I was just thinking back to my childhood and reflecting on all the crazy things my parents used to say or do. A lot of this has to do with our culture and background. We were your typical brown family so these were pretty typical things that brown parents say. Every culture has it’s own ideals and thoughts about children and child rearing. I was just asking myself, how much of this am I planning to take with me in my own motherhood journey? I’m sure a lot of these are universal, but if you’re brown you can definitely relate. Here’s my list of 10 brown parent traditions I don’t plan on continuing with my own little one. These are things I would never say to my child and really, these are things no child wants to hear.
1. Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer or Doctor?
This was always a big one when I was growing up. My parents, and pretty much every brown parent out there, let you know what they thought were suitable career choices. These usually included things like a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer and right, did I mention doctor? I think brown parents really put a lot of pressure on kids from a very young age. This is the culture they grew up in, this is what a successful career meant to them. I do get where they were coming from, they just want their children to do better than they did. A lot of children don’t even get the chance to go to school so I understand that they wanted us to seize every opportunity for success. However, this is one I’m not planning on following. My little bug can decide that for himself. Although they had these expectations for us, the funny thing is, they now tell me that we shouldn’t force these expectations on Nav. Gee, thanks amma and appa. I get why they thought I needed help though, I told them I wanted to be Barbie when I grew up, my youngest sister told them she wanted to be a panda…
2. You got 95%, What happened to the 5%?
Ok, so yeah, I get the importance of academic achievement, but seriously, can I get a “good job” once in a while? If you grew up in a brown family you know that grades are life. You better not show your face around here if you come home with anything less than an “A”. I think all the pressure definitely pushed me to do well academically but at what cost? I used to dream about failing exams and the quadratic equation. I do want to teach Nav the value of education because not everyone has access to it and it really is important but I think its about more than grades. I want him to learn, think critically and challenge ideas, not just worry about grades. I think what I mastered was memorization and how to ace an exam, rather than actually reflect on issues and ideas. I notice Nav always has his own creative solutions when he faces a problem, I want to continue to encourage his “out-of-the-box” thinking. When you focus on tests/grades you are usually only looking for 1 correct answer, I want him to continue finding his own answers.
3. You know, Aunty Sheila’s daughter is so good?
I’m thinking this is one of those universal ones. Who hasn’t had their parents compare them to their “perfect” cousin, sibling or friend while you sit there thinking “if you only knew the shit they do behind their parents back,smh”. I always heard about the great grades, jobs or life other kids were living and the, “why can’t you be like that?” that always followed. Maybe our parents think they’re motivating us to do better? Providing “ideal” examples to guide our growth? Well, I’m so done with it. The only comparisons I want Nav to make are with himself. Look at how far you’ve come instead of comparing your journey with anyone else’s. Your journey is your own, it’s unique to your circumstances, so how in the world can we measure up to anyone else? Be your own ruler, measure your own growth by your own standards. The only person I want Nav competing with is himself. Strive to be better than you were yesterday.
4. Who will marry you? You can’t even cook.
Growing up, my mom would complain constantly that none of us knew how to cook, then I would try to go into the kitchen and make something. Enter my mother screaming to get out before I make a mess. I really didn’t start doing a whole lot of cooking until I was married, luckily she’s eased up a bit now and occasionally lets my sisters cook (but still complains to me about the mess they left behind). I get the mess thing now because I hate cleaning the kitchen after my cooking escapades. The other thing with brown parents is the gender bias that comes with cooking. They expect their daughters to be able to cook but don’t say a word about it to their sons. My husband doesn’t cook except for his one specialty, scrambled eggs. His sister on the other hand is a whiz in the kitchen. I think cooking is a life skill that all genders should know so I will most definitely be encouraging Nav to help me in the kitchen. He already shows an interest so I let him “help” with small tasks and he loves it.
5. Put one arm on your left shoulder, now the other on your right, okay? Squeeze- now there’s your hug.
Was this just me or every brown family? I have literally never witnessed my parents hug/kiss each other in my life. They were never super physically affectionate with us either. That’s just not how we showed love. You didn’t say it and you certainly didn’t show it. Again, this is largely due to the culture and background they grew up in. It just wasn’t proper etiquette where they come from so I understand. We grew up here so obviously we saw other families on TV being affectionate and I always thought it was strange. It was the most awkward thing ever when a love scene would come up in a movie, kill me now. I’m the opposite now which really surprises me. I’m full of love and super affectionate and my sisters hate it LOL. Nav is growing up to be a little lover boy because I shower him with affection. Sometimes he’ll take my face in his hands and plant a big kiss on me. It’s so different from what I remember growing up but I love it, I want him to feel free to show his emotions and know that it’s not bad or something he needs to hide.
6. Try Telling a Brown Parent You’re Full.
Tell me why they think a 5-year old should eat the same amount as a grown adult? When I didn’t finish my plate, my mother would sternly remind me of all the starving children of the world. The guilt trip worked for a while but eventually I just generously offered to give up my portion, when that didn’t work my sisters and I found unique ways of disposing our meals (usually out the window of our 5th floor apartment). My mother would ask how we finished so fast and frantically search all over the house with no luck. It certainly comes from a place of love, all brown parents and your aunt and uncle and every other relative overload your plate because they just want you to be well fed. It’s a sign of love and care. I certainly want Nav to appreciate the value of food and be open to trying new things but I don’t think I’ll be force feeding him. He’s got an amazing appetite and loves eating but also knows to tell me when he’s full and that’s perfectly okay with me. Eating should be enjoyable, not a chore. I think we need to pick our battles sometimes. If he doesn’t enjoy something, I’ll try offering it again a few times but if he says no then I won’t force him, instead I’ll try it again in a few days.
7. Somebody Gonna Get A Hurt Real Bad
What are your thoughts on physical punishments? My sisters and I got our fare share of beats growing up and if I’m being honest, I’m pretty sure it was well deserved 99% of the time. I wasn’t the brightest but those beats sure did get me in line. Although I don’t think anyone should beat a child, I think the few hits I got has a large part in how I turned out. They didn’t put up with any sass or backtalk and now I’m a functional adult who knows how to respect people because my parents taught me that and it stuck. I find a lot of kids today are really lacking this. I don’t hit Nav, I just don’t have it in me to hurt him at all but I do see some value in my parents discipline techniques. Hopefully he’ll respond to other methods of punishment because I don’t want to raise him to fear me. The flip side of this is that when you grow up scared of your parents you tend to have to do things behind their back so sometimes you just end up becoming an expert liar and ninja at sneaking out. I much rather have Nav feel like he can openly talk to me about anything.
8.Do As I Say, Not As I Do.
Did you ever find yourself in a situation where you knew you were right and your parents were wrong? Did you tell them? And how did that go? You’re still alive? Ok, so you’re probably not brown. Brown parents don’t make mistakes apparently and if they do- no,no they don’t make mistakes. I don’t know why but they are never able to admit mistakes or apologize. Maybe they think the kids won’t respect/fear them as much if they think they’re wrong? This is another one I won’t be adopting. I’m human, I make mistakes, a lot of them and that’s okay. I’m going to try my best to not place this double standard on Nav and apologize and admit my mistakes when I make them so he can see that it’s okay and follows my example to do the same.
9. How I Met Your Mother-Desi Edition
My parents had an arranged marriage so of course they expected their kids to do the same. They were completely shell-shocked when I told them that wasn’t going to happen. It took a lot of time and convincing but eventually they came around and I didn’t have to marry a stranger. I was the rebel black sheep but now my parents are so chill! My sister’s wedding is coming up in a few weeks and with this wedding their was no push-back whatsoever. They were on-board and supportive from the get-go(thanks to this trail blazer LOL). I will most definitely be leaving this ancient archaic train of though behind, no star charts to determine Navs future. He’s free to love and marry whomever he pleases.
10.She’s pretty, for a dark girl.
I saved the worst for last. I grew up hearing (not from my parents but other relatives) about how pretty someone was for a dark skin girl or that someone had lovely features but it was too bad they were so dark. This was a huge insecurity for me growing up and if you’re brown I’m sure you can relate. Our culture values light skin above all else, light is beauty. This is what I was conditioned to think growing up and it took a long time to finally accept my beautiful melanin. My Nav is just like me, 50 shades of brown from head to toe and every shade is scrumptious. There’s no way on this Earth I would ever let anyone talk to him that way, take that negativity and leave it in the 20th century where it belongs.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly not all negative. My parents, their parenting style and my upbringing were largely influenced by South Asian culture. For myself, my views come from the way my parents raised me but also my experience being a first generation immigrant to Canada. I see things very differently from my parents because I grew up in between two very different worlds so sometimes these differing world views clash but for the most part it’s wonderful because I get to choose the best of both worlds. I think my parents have done an awesome job with my sisters and I, so much of who I am and what I believe is shaped by my Tamil heritage and I will be passing these on to my son because I take great pride in my ethnic identity. There’s a lot to say about that so I think I’ll make this a series and do another post on that soon. I’d love to know what aspects of your culture have shaped your parenting views good or bad. Leave me a comment below!