As a desi girl growing up in a close-knit household, I always took my strong family unit for granted. My parents cared for my brothers and I, diligently and selflessly. They were the first to applaud my achievements and scold me for my mistakes. Keeping up to speed on each others’ lives was as easy as catching up around the dinner table.
When my parents moved to Pakistan in 2008, I learned that it’s not as easy to maintain that closeness with 8,000 miles and an 11-hour time difference between you. For the first time in my life, I had to work at it.
Over the years, we’ve developed a consistent schedule for staying in touch. My parents call me every morning as they’re getting ready for work, and we give each other a rundown on life at our respective ends. I e-mail them when I need to discuss something deeper, and we enjoy lengthy Skype dates on Sunday mornings.
Our communication routine is second nature to me now, but I made my share of mistakes before finding that synchrony. I was 17 when my parents moved, and I had no idea what challenges I’d face in maintaining our relationship until I actually endured them.
Because I chose to stay in Texas for college, I felt I had to be strong and own that decision. I spent a long time being in denial about the difficulty of being apart from my family.
I told myself the distance wasn’t a big deal. I tried to think of myself as an international student and accept the idea that I’d only see my parents during winter break. I just wanted to feel like my peers and have a normal college experience. I was so busy denying how much I missed my parents that I began neglecting my communication with them.
When my mom called, I dismissed many of her questions with the usual “yes, everything is ok.” I didn’t share my bad news or my hard times. I didn’t want to make my parents worry when they were so far away, and I tried to project a false image that I had it all together.
I filled my college days with classes, work, and sorority meetings. I kept myself occupied and tried to focus on my new beginnings rather than the void I was feeling without my family.
Before long. I began getting flak from my parents for not returning their calls or e-mails. The longer I waited to get in touch, the more I dreaded the disappointment in their voices. I felt so busy juggling my other responsibilities. Couldn’t they understand that I just forgot? It wasn’t such a big deal when my friends missed their parents’ calls.
It took me some time to accept that my family situation was unique. I couldn’t go home and see my parents on the weekends. I didn’t have the luxury of blowing them off, hanging up in a bad mood or not saying what I was truly feeling. Those few minutes of reassurance on the phone meant more when it was all we had.
Since my family moved I have always strived to be self-sufficient, but I learned that sometimes I take it too far. My parents raised me with such care, and they want to be needed. I had to stop denying the difficulties I was facing without them. I was so caught up in trying to keep my life together that I was forgetting to make them a part of it.
Despite the distance, my relationship with my parents has only gotten richer since they moved because it helped me mature. I learned that growing up is not just about handling life on my own. It’s about accepting my shortcomings, admitting that I don’t have it all figured out and not being afraid to ask for help.
If you’re living apart from your loved ones to advance your career, your education or whatever it is you’re striving for, don’t be afraid to admit that it gets hard. No matter what’s in your heart, it might not read so clearly to others. Whether you’re two continents or a two-hour drive away, it’s important to show your loved ones that you care. Make sure that message rings as clear as your desi mom’s nightly phone calls.
Image provided by Syeda Hasan