Our daughters – deep thoughts on IWD, 2017

I am the mom of a thoughtful young woman and am still striving to get it right. Where do I fall short? Well I want everything for my child so she can be an all-star. Nothing wrong with that except it is my idea of what an all-star should be. It started when she was young – this obsessive need to make her everything she could be. She went along, into her teens, and then the rebellion began, culminating in a lack of trust in everything I wanted her to do. Our relationship deteriorated and we went for days without talking sometimes. Until I took a step back and just allowed her to reach out to me when she needed me. As time passed she engaged with me while pursuing her passions and I realized that she began to find her place in the world when I stopped carving out that space for her.

As most immigrant parents raising daughters in North America, we would have them straddle dual cultures while playing it safe and abiding by traditional gendered roles.   Our children have come to represent little trophies that we can set upon mantles as justification for why we chose to leave home and hearth in a far- away land giving up lucrative jobs and challenging careers.  Much as we would like to believe otherwise of ourselves, we want above all to exceed the collective expectations of others in our community. We convey this set of expectations to our children, who have a set of their own to live up to. They live in a society which gives some value to self-expression and sometimes that runs counter to our idea of culturally appropriate behavior.  It is difficult for us and them to occupy the two worlds and do justice to both. Also, when they come up short in meeting either set of expectations we experience frustration, humiliation and feelings of embarrassment and guilt.

As immigrant parents we fancy ourselves carrying the burden of our culture.  We lose sight of the fact that such thinking can never get us out of our rut. Our minds are capable of infinite capacity and yet we believe that a well ordered existence of planned outcomes will make for predictability and happiness. It may make for some predictability. However, without the spontaneity of discovering each moment as it arises, we are either fixated on a future goal unaware of the present, or we are drawing upon our limited past to make decisions. The end result is at worst catastrophic and at best just at the level of the ordinary.

With this sort of thinking, we can never be creative. Stuck in traditional ideas about our daughters’ career paths and life choices, we reinforce behavior that is safe and predictable. We want to be progressive but do not have the courage to find out the non-linear nature of living creatively. Of knowing that there are just too many variables in any situation that determines outcomes for any one to predominate as the determinant of the result. Amazingly, the more open we are to possibilities, devoid of fear of failure and feelings of lack, the more supportive we are of our daughters’ right to live fulfilled and happy lives, which is presumably what we want for them.

Over the past year, I have pondered over this issue for great periods of time.  When I have gone into a situation with a set of expectations, I have come up short as a parent. I have not been able to get past my preoccupation with feelings of disappointment, hurt, anger, frustration, to actually begin to understand that none of this is about me alone, and, more importantly, that I can determine whether or not I experience the spectrum of emotions by just adjusting my mind set. If I did not expect, if I accepted and if I just observed each moment as it unfolded without judgment, but with trust then I would have the benefit of really listening to what my daughter said and of responding in a positive and constructive way.

Given this context and picking up my earlier train of thought, what do I think we as parents can do? We can be clear about why we want our daughters to do what they do. If it is for our ego gratification alone, that’s probably not a good reason. If it is for them to maximize their creative potential that we obviously see in them, but which they don’t, then maybe yes.  But here too, we can only gently nudge them to the extent that they do not vehemently resist our overtures.

Let’s move away from linear thinking and be creative when interacting with our daughters. If they have clear ideas of their own, then let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let them rise and fall and let’s be there to pick them up. Let’s advise and support them, love them and be attentive to them. Let us not doubt their intelligence and foresight. Yet, let’s be firm about a non-negotiable set of rules. That they show respect for all and do unto others as they would have done to them. That they become self-aware and strive at all times to look for the common good with everything they do. That they live responsibly in every way making decisions that are positive and life affirming. That they take risks, make themselves vulnerable to the extent that they can, and take each moment as it comes without fear to live as originals. And let’s do the same!

Latha Sukumar, Executive Director | March 8, 2017 | Toronto, Ontario