It is considered almost the biggest tribute to our moms when we say that we are growing up to be like them. I’ve heard my friends say it and their moms look at them proudly. It’s like an affirmation of our moms’ success in the lifelong struggle of making us worthy human beings.
But if truth be told, I never wanted to turn out like my mom. I was actually scared of turning out like her and when someone said that I was so like her I made sure I reserved dedicated time for some serious introspection and tried to weed her out of me.
Because my mom didn’t have a socially easy life. Some things that are part and parcel of societal success are definitely missing from my mom’s social repertoire.
Gradually, however, particularly after I became a mother myself, I started to see how I was truly my mother’s daughter purely by osmosis. And probably genes. I became respectful of my mom’s process. With time I even started following the same process to remain true to myself.
But if I were to tell you of the five things that Desi women who aren’t cut from the same Desi cloth as their Desi sisters struggle with , they would be the following.
1. My mom always had a hard time advocating for her kids’ choices. It wasn’t easy for her to do. Partly because she faced her own disagreement with our choices before she could agree with them. Partly because the reasons for disagreement were usually “what will people say?” Partly because she never had much choice herself. You can see the conundrum. It’s like someone knowing what’s right but unable to have an unbiased opinion of it. It’s living life constantly through someone else’s vision. I’m glad my mom ultimately listened to us. She went through a lot of internal and external dialogue which was exhausting and didn’t make it easy for her but she got there on her own.
2. My mom could never say no. It was taught to her as an abominable word. Something that good women never say. She always had to stay in compliance. It became a physical and mental struggle for her. She couldn’t fight against major and minor injustices because she saw it as rebellious. She was raised to believe in others more than herself. So when she heard her kids say no frequently she did get some major angst from it. She tried to tell us how to be likable and sociable by always saying yes . Then she saw us being likable with a big circle of friends despite saying no. Then she started to say no occasionally too. Then she empowered us in our dissents. But it didn’t come to her naturally and as the birthright like it is. It came to her through a process of soul-hurting reflection on her own past and decisions and relationships.
3. Being a girl mom is hard in a patriarchal society. It’s a constant challenge. Society expects girls to act and live a certain way. When girls choose alternative lifestyles or unpopular ways, their moms are blamed. My mom has been asked about everything that she hasn’t done but her kids have. Usually without her knowledge. Usually things that she has not even been a part of. She initially tried to answer for us, protected us and even argued with people for us. Gradually she learned that we are responsible for our decisions and therefore directed people to us. She deferred all explanations to us. She picked up her skirt out of the pool of questions surrounding her and let us deal with it. She empowered us by not handing the menu to us.
4. My mom made friends with her in-laws. Her sister-in-law became her biggest confidante. This is baffling to the Pakistani society. A society where in-laws are unanimously regarded as enemies, my mom made friends with them. Just to be candid about it, if Pakistani women are getting along with their in-laws they’re considered subservient and impressionable. My mom spent a lifetime explaining to people that she liked her in-laws because they were good people. Then she realized this explanation wasn’t her job. She moved on.
5. But the biggest problem that happened for my Desi mom was that she found a partner and a friend in my father. That became a huge problem for all the lovely people around us who believed in wifely submission and subjugation. While my parents showed us how a marriage should be, people did consider them forward and too progressive. My mom debated how she should be with my father for many years. Then she found pure joy in the uninhibited nature of this relationship. Then she owned it and transferred this to her kids.
So overall, my desi mom hasn’t been too successful at being a brown society favorite but she has been a total role model. Without even trying. She became a role model in-spite of her influencers. She became a woman to emulate despite the odds against her.
So that’s what I’ve learned from her. That we all have to be the woman that we want our daughters to be.