When I was a kid I used to daydream about moving out all the time. I wanted to live in an apartment, somewhere far away. I wanted to come home to a place that smelled the way I wanted it to smell. I wanted to wear whatever clothes I felt comfortable in and read for hours without anyone asking me what I was doing.
I wanted a space where I could be me. Unapologetically. Without question.
I spent a lot of time thinking about moving out throughout the course of my life, but never actually made the move. There was always someone else to consider.
The big questions loomed; What would my parents think? How would they navigate this? Would I be a terrible daughter if I left? Would I be a terrible sister?
I remember when I was a teenager my aunt and uncle said to me “Manjot, the kids are going to do what you do.” At the time this felt like such a compliment. Wow, they look up to me. In hindsight I think this became my biggest barrier to moving out. If I moved out, what kind of precedent was I setting for generations to come?
I am an eldest daughter in a Punjabi household—which are often known to be apprehensive to let women move out, unless of course they choose to get married. While this isn’t the sole reason that has held me back from my dream of living completely on my own, it was certainly a big contributing factor.
While I am happy with my life and the path I have chosen it’s hard not to lament the life I never got to live.
Like many of the women I work with in therapy; guilt, shame, and family expectations became the cage that I felt trapped in, but was too scared to open.
As the eldest child it was hard not to feel that choosing myself meant abandoning my duties and somehow this felt both foreign and unacceptable.
As a therapist, I am reminded everyday about how hard it can be to navigate our own wants and needs over those of our family.
Over the past year I have been working with countless young women who are breaking cultural norms by moving out before marriage. These cultural norms are the unsaid expectations within their community. You only move out if you are going to school far away or are getting married. You definitely don’t move out to have space from your family or to explore who you are outside of the family structure.
Some of these women have made the decision and made the move, others are just on the precipice. They are trying to decide, not if they’re capable of being on their own, but if they can handle the fall out from their family.
It’s a strange place to be, when you know that moving out is the right decision for you but also know deep down that there will be a price to pay emotionally with those you’ve lived with your whole life.
A majority of women spend their lives juggling multiple roles: the second mother, the wife, the saviour, the mediator and so much more. Sometimes it feels as though we have to be everything to everyone, or our families will collapse.
We’re expected to bear the burden of both domestic and professional labour—to cook, clean, and nurture while also building robust careers. We're the de facto mother figure because we are the eldest daughter or the only girl or the girl who has been deemed more “obedient”.
Though we never signed up for it, we often play the role of marriage counsellors, financial planners and life coaches to our families, too.
The line between being a child and adult is often blurred for these women since we’ve been holding things together for the better part of our lives. When the idea of moving out comes up, we wonder who will be able to take care of all the little things that we do for our families in a day.
We rarely talk about how heavy this role is and how much guilt is tied up with being a young caregiver in the family.
As per cultural norms, I moved out when I got married. Despite the fact that it fit into the expectations my family had set out for my life, I still felt immense guilt knowing I was stepping out of the many roles I had come to occupy.
I can’t imagine how it would have felt to have actively pursued my dream and moved out just for myself and my wellbeing.
All this is to say that I am so proud of each and every woman who has to navigate this shift, be it before or after marriage.
To all the parents who have daughters that are brave enough to consider living on their own, outside of the institution of marriage, I’ll say this: The greatest gift you can give your daughters is to set them free.
Your daughters are not property who should go from their father’s house to their husband’s.
Let them have their own space. Let them know what it feels like to care for no one but themselves. So few women get this chance and they need it so much.
Last summer I hosted a workshop for South Asian women who wanted to explore feelings around guilt, shame and sexuality.
During one of the sessions a participant shared that as women we spend so much time in our childhoods and young adulthoods taking care of everyone else that by the time we are ready to become mothers for ourselves, we are exhausted.
Parents, you are robbing us of precious time and moments. I know it’s not intentional, you want to protect us from the world who will label the girl who moves out as difficult and disobedient. We know that you love us and want only the best for us. But if you don’t change the conversation then we will never be free. Neither will your granddaughters or any woman that comes after them. It’s on us to break these cycles.
The change begins with you. We can’t keep handing the shackles of caregiving to the daughters and women in our lives. Don’t just allow your girls to move out, encourage them! In fact, if they have the means, I’m sure a lot of the sons in our community would benefit from living on their own, too. Everyone could use the lessons an independent life teaches us.
To the moms and dads reading this, please start the conversation with each other. Your daughter will not be any less yours if she moves out. You’re not just giving her the space to be her own person, but you’re allowing her to figure out who she really is. More importantly, the confidence you show in her is the same confidence she will put out into the world.
Set her free.
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