New Canadian Media

Immigrant Youth Struggle with Parental Expectations

Written by  New Canadian Media Tuesday, 19 April 2016 09:05
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Cover image of A Guide to Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents by Hodan Ibrahim
Cover image of A Guide to Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents by Hodan Ibrahim Photo Credit: Qurtaba Publishing House, 2015

by Florence Hwang in Regina

Cultural differences between young new Canadians and their parents can compound the struggles youth normally experience within their families during childhood and adolescence.

A Guide to Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents (Qurtaba Publishing Houseoutlines how young first-generation immigrants can handle conflict with their immigrant parents. Hodan Ibrahim, an artist and entrepreneur, wrote this five-chapter booklet to guide young immigrants towards pursuing their dreams, with a particular emphasis on conflicts within Muslim families, based on her own experiences and upbringing. 

Often, children of immigrants are expected to obey their parents without questioning their authority. Ibrahim writes that immigrant children may be left unhappy in the struggle to continually live up to their parents’ expectations.

“I was able to fight through and escape the overbearing cultural pressures put on young people to essentially live up to the expectations of our community and parents when we have very different expectations for how we want to live our lives,” she writes. 

Culture impacts aspirations 

In her booklet, Ibrahim emphasizes why it is important for children to discover and work towards fulfilling their own dreams - not living out the dreams of their parents. Her approach is more in-line with Western culture, in that it is more individualistic, rather than Eastern culture, which is more holistic.

“Like many of you, I grew up in an environment where I was persuaded to not find my talent, let alone allowed to follow my dreams.”
 

She notes that individuality or sense of independence can scare parents. It makes them very uncomfortable because they don’t understand or don’t want to understand why their child wants to be different. 

She says immigrant parents may react by saying, "You don't listen,” but that this really means, “You don't listen to my way of doing things.”

“Like many of you, I grew up in an environment where I was persuaded to not find my talent, let alone allowed to follow my dreams,” she writes. “As a Muslim woman, no one wants to hear you doing this. Actually, no one cares, as long [as] you find a nice husband, work 9-5, have a baby. But is that all I was made for?” she asks. 

Ibrahim says she also focused on faith and spirituality to find her passion and realize her goals.

Children need independence 

To help learn about her personal interests and passions, she went to libraries and listened to speakers and personal development gurus. 

“I had no real understanding of what my life passions were but I knew that the only way to find it was to not be afraid to try new things,” writes Ibrahim, who says her parents expected her to become a doctor. 

She says a child’s purpose in life supersedes the wishes of their parents’ and anyone else’s opinions. She encourages immigrant children to explore, try new things and travel to find out what their passions are and potentially discover their calling in life. 

Ibrahim says she also focused on faith and spirituality to find her passion and realize her goals. 

“I only had God ... who I called on when I had nothing else to call on, who nurtured me when I fell deep into my pain and kindly guided me to where I was supposed to go, not where I thought I wanted to go,” she writes. 

“I learned that you really can’t survive on your own and that a deeper and much higher force is there for you, to guide you and help you,” she adds.

First- and second-generation immigrants must discover who they are, what they want to contribute to the world, and the families they want to have – all while balancing their faith with their careers, writes Ibrahim. Parents don’t often understand the difficulty of balancing it all, she notes. 

She points out that the children of immigrants return from school or work to deal with society's problems while facing another internal battlefield at home – the result of language barriers and other cultural divisions. 

“You are just set up to lose. So what do you do? You must learn to separate your thoughts and ideas from your family, community and culture,” Ibrahim writes. 

Immigrant parents do want their children to become financially independent and successful in their careers.

Not fair to generalize 

As an immigrant and child of immigrants myself, not all of Ibrahim’s points resonate with me.

My parents did not expect me to become a doctor, accountant, or lawyer. They encouraged me to become anything I wanted to be, which was a journalist and later a librarian. They did question my choice as a journalist initially, but were eventually supportive. They did prefer my second choice, though, as it is a more stable profession.

While Ibrahim focuses on Muslim families, it is still a generalization to argue they are mostly set in their ways and do not change. Immigrant parents do want their children to become financially independent and successful in their careers.

A Guide to Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents offers practical advice and at the same time touches on the roots of intergenerational conflict. She looks at the differing philosophies of parents and their children and paints the parents as having an insular view of the world while the younger generation’s is non-hierarchal. 

“I’m here to tell you: you are not alone,” she writes. “I get it and wanted to open up the discussion about the challenges and solutions to life's problems that many young, career-oriented individuals from ethnic backgrounds have to face.”

Florence Hwang used to work as a print journalist before becoming a media librarian. These days, she is also a freelance writer, whose work has been featured in several publications, including New Canadian Media. Outside of work, Florence spends her time making short films about her family history.


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

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