Do not raise your child the way your parents raised you; they were born for a different time. Rabab Hussain, a Pakistani-expat based in Dubai stands by this.
Mother to a five-year-old daughter, Hussain explains how her parents want the child to be disciplined, just like she was. “I try to deal with her as I would have liked to be treated,” explains Hussain. “I treat her like she is an equal, without being told what to do all the time. Most importantly, she knows she has options and choices to follow.”
Why does Hussain feel so strongly about raising her child differently from the way she was raised?
She answers, “As kids, we were never given many choices and had to follow what our parents told us. Wear this, eat that, or study this. Keep your guard always up around strangers, don't have too many friends.”
Hussain doesn’t want to set the same rules for her daughter. “I will teach her to be cautious and learn to make decisions on her own,” she explains.
As kids, we were never given many choices and had to follow what our parents told us. Wear this, eat that, or study this. Keep your guard always up around strangers, don't have too many friends...
Thirty-eight year old Bhumika Singh echoes similar feelings and has no desire to be like her parents. Acknowledging that her parents did the best they could for her, the Sharjah-based expat says, “My father was constantly shifting jobs in India, and we kept moving with him. We moved to Dubai, when I was 14, and that was even more stressful. Both my parents took up odd jobs and all kinds of projects to make ends meet. They tried hard for us, very hard. But, my sister and I became punching bags for them. They got upset for random reasons,” recalls Singh.
There was intense anxiety surrounding every detail of their lives, including academics, and how much they could be allowed to spend. “The pressure on studying was suffocating. Anything less than one of the top ranks would warrant a long rant at home,” says Singh. “I think my elder sister had it worse than me; she wasn’t even allowed to spend time with friends after school. My mother insisted that we study hard every day. During the main examinations, we studied for days and nights, without ever moving out of the house. All other activities like dancing, skating sessions were cancelled.”
Singh is careful to not repeat the patterns with her ten-year-old daughter. “I realised that I have internalised so much of my mother’s anxiety when it comes to academics. I’ve to keep reminding myself to not be so tough on my daughter, like my mother was with me. I want her to have a balanced and happy childhood,” says Singh.
Most of us might not want to be our parents, but can we really help it?
As children, we wanted to be our parents
However, Singh notes that as a young child of eight years, she did want to be like her mother. “Of course, at that time, I didn’t understand the stress and anxiety. She was also so very loving to us, so for me, I thought she was perfect. I saw her as unbreakable,” she explains.
As children, most of us would like to be our parents. We don't get a choice whether we 'should' or 'should not' be like our parents, explains UAE-based psychotherapist and author Andrea Antiss. “As children, we take on our parent’s patterns, we become like them so they will see us, like us and love us. We intuitively know that we need our parents to survive so we become like them to guarantee our chances of a roof over our head, food on our plate,” she adds. However, as we become teenagers, we turn rebellious and do the opposite.
As conscious and intelligent adults, we do realise that we have some agency and choice. “We often see ourselves acting out things that were done to us and realise those negative patterns are not serving us,” explains Antiss further. In her book, Juicy Life - 8 Surprising Steps to Awaken Your True Self, she elaborates how we learnt key ways of learning, feeling and behaving from the family environment around us.
A lot isn’t in our control, says Hima Mammen, a psychologist at the Dubai-based Human Relations Institute & Clinics. We internalise so many behaviours, preferences and patterns from our parents deeply, that we often don’t even know that we are doing so. “We don’t realise how often our parents behaviours come through us. Suddenly during an argument, you realise that you might have used words like your dad, or even your mum,” she says.
As conscious and intelligent adults, we do realise that we have some agency and choice. We often see ourselves acting out things that were done to us and realise those negative patterns are not serving us.
Thirty-year-old Candace Matthews, a Canadian based in Abu Dhabi, didn’t realise that she had imbibed most of her mother’s habits. “As far as I can remember, I swore to not be like my mother. I love her, but her attention to detail, gets to the point where I am so irritated. She nitpicks so much. I thought I was more flexible than she was. But the other day, at work, I think that I kept pruning my junior’s work so much, that the poor child started crying. When I looked at my edits, I found that I had even made sharp and abrasive comments like her in my annoyance,” says the media professional. “I didn’t even know I had her tendencies, and that’s what scares me. My mother’s words when she was angry used to hurt me so much as a child. If I ever become a mother, I don’t want to be like her, because I know the scars it leaves.”
A lot isn't in our control. We internalise so many behaviours, preferences and patterns from our parents deeply, that we often don’t even know that we are doing so.
On the other hand, Joanna Mayors, an American corporate professional based in Dubai, has resigned to the fact that she has a temper like her father’s. “I used to fear my father’s temper so much in childhood. He was the most loving man otherwise, but when he got angry, I was scared of him. And now, whenever I get angry, my mother points it out to calm me down. Apparently, I use the same words and phrases like him. I have the same aggressive way of pacing down the corridor, my mother says,” she adds.
We absorb information and imbibe our parent’s attitudes, behaviours and rules, Antiss elaborates. The environment that a person grows up in, has also been influenced by cultural backgrounds as well as the ancestry. In most cases, trauma and hurt from generations has been passed down.
The baggage of the times
Forty-year old Arun Chatterjee recalls the fractious relationship between his parents and grandparents. “My father had a particularly difficult relationship with his father. My grandfather never supported his decision to pursue English literature,” explains the Dubai-based Indian expat. “He wanted my father to become a doctor, and made his displeasure so clear. He would always toss barbed replies at him, and played favourites with my uncle. It made my father very bitter and hurt, even though he was taking care of him all that time. I think my grandfather’s disappointment stayed on for years, till the end of his life.”
Ruefully, Chatterjee feels that his father unknowingly repeated the pattern with him. “I didn’t do my PhD. I got into public relations. My father became my grandfather to me, upset, and reminding me all the time that I should have gone into research. He kept saying that I had become ordinary,” recalls Chatterjee. “I think that strain of bitterness just carried through our family, for a long time. As a result, my wife and I promised one thing, no matter what our son chooses to study and pursue, we will support him. I think a child needs to feel the love and guidance from parents, not like he’s done something to feel ashamed of,” he says.
Speaking about the changes between then and now, he feels that there was a lack of information during his parents’ times. “I think generally, people in the earlier days before the 2000s, didn’t have much access to information. In the case of my parents, their only source of knowledge and understanding came from their parents and the family elders. Everyone was just exchanging their own opinions in that small society. People just passed on the upbringing ideas, however rigid, from the previous generation, regardless of whatever was effective,” he says. They could only go to each other for advice in crisis, and in turn, repeating old patterns. Any sort of healing or processing emotional trauma wasn’t so viable to many.
I think generally, people in the earlier days before the 2000s, didn’t have much access to information. In the case of my parents, their only source of knowledge and understanding came from their parents and the family elders. Everyone was just exchanging their own opinions in that small society. People just passed on the upbringing ideas, however rigid, from the previous generation, regardless of whatever was effective...
“For example, if they were hit in childhood, they hit their kids too, as a form of punishment. And they couldn’t understand the effect it would have on us, because they thought that this was the ‘right’ way to bring up a child. My father would often tell me that my grandfather’s rule was to never give the child an option, because it could lead to them being ‘spoilt’,” explains Chatterjee.
In the past few decades, Mammen says that there has been a different change in the mindset and a shift in attitudes. “It’s also got to do with a shift in culture, I think. Earlier, everyone subscribed to their own demographic. Now, the world is such a multicultural place, with an exchange of ideas and new understandings, thanks to so much research. For example, if you take your child to a school now, even methods of reprimanding a child is different. You can’t whack a child. Not just hitting, look at the clothes we choose to wear, that we couldn’t wear earlier. Like jeans. Or even the content that kids are watching.” The ‘wrongs and ‘rights’ have now changed, and it could still be foreign to parents from the previous generation. “My parents will still not agree with many of my decisions,” she adds.
‘I don’t want my child to fear me’
“It wasn’t until our twenties or late twenties that us millennials learnt to prioritise self-care and unlearn certain things,” explains Dubai-based Pakistani journalist Shaheera Anwar. Anwar recalls the intense pressure of academics in her childhood and how education was of supreme importance. “Anything less than 90 per cent was not good enough. That pressure to excel academically made us feel worthless, as if our lives would spiral into chaos,” she says.
However, Anwar doesn’t want her child to grow up to believe that education is the sole measure of success, the way she did. “Many of us felt insecure, and we were even afraid to confide in our parents, who should have been our primary source of comfort. I don’t want my child to fear me,” she says. “I want to be someone he can turn to help if he ever finds himself in trouble.” Moreover, she doesn’t want her child to be arbitrarily forbidden to do something without any clear explanation, as that encourages more resentment. “I believe that the more we forbid children from doing something, the more curious we become. Encouraging their individuality helps to develop their own identity, rather than becoming a version of themselves that aligns with our expectations as parents,” she says.
Many of us felt insecure, and we were even afraid to confide in our parents, who should have been our primary source of comfort. I want to be someone my child can turn to help if he ever finds himself in trouble.
Encouraging ‘taboo’ conversations
There was a list of taboo topics that our parents wouldn’t discuss, recalls Naheed Maalik, a 51-year-old Dubai-based Pakistani entrepreneur. Emphasising on the importance of communication, she says, “For example, things like puberty. There was always a line that was never crossed: many taboo topics that were never to be talked about, leaving me to find my own answers. In my childhood, there was so much talk about propriety, and was often told ‘this isn’t right’ or you can’t behave like this.”
There was always a line that was never crossed: many taboo topics that were never to be talked about, leaving me to find my own answers. In my childhood, there was so much talk about propriety, and was often told ‘this isn’t right’ or you can’t behave like this.
As you grow up, you realise that there is so much to unlearn and understand, she adds. Maalik emphasises that she wants to be honest and vulnerable in the relationships with her children. “I've made a conscious effort to have a relationship of openness and a sort of equality, with my kids - something that was unthinkable in my parent’s generation.” Maalik makes it a point to have open conversations surrounding taboo topics with her children, rather than leaving them grappling for answers.
Breaking the cycle without being reactionary
Look for the middle way.
Many a times, people tend to get into ‘panic mode’ and rewrite what their parents taught them, says Mammen. This pertains to those who later felt bitter or resentful about their parents methods, or if they grew up in difficult situations. “This leads to a reactive response. There are loopholes in that as well,” says Mammen. People go in the opposite direction, and indulge the child with promises. “What could help, is to have a stand of objectivity. Think of the good things that you have benefited from this parenting style,” she says.
Mammen advises, to give the parents the benefit that some methods have been useful. On the other hand, hold the parenting style accountable, and the losses that you have had, to that parenting style and not to the person. “Draw your own conclusion,” she says.
People tend to get into ‘panic mode’ and rewrite what their parents taught them. This leads to a reactive response. They go in the opposite direction and indulge the child with promises. What could help, is to have a stand of objectivity.
Zehra Farhan, a Pakistani communications professional based in Dubai, says it is important to accept that parents had moments of error, but they too, invested a lot in their child’s development. “As we take on the responsibility of parenthood ourselves, we seek not only to avoid repeating their errors but also to replicate the positive actions and qualities that shaped us into better individuals. The lessons we learn from our parents' mistakes serve as guideposts, steering us towards actions and behaviours that foster our children's growth and development, just as our parents did for us,” she says.
Aysha Abrar, an Indian national working as a childbirth educator in Dubai, has found the middle way. “We were brought up in different times. Our parents brought us up according to their time and experience. We still can learn a lot from them. I’ve learnt a lot from my father, like forgiveness and compassion. At the same time, our right and wrong is now different, and we can make our own informed decisions,” she adds.