It used to be the case that there was a conflict, a ‘us v them’ relationship with our parents and us – they, the first generation who settled here in the 70s and 80s, and us, the second generation who were British-born and Asian who had to balance religion and culture with being in the West. I know of course that everyone’s experiences are different, and as a child of first-generation immigrant parents, I have certainly had my own experiences and conflicts with my parents. I do find it interesting that my elder sisters’ and brother’s experiences in the 90s slightly differs from mine – they were the earlier, ‘first’ generation who forged the way, while we followed behind. I also have a lot of friends who are in fact third-generation children, whose experiences are certainly very different although not without their own struggles.
These days it feels like the balance has shifted – our parents have mellowed out and are trying to be more understanding. I won’t say the days of emotional blackmail, culture clashing and Asian dramas (wedding traditions, anyone?) are over but this has definitely changed and evolved over the last decade or so. I think that a lot of the first-generation parents are beginning to understand that they cannot just force their children to follow a route that they think if right for them, especially as we are becoming more independent, more integrated and as we settle into our marriages, careers and parenthoods.
As these second-generations (and even some third-generations!) are beginning to or already have become parents themselves, I think a lot of them understand better the struggles that come with being a Muslim parent, especially when you have your own culture, British culture, religion and your own personal values to add to the mix. Ironically, I feel like there is beginning to be a gap between these parents and their children, who are definitely becoming part of the emerging middle-class Muslims, whose parents are determined to make the most of their education, lifestyle and social opportunities.
As someone who isn’t a parent yet, I was a little hesitant about adding my piece to this. But then I realised that my view, while it may not be the same as everyone’s, is still a voice to add to the conversation about the generation gap. I’ve been thinking about this for a while for several reasons – partly because a lot of friends and sisters of mine who are parents, have noted that bringing up their own children is a huge difference compared to their own upbringing, which has naturally brought to mind my own values and plans for bringing up children, as well as my own relationship with my parents.
I come across it every now and then – in my nieces and nephews, in my friend’s and sister’s children, and even when I meet young girls, younger bloggers and even younger people in my job who have a different mind-set to the ones we had as we had at their age. Those kids are fully immersed in society, with less identity conflicts about whether they’re from the West or the East, confident in their religion rather than being hindered by culture, with the knowledge that they have every right to education and a career. In contrast, it feels a little like my generation precariously fumbled our way through into jobs we weren’t sure of, studying as far as we could afford – I myself have always wanted to do a Masters and Doctorate, but couldn’t afford to after I finished university and went straight into work.
It brings me to mind a book I read when I was younger by one of my favourite authors – one of the things the young hero in the tale bemoans is the fact that all the adults he comes across constantly expect him to be grateful, that he is should know how lucky he is, but instead feels like the emotion is being forced on him. I think of this because sometimes when I speak to the younger generation in my family, or when I speak to younger girls who complain about the banes of their lives, I try to explain to them that they don’t realise how lucky they are, that it could be worse, and that we older generations did in fact have it worse. Unfortunately, most of them don’t seem very impressed when I tell them that and usually retort that actually, they have it worse because they have XYZ problems that we never did.
And you know what? They’re right, in a way. They do have problems that we never did – I’m constantly thankful that social media, makeup, designer brands and technology weren’t a big thing when I was a teenager the way it is now, the constant influence and distractions it would have had on my education, my social life and definitely my self-image, which means I would be a different person with Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and Periscope at 13. There’s so many things that children these days, and young adults too, have to learn which we didn’t. My generation raves over Panda Pops, 5p ice-poles and 1p pick-n-mix sweets, Friends on Channel 4 on Friday nights, brown lipstick (with the dark brown lip liner outline) and family holidays ‘back home’. Meanwhile the newer generation have smartphones, iPads, Adventure Time, holidays in Dubai and Morrocco, global warning awareness, and River Island handbags and sushi for lunch. It’s easy to call them spoiled, and it is the case that they may have more opportunities, but they also have just as many challenges which are easier to ignore by us.
Just as our parents needled us about being grateful for opportunities (studying further in school, having a job, buying a new pair of shoes), it seems like the younger generation sometimes get the same thing from us. While my parents drilled into us the importance of marriage, good jobs and keeping good relations with our relatives both in Britain and back home, the younger generations have their own issues too – balancing friends and social lives with building careers, education, social media issues, even spending on luxuries. That’s not to say we didn’t do the same thing, looking back, it feels like everything was less overwhelming and busy – to sound like an old fogey, things just seemed simpler back then.
I‘ve also noticed a big difference when we had to deal with, and when the younger generations have had to deal with and differentiate between following religion and culture. My siblings and I were lucky enough to have parents who didn’t force too much culture down our throats, or follow traditions which didn’t align with our religion. A lot of the silly things that come with culture I was pretty unaware of until I got older, because my father emphasised the importance of religion with us, and my mother never forced us to do anything we didn’t want to do because she always wanted her children to be happy. This meant that while we have the still had pressure on us to study until a certain age, marry ‘suitable’ people and follow certain social guidelines (eg. curfew and going out), we still didn’t have it as bad as a lot of others that we know.
I think because of this, the British-Asian parents of today have recognised the importance of having awareness and choices in their children’s lives – such as choosing a partner, jobs, and following religion without all the hindrances of culture. We know the right things to do to help our children and push them, and we also get to choose the good parts about culture – knowing our roots and traditions without letting these dictate our lives. The younger generation now are able to understand current affairs, be more involved with their society and communities, and look towards bigger things even if their parents couldn’t.
I don’t think there is a real right or wrong way to deal with the conflicts with our parents – as I have gotten older I have appreciated more the things my own parents have taught me, and really am grateful. I was fairly lucky because I was pretty sheltered as a child, so I didn’t have a lot of the problems that some of my friends had, although I will admit, I did resent feeling that I also missed out on things, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m sure it’s pretty universal that parents always want for their children what they never had, our parents wanted success, happy marriages and financial stability for us where it was a struggle for them, and we want happy lives, careers and identities for our own children. I don’t mean to belittle the struggle our parents had – they came to Britain as youngsters themselves and struggled to maintain their culture, faith and way of living, and they constantly worried that their children would lose their roots. Meanwhile, although the later generations have less of guilt about being Westernised, there’s still that worry that they may be too influenced by things which their parents disagree with – whether it’s being a One Direction fan or being okay with belly button piercings.
I guess we can only do what we can, which is our very best. Most of the friends, sisters and brothers I know are excellent role models, and although they may find it difficult sometimes, they are able to encourage their children without pushing them, praise them and give them the knowledge and confidence to go out and do their best.
I only hope that I can do as well as that : )