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Itching for independence

By Gaurav Pokharel

[Author’s Note: This piece is not meant to be critical of South Asians parents – you guys have a tough enough job as it is. This article is merely observational and reflects on my own experiences. SAPs are possibly the most devoted parents in the world, and I’m extremely fortunate and thankful for my own.]

South Asian parents don’t care much for independence.

There’s no need to wipe your glasses and squint, I really did just write that. Allow me to justify my claim with a story.

When I first headed off to university in September of 2007, it was rightfully a big deal in my household. Not only was I the youngest in my family, but I was also the first to move away from home (imagine that!). I remember my parents wanted to make sure in every possible way that I was well-prepared and aware of my responsibilities before I headed off to live on my own.

They were naturally protective, yet encouraging, with much of the advice coming in the form of “eat properly” and “don’t get distracted” (as in “don’t let girls sidetrack you!”), which is standard SAP protocol as far as I’m concerned.

Of course, living alone wasn’t really a difficult transition – I was a teenager and had been longing for the freedom and independence I somehow thought living in a shared dorm room with uncomfortable cots would provide me. However, while the adjustment of changing residences was easy, the interpersonal adjustments that came as a result of the newfound independence were much more difficult to adapt to – and this is where my opening line blends in.

For a lot of South Asian parents, their kids never quite become truly independent unless they marry. This is well and good, but they have to understand that it makes that middle ground of 18-26 (or whenever) quite awkward. Until you have that ring on your finger, you are their child and they will always view you as such, no matter if you’re living at home or 2500 miles away.

Some might argue that all parents are like this, and I would disagree. I mentioned before that I was the youngest in my house (by a considerable gap) and was often treated like the youngest usually does (that is to say, viewed as being less autonomous or responsible than my older siblings for whatever reason).

I figured the moment I moved away there would be a shift in how my family perceived me. What I thought would be a ticket to increasing my “independent” status was thrown out the very moment I triumphantly came home.

Is this a bad thing? In some respects, definitely not; like I said, SAPs are a dedicated bunch. As an 18-year-old looking for more respect and trying to establish a reputation however, this is extremely frustrating.

South Asian parents tend to be a protective bunch by nature; a lot of it comes from our cultural ideals back home. These ideals, such as living with your family until marriage, or refraining from straining the traditional “close-knit-always-together” K3G-type family dynamics, worked wonderfully during my parents’ generation.

But living in a Western society where independence is not only encouraged, but expected in order to excel, I can’t help but feel holding on to these ideals unnecessarily strains parent/child relationships and hinders a teenager’s natural progression towards adulthood.

For instance, I know of two girls who had wanted to enrol in a university that would require them to live on campus. However, despite their selected program’s prominence the girls were discouraged from attending these schools by their parents, and eventually settled for a school closer to home. Why do these types of restrictions still exist internationally, especially in regards to girls?

Upon closer examination, I theorize that parents such as these are only protectively acting in the manner that has been embedded through tradition. In South Asian culture the daughter is considered almost untouchable until marriage—it has been scientifically proven this is the sole reason why there were so many fights between potential lovers and Amrish Puri in Bollywood movies from the 90s.

Betis must be chaste and pure. Sure, they can be educated, but they should live at home until marriage—this is the line of thinking that forms the basis of our traditions, and it’s easy to see why this is a cause for concern overseas. Obviously, not all parents perceive it this extremely, but it still does exist internationally, especially among recently immigrated households.

So to rephrase my statement from earlier and make it less controversial, I will say “SOME SAPs do not care much for independence”, mostly a result of tradition. Do I blame them? Of course not. But I do feel restricting your child’s own search for freedom and independence hurts more than helps the prototypical K3G-like family dynamics that most SAP (if not parents of all cultural backgrounds) strive for.

The opening line was only there to capture your interest until this point—hopefully I have raised some intriguing questions.



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4 Responses to Itching for independence

  1. alisha October 12, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    K3G-like family dynamics is old school. it should exist only in films. Reality is different. The future belongs to the kids and parents should learn to have faith in them. The K3G-like culture instilled in the kids can never go wrong and so the parents should know that what their children are doing is right.

  2. Gaurav October 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Hey Alisha,

    Firstly, you always comment on my articles, and I wanted to say thank you for doing that.

    In terms of the K3G thing, I know its an extreme and very few families are that rigid, but I still feel like recently immigrated families hold on to those type of traditional ideals even after they arrive in a First World country, mostly to ensure preservation of culture. On the one hand, its great that tradition is upheld, but when thinking about it pragmatically in the context of where their kids are growing up, it hurts their children more than anything else because those traditions (and essentially those rules) don’t translate as well in Western society.

  3. Hershey November 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    I definitely agree – this is one of the biggest issues in South Asian families living abroad. The contrast between living life independently (when you’re 18 and above) and how you’re still babied at home (no matter when you return) gives rise to the well known term “American – Born Confused Desi”! (Not just applicable to Americans of course)

    Great article :)

  4. Katie January 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    I’m a 33 year old woman (living in south east asia) but I’m still not allowed to sleep over at any friend’s house or go anywhere without permission.

    All vacation trips I ever had needs approval from my parents, I need to send maps, hotel room number, friends telephone number to my parents and call them back everywhere I go, plus taking photos of all my friends and send to my parents.

    I feel very suffocated having to live with my parents at this age but although i have a good stable job, I’m not allowed to live elsewhere.
    Living with my parents in my country equals being grateful for their upbringing.
    So basically I have no way out of this.. unless I get married.

    Being such a career driven person, I just don’t date which means I don’t see myself being married any soon and my parents are just overly protected until it effects my work. One time I was working late in my office and my parents told me they will call my boss the next time they ever let me work late again…geeez..

    I feel so suffocated every day …… anyone has any advice fixing my situation, please let me know.
    I want to live independently so I can focus on my career and not having to spend so much time reporting where I go.. but spend that amount of effort and time to my work…. HELP ME…………….

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