Hello. I am an immigrant too, a first generation immigrant to the US where my family and I have called home since August 7th, 1989.
I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. When I went to highschool in South Carolina, nobody knew where my country was on the world map!! It’s embarrassing enough being a foreigner and awkward enough being a teenager, but neither compares to how foolish you feel when you get head shakes – “no clue where that is!!” – to that most dreaded questions for all immigrants: “So where are you from?”
A part of me wanted to scream at these clueless teenagers who had more than ruined my image of the perfect American teenager and say: “If you don’t know basic geography, maybe you shouldn’t be asking the question?”
My parents left Iran when I was 11 years old. We went to Turkey for a 2-week vacation that I suppose never saw the return to homeland. We lived in Turkey for three years and then immigrated to America. Truth be told, it was my dream to live here, and despite all the ups and downs, it’s turned out to be a pretty great life.
My parents have done their absolute best to raise me and my two brothers in the country of golden opportunities. As my sweet cousin put it once when we met up in NYC, our parents did the best they could with what they had. Her perspective woke me up out of my reverie where I used to see everything through my own lens. I had been questioning some of their choices in our conversation but I agree with my cousin:
Our parents did do the best they could with what they had and what they knew and they did a very fine job at that too!
My parents made more than their fair share of sacrifices in order for us to have everything, in order for us to live a better life than we would have had in our homeland. That trait of sacrifice is typical of most – if not all – immigrant families. And for that, I am most grateful. I love my parents. We have not always agreed, and the term ‘stubborn’ has been used “once or twice” to describe their only daughter, but I love them for making the ultimate sacrifice: giving up their home, friends, family, traditions, customs, familiarity, community and so much more for the hope of a better tomorrow for us kids in America.
So as an immigrant parent, I beg you not to doubt your children’s gratitude for your sacrifice and to constantly badger them with it.
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No child wants to be reminded over and over – and yet over – again that you made a sacrifice for them. You do not do yourself or your children any favors by demanding their gratitude for this so-called sacrifice and yet I am baffled as to why this is the most typical form of punishment among immigrant parents: Driving guilt and shame into your children like nails into a wall all because of your own suffering – we won’t mention the irony of what new suffering you are creating by your actions here.
Unpleasant Fact: It’s not any of your children’s business that you made those sacrifices. You made your own choices about which your children had no say-so, no part, and thus no blame if blame must be placed. But must it? Can a loving relationship exist without blame? Imagine it. No blame. None.
A sacrifice is not meant to be easy, but if you want your children to be grateful, then just love them, accept them as they are, teach them how to like themselves, how to be responsible adults, how to create their own vision of a perfect life, and let your sacrifice pay off through their happiness.
Speaking of their happiness, can we talk about that for a minute?
This is really why I started writing this letter to you. I was chopping up tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint and onions to make a traditional Persian salad when the memory of my coaching call with a brilliant client flooded my mind. What she had said struck a chord I only know too well: She wants to make her Dad proud, she told me in between heart-breaking sobs. She wants to be successful, because failure is not an option. She wants to make a massive fortune to prove that success to her Dad, to her relatives and to the entire world because that’s the only way she knows to prove it.
Making Mom and Dad proud is not a sentiment reserved just for immigrant kids, it is something for which every child yearns. It just goes deeper for most immigrant children who have known the weight of this sacrifice and feel that they are due for a payback.
As an immigrant parent, may I ask you: Do you want your child to feel overwhelmed, doubtful of their own self-worth and success, and desperate to make you proud even if it makes them miserable in the process?
You know what, you don’t have to answer that. It’s a rhetorical question. Instead, please think about these questions:
What is it that you most want for your kids?
What is the one single desire that ruled your heart’s choice to leave your home and all you ever knew to come to the land of opportunity?
Is it for your children to be rich and famous? Is it for you to be able to call up a relative only to brag that your son or daughter lives in a big house with a big pool and a big yard?
Is it to gush to your friends that your children are now a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a professor at an Ivy League school or a similar “prestigious” title?
If you nodded yes, you are not alone. Rest assured that most Iranian parents would nod yes to all of the above.
But what if your children are all that and one more thing: unhappy?
Would you be okay to know that your son has made the short list of top 100 doctors in the country but he wakes up every morning dreading life and hating himself?
Would you be fine to know that your daughter has followed all the advice you laid out for her but doesn’t have a clue how to make confident decisions for herself even at the age of 25, 30 or 41?
Would you be proud if your children make the top honors roll or better yet, the cover of Forbes or Fortune or whatever other magazine out there spelling out “success by society’s standards” but that they are unhappy, deeply conflicted and even depressed?
Of course not. You are a parent! You want your children to be happy, but here’s the problem: You see their happiness through your own lens, through the struggles of your life, through the limited vision of your world, and granted that is all you have to go by but that vision may or may not be true for them. If you try to force your little angels into your own lens, into your pre-made box of “happiness & success”, you will lose the unique, special, talented, incredible individual they were meant to flourish into on their own.
Instead, what if you just guide them, love them, advise them, nurture them, show them the way and share your wisdom and let them make their own choices?
Don’t forget how impressionable your children are. Even if they argue with you, deep down, your viewpoints will affect them and even if they choose a different path to defy yours, your voice of disapproval will haunt them and cause them long-term suffering.
Now why would you do that to your own offspring? What does any of this pressure and expectation accomplish in the end? Who are you trying to impress?
So please, do not force your children into medicine or engineering or science unless they truly show interest. Do not weigh their small shoulders with the heavy weight of titles, degrees, awards, placements, higher education as absolute measures of success.
Instead, accept your children as they are, which means getting to know them for who they are. Let them show you how they are going to appreciate all that you have done for them. Love them even if they want to pursue art, photography, or no career at all. Maybe, just maybe, they know better what’s right for them.
Maybe your son will want to become a musician and your daughter will want to join the army. Maybe their first career will be a complete failure but they will learn so much that they will go on to become an icon for future generation. Maybe your son will be a great stay-at-home Dad and your daughter will be a painter for a few years before going to medical school.
Maybe they will follow your loving invaluable advice knowing that they are still making their own decision, and find that it fits them beautifully after all.
Let your children chart their own course with your teachings, but do not force them into a career or a lifestyle or a marriage if you think you know better. Because here’s the bitter truth: You do not know better!
It is not your place to decide a career or a marriage for someone else, even your own child. This is your children’s lives, not yours. You have to contend with their choices and love them for who they are. They will make mistakes but they will course correct if you have raised them right. They will fail before succeeding because that is how life works.
Teach your children the consequences of good and bad decisions, the importance of responsibility, the rewards of discipline, the fruits of hard labor, the freedom of choice – after all, you moved to America to give them that gift among others – and then trust them to make their choices, to pursue their individual little selves and to flourish into unique gems that you did not mold but instead inspired and nurtured with your love.
Your ultimate reward would be happy children who love you deeply and truly for letting them be who they were meant to be, and for being proud of them no matter how they turned out. And have no doubt that they will surprise you with creative, wonderful, and beautiful accomplishments well beyond what you had “planned” for them.