5 Things From My Bengali Immigrant Upbringing I Would Change
By Sabrina Islam
I’m not a parent and I don’t doubt a single bit that it’s a tough gig! I have been a kid, however, and can confirm that, in itself, is also a tough process to go through.
I grew up in Australia in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I went to school with Australian children. I ate Bengali food at home. I spoke a mix of English and Bengali at home. I read nonfiction books in English. I watched Australian TV. I had school friends that were mainly white Australian and I had other friends I would see at dawats (family-friend parties). I was always in a blend of cultures across my home and the outside world. With my Ammu and Abbu (eventually I always referred to them as Mum and Dad) doing their best to raise my brothers and me in a far-away continent with none of their own family members or relatives to lean on, there were definitely many painful points.
With all the things I resented, there was a balance of all the things I appreciated and all the things I would have done differently. Upon contemplation of what it might be like to have children of my own, here are 5 things from my Bengali immigrant upbringing I would change:
1.Forcing Family Holidays
Family is precious and time is precious. I would like to have my children experience the autonomy of making their own plans during the breaks.
All my own family holidays have involved going to Bangladesh and traveling being as expensive as it is for one person, try multiplying that by six! We were financially-drained, even though it seemed worth it for my parents who revisited loved ones.
After a certain point, it becomes too much to coordinate one’s annual leave holidays with the rest of the household. I’ll be fine with leaving my kids on their own for some time while I take trips without them depending on their age.
2.Choosing what my Children Study
Like many South Asian parents, mine dreamt of me pursuing medicine and becoming a physician. From Year 6, at age 11, to be exact. I was always told I would have to study to become a doctor and come the end of High School, I was made to take on many science classes, which I had no passion for. My interests went almost completely in the creative direction from everything literary to film, and I now work in an HR role that I love. It took a long time for me to get onto this path and it opened my eyes to a lot. I can save my kids enough time to let them pursue something that they really care about. That way, they will want to put effort into their studies.
3. Forbidding Sleepovers
Terms and conditions definitely apply! Sleepovers just don’t hit with the same excitement in your adulthood as they do in childhood (using my imagination, here).
I definitely had some sleepovers in my life, but they almost always were at my house and my friend’s mum almost always stayed the night too. Cool. Nothing wrong with that. Glad my mum and aunty got to have a session of their own. My mum being the protective woman she is never ever let me sleepover anywhere unsupervised though, which I hated so much. Am I glad my parents didn’t ever create an opportunity for me to be molested? Of course! Still… I can see myself allowing some sleepovers if I have kids.
4.Not Encouraging Extracurricular Activities
Outside of the academic world, my own parents cared very little for building hobbies for me and my brothers. Occasionally, my mum would get it into her head that she wanted me to learn something like classical Bangla dancing, but just as fast as the thought would enter her mind, it would leave just as quickly. Over time though, my parents have come to appreciate hobbies and extracurricular activities, but I really like the idea of my children exploring those things at a younger age.
5.Making my Kids Change their Clothes Depending on the Company
I’m a 28-year-old woman and I am still doing this honestly to save time on arguments, but looking back on my childhood, it just doesn’t sit right with me. If someone is around that I need my kids dressed differently for, then that person is unwelcome and I do not want to socialize with them. I want my sons and daughters to be comfortable in their own homes and outside, wearing clothes that make them feel content.
Stay tuned for my next blog post on “5 Things from My Bengali Immigrant Upbringing I Would Not Change.”