The Gen X Brown Parent is “Stuck in the Middle” – Krishma Aroranotyourwife1214
New parents often say they wish their kids came with a manual. Truthfully, I wish there was a manual for Brown parents. Imagine a book that outlined how to balance old world cultural values with a new age perspective? How do I keep the goodness of Indian values that make our culture sweet and savory, whilst extracting the bitter and sour of its many backward cultural practices? The daunting task of being a Brown mom who herself was torn growing up between her parents deep rooted traditions and her Western surroundings to now figure out where she should draw the lines for her kids is the predicament so many of us face. I am stuck in the middle of the generation that raised me to believe the ways of the old country, and the generation of my children, American born Desis. I was born in India, and immigrated to the United States at the tender age of 4, when my parents decided to settle permanently in New York. The youngest of 3, I was taught to always respect my elders, truthfully more than that, we were taught to fear our elders. Our parents were the authority, and we had no power to challenge the decisions they made for us. We were led to believe that they knew what was best for us, and to oppose them was to reject their love, and to dishonor all they had sacrificed for us. I carried the guilt of what I wanted if it contradicted what my parents wanted for me. I fought a constant battle between choosing myself, or choosing them and what their community approved of.
Needless to say, there was no autonomy, privacy, and or relations with the opposite sex. None of those things were a part of my growing up. Once I had entered my 20’s I was suddenly expected by my parents to function like an adult, but had no practice in doing so. Even then, the reigns that held me back were only released in terms of my education or career, but in aspects of sexual relations that was still a taboo. I was not ready to leave this shell of conservative Indian upbringing long into my marriage, and now the transition to being a parent myself is even harder. What have I learned about being a good parent from my parents? And what have I learned about who I really am, how do I be a better parent for my kids?
This is the dilemma for parents like myself who are stuck between the generations. It has been a difficult road finding myself, now that I am a full grown adult in my 40’s and am in the position where my parents were 20 years before me. I had learned the habit of always pleasing my parents, so I became a people pleaser, a habit that is difficult to unlearn once it is a part of your childhood. Should my kids try to please me for acceptance and love? Should they fear me because I am their elder? Do I want to pressure my kids to always get A’s? Would I stop my daughter or son from dating? The answer is of course no. Yet, it’s not so simple. By saying “yes” to everything my parents said “No” to me while growing up, is also not the right way of raising my kids. Striking the right balance between how I was raised and how I want to raise my kids is the greatest challenge of all. And I thought I was doing a good job, until my kids grew up and developed a voice of their own.
According to my 15 year old son, he doesn’t value the freedoms he has (that I did not have at his age) because according to him those are not privileges, but his right as an individual. Although I don’t disagree with him, the voice in the back of my head says, you have it easier than I did and you should be grateful. I cringe at the thought that if my parents heard the foul language my son sometimes says to me, they would say that I was too lenient, and didn’t teach my son to respect his elders. I would be a failure once again, both in the eyes of my parents, and my son. There is no winning for my generation. I am not my parents, but I also can’t be everything my kids want me to be, and for good reason. In the backdrop of drug and alcohol abuse and bullying on social media, how can I steer my kids away from the danger of these in their peer group, while simultaneously not limiting their freedoms. Juggling what they think is right, and what I think is right, compared to what my parents thought was right is the balancing act played by Brown parents today.
I am a Gen X parent, struggling to be the best parent I can be. And all I know is that parenting like growing up is ever changing and evolving. All we can do is share with our kids the sweet and the savory, the beauty and the grace, the passion and richness of our heritage, while releasing them from the hypocrisy and double standards of traditional Desi culture. My parenting in essence is a stew of mixed culture that stems from the combination of my Indian and American values, my jumbled perspective and beliefs, and the living example I set for them through my actions. What they keep of my parenting and what they discard is their choice, their journey, their world.
By Krishma Arora