrant youth also deal with the stresses of migration and fitting into two distinct cultures: their family’s and Canada’s (DeNicolo et al., 2017). Many become the family’s cultural bridge, aiding in settlement while adjusting themselves. Roles can change because these youth often adapt faster, becoming key figures in their families’ adjustment to Canadian life (DeNicolo et al., 2017).

In summary, immigrant families undergo significant role shifts upon arrival in Canada. While parents adapt parenting styles based on cultural influences and societal changes, immigrant men often face employment barriers, contrasting with women who navigate work challenges. Transnational parenting, where families reside across countries, adds complexity, and immigrant youth play important roles as cultural bridges. Open communication is crucial during these evolving dynamics.

Settlement workers can help newcomers understand the differences and changes in family roles between their original country and Canada by offering resources, including workshops, advice, and community talks.

These changes and responses to changing roles in the family do not affect every family the same way. Factors such as cultural background, beliefs, and individual family circumstances are important. It is a continuous process that involves trial and error and requires every affected individual to communicate openly.


Interactive Activity 4

Discussion Questions

  1. How does migration to Canada influence traditional family roles?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of gender role changes?
  3. What are the challenges presented by these shifts in roles?
  4. What types of support are available to families working through lifestyle changes related to changing roles within families?
  5. What strategies can settlement workers use to facilitate open communication and understanding among families navigating changes in traditional family roles?

Transnational Family Reunification

Family reunification involves more than the logistical aspects of travel and documentation; it significantly alters family dynamics and introduces emotional complexities. For instance, a mother may need to relearn her child’s food preferences, reflecting changes in the child’s life during their time apart.

Case Study: “Transnational Motherhood: A Case Study and Broader Examination of Filipino Mothers Working Abroad” (Loraine, 2019)

The phenomenon of transnational motherhood, characterized by mothers migrating for employment opportunities while their children remain in their home country, is significant among Filipino families. This case study describes the experiences of a Filipino mother working abroad.

Angie Remollo is a 29-year-old Filipino mother employed as a business development executive in Dubai. Angie left her three-year-old son, Sean, in the Philippines so she could work in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (Loraine, 2019). Her decision to work abroad was driven by her ambition for financial stability and a better future for her son. After eight months, Angie and her husband were able to reunite with their son in the UAE. However, the reunion was short as they discovered Sean had developmental delays, which meant Sean had to return to the Philippines for therapy. This led to another separation.

The experiences of Angie Remollo highlight the common situations Filipino mothers face in transnational motherhood. Such arrangements involve mothers migrating for employment while leaving their children in their home country to live with relatives. Motivations mainly come from the desire to earn more money overseas and improve living conditions for the future. Although transnational mothers earn a good salary compared to what they would earn in the Philippines, the emotional and social costs are significant, affecting familial relationships and individual well-being.

Beyond mothers and children, reunification affects siblings and spouses as well because they may have been separated for extended periods. Families need to adjust together when family members return home as everyone may have picked up new habits and different ways of doing things while they were apart.

Getting help from organizations can make it easier for families to navigate the transition and adjust emotionally. These groups offer services, such as special counselling and programs for children, to enable them to fit into the new culture and society.

Transnational motherhood in Filipino communities presents a complex combination of economic, social, and personal elements. Although there are economic gains, the emotional and social costs require time and targeted support to minimize negative impacts.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What challenges do Filipino mothers like Angie face when working abroad?
  2. Why do many Filipino mothers choose to work overseas, and how does this decision affect their families?
  3. How do families cope emotionally when separated because of transnational motherhood?
  4. Why is reuniting with family members after a period of separation complex for everyone involved?
  5. How can organizations help families like Angie’s adjust when reuniting after being apart?
Image Credit

Father and daughter by darkside-550, Pixabay licence


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Canadian Settlement in Action: History and Future Copyright © 2021 by NorQuest College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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