Lessons in Family

jasjit

Lessons from my mother and father

Columnist, Step-mothering

Columnist, Step-mothering

Being a stepmother in a bi-racial blended family can have its benefits. There are tremendous opportunities for learning that you might not otherwise encounter in your life as you bring together two cultures and multiple generations of a family. For example, how common is it to see a turbaned Sikh male senior citizen socializing with a young, white, female fashionista or an amritdhari Punjabi grandmother holding the hand of the same fashionista as she talks to her about the importance of getting a good education and having religion in her life? Not the kind of situation any of them expected they would ever be in, yet it works, when both generations bring each other into their lives. In the spirit of mother’s day and father’s day, I am going to share a little bit about my parents and what they have taught me through their role in my blended family.

 

My parents, like many other immigrants, faced numerous challenges while raising their families. When they first arrived in Canada almost 40 years ago they were not accepted graciously nor did they have the comfort of retreating to the ethnic enclaves that exist today. Instead, they had neighbours who did not talk to them, and they risked being harassed verbally, and even physically on occasion, just for the colour of their skin. As a consequence they held on tight to their culture and found solace with family and friends. They looked at mainstream white Canadian culture with distrust, and they told their children to do the same.

 

When I first told my mom that I was dating my soon to be husband she gasped and blurted out in Punjabi “Hai Ma Marjama!”. Although it is almost comical to write about her reaction now, at the time it was such an unexpected shock that she didn’t know how else to respond. My father on the other hand internalized his disapproval and refused to look at, or even talk to my boyfriend when I brought him home from the first time.  But instead of holding on their anger, or their dissatisfaction and letting that affect their relationship with me, they did the complete opposite. They changed who they were by contemplating deeply on the values they had held on to for so many years, and choosing to expand them, rather than cling to fossilized understandings of Sikh Punjabi culture.

 

They embraced my blended family and made sure my stepdaughters felt welcome and valued in their home. In doing so, they showed me how much they valued their relationship with me. They also showed me that although change in tough, it is much more fulfilling to take risks and open your heart to others, than to live a life that is constricted and fears the unknown. So, to my parents, I raise a cup of chai to you, and thank you for your love and support.

 

Do you have a story you would like to share about how your parents interact with your blended family? Send me an email at columnists@masalalmommas.com

 

 

 


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  1. Ambaa

    Do you have any advice for how to help parents make that transition? I hear so many times about parents refusing to accept a non-Indian spouse, let alone one who is divorced with children! The stories I hear have not had happy endings. At least not yet.

    • Fatimma Mohammad

      Hi Ambaa!
      Looking back on how things worked out for my blended family, I would say the greatest influencing factor was time. If you’re a 1st generation American-Desi, like I was, only time and patience will help to peel away the layers of narrowminded-ness from the “elders” in our families and communities. I know it’s not an instant-fix, but please believe that the passing of time helps to our families to gradually accept the non-desi change in their family’s dynamic.
      I, personally, have made enough mistakes early on when I decided to unveil my mixed-race relationship to my family (16 years ago), to say that I don’t advise getting angry with the family and saying things like, “We can make it without you!” or ,”I don’t care if you all don’t accept my relationship!”
      Fact is, we DO care if our families accept our blended relationships & we DON’T want to have to make it in the world without our family’s emotional support. Unfortunately, the caring & support part can take some time to develop on your family’s part & you just have to be patient and let time do the healing.
      I hope this is somewhat encouraging for you! I have MANY MANY more hilarious & not so hilarious scenarios/situations that my husband & I have gone through during the course of our roller-coaster ride of a being a blended family over the past 16 years- I’d be happy to share them with you :))

      • Jasjit Sangha

        Hello Ambaa and Fatimma,

        I agree that parents need time to accept changes and that saying hurtful remarks to each other in the heat of the moment will have lasting consequences. For my parents, the greatest sources of strength that got them through all the tough challenges they faced was their spiritual practice and a community of supportive relatives and friends who helped them get past their resistance to change. Also, of course, their relationships with their children, with us valuing them as much as they valued us.


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