I have many moments of What did I get myself into? during the day, especially when one of my kids is screaming at the top of his lungs and the other is having a make-believe experiment in the kitchen. We’ve heard countless times that raising kids is hard, but raising kids as a first-generation immigrant is harder. Obviously, there is no competition for who has more struggles or whose life is harder because child rearing is hard. Period.
But this piece is specifically aimed at shedding some light on the unsung heroes, our so-called, first-gen immigrants raising kids in a foreign land whilst navigating culture shocks with zero help.
These women are constantly torn between holding on to their culture and also wanting to call their new abode “home.”
Being a mom is a job that is very stressful most times, and the only way you get paid is through wet and sloppy kisses (which I am a big fan of, personally). Also, if you are unlucky enough, you might be handed rather unsolicited advice from someone you definitely want to roll your eyes at.
We have all been there and tried not to do that out of sheer politeness. But when you are a new mom in a country where you were not raised, you start doubting most of your decisions at the cost of such advice.
Questions and thoughts randomly pop into my head like:
How do I strike a balance between where my kids come from and where they are born?
Should I raise my kids the way my mom raised me even though the times, location, and norms have changed?
Am I confusing my kid by exposing them to a little too much about my culture?
The answer to all these questions came to me at a very unexpected time and place when I wasn’t looking for it. Most of my friends are also first-gen immigrants raising their kids in the U.S. without any family around them. After talking with many friends coming from different walks of life and varied ideologies on religion, culture, and child-rearing, I had my answer.
Are you ready for the big reveal? Drumroll . . .
The answer is you make your own path.
You fight your battles—win some and lose some, but fight you must. Otherwise, how will you learn? There is no sure answer on how to raise a kid, there are ideas, yes, but no kid is the same and not every mother faces the same challenges as the next one. There is no cookie-cutter kid and parenting style.
Kids are empty vessels waiting to be nurtured and molded. I realized being consistent in my beliefs and way of life will go a long way. I unlearned the idea of worrying about the future and began to enjoy the present.
Earlier I used to get upset about them not complying with my ways of infusing culture into our daily life, albeit stealthily. I noticed the weight on my shoulders being lifted when I decided to let go of my expectations for my kids and not let culture take prominence in our lives over having a good time and making memories.
It was a lightbulb moment for me when I faced the reality that I might force my kids toward something, but they very well might not do it once they are older and capable enough to make their own decisions. I have conditioned myself to believe there will be a time when this might happen, and I have to be okay with it.
I gave birth to my kids, but I don’t hold autonomy over what they choose to become.
“Practice what you preach,” has become my mantra. My kids might forget what I teach them, but they will always remember what I practiced. Little ones are mighty observers hence I have become mindful of what I expose them to. It can be in the form of habits or people. My offspring are still perceiving the world through my lens, and I accept this huge responsibility of familiarizing them with fitting and conducive experiences.
I have made my peace with the fact that my kids might never evoke the same feeling for my home country (India) the way I do. I look at my mom and see how she holds certain things to the utmost importance and I don’t always agree with it, yet, she never bats an eye. She respects my opinions, and I want to follow suit. I want to lead my life by her example because after so many years I understand what being in her shoes feels like. You know your life has turned a full circle when you start becoming like your mom and occasionally catch yourself speaking like her.