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Navigating independence as a daughter in a South Asian household

By:
Manisha Singh/@exclusivelyManisha

From the moment we are born, South Asian daughters are acquainted with the societal and familial pressures that govern almost every aspect of their lives, including school, careers, and day-to-day decisions.

It's under these shackles of responsibility, that fantasies of an independent life attempt to bloom.

These fantasies take shape in many forms, and can include anything from being able to choose a career for oneself, or moving out of the family home before marriage.

In fact, I can almost guarantee that every brown daughter has thought at least once, about what life would be like if they were to move out from their parents’ home and into one of their own.

But within South Asian culture, finding independence as a daughter and moving out of the family home before marriage is a relatively new phenomenon that is often frowned upon. This can also have catastrophic effects, even including estrangement from one’s family, depending on the severity of the situation.

Take it from me, I experienced it.

I grew up in a household where physical and emotional abuse was rampant, so much so that I thought it was normal. Because of what I experienced at such a young age, I yearned to be independent as I got older.

When I turned 13 I realized that what was happening was wrong, and that my mom, sibling, and I deserved to live a better life. 

It was at that age that I talked to my mom about divorcing my dad.

As a South Asian daughter, I quickly assumed the role of counsellor and caregiver for her. 

As a result of this, an aspect of my childhood and my independence was stripped away as I helped her to navigate the divorce.

She was hurting and I felt like it was my responsibility to fix things for her, which is a common burden experienced by children in some brown households.

Even at my young age, I helped us to find a place to move into, and took up a job to help make ends meet, all while providing endless emotional support to my mother. All while the abuse from our past lives lived rent-free in our newly single-income home. 

Even though my mom and I were individually broken, our shared experience made us stronger together.

We spent countless hours bonding and helping each other to heal the wounds of our past. 

However, as we dealt with our pain in our own unique ways, we slowly stopped seeing eye to eye. 

Over time, my relationship with my mom, my best friend, turned toxic, and as a result my mental health declined at a rapid rate. 

I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD and I began to lose interest in the things that I loved. 

I had to come to terms with the fact that both my parents were abusive in their own ways, and this was no fault of my own. At the end of the day, I didn’t choose my parents, but they had chosen to have me.

Up until this point, I had spent years learning how to please my parents like a “good brown daughter”, but nothing I did seemed to be good enough.

I had to learn the hard way that no matter how hard you try, you can’t change other people, nor can you take away their pain. 

I had to acknowledge that my mom was hurting, but it wasn’t an excuse for her to do the same to me. 

That’s when I decided to move out, and the decision came with many of the consequences you’d expect as a young South Asian woman moving out of her parent’s home. This was compounded by the fact that my parents were divorced.

I broke away in order to be there for myself in the same way that I had been there for everyone else for the entirety of my life.

I became estranged from what was left of my family almost right away. 

In Western society, a child moving out is often celebrated. It represents responsibility, growing up, and a brand new chapter to be embarked on -- but that definitely was not the case for me.

I, a 20-year-old woman at the time, moved out of my mom’s home before marriage. This carries many taboos.

As a result, I felt as if I was breaking apart my already broken family.

Now, four years after I moved out, my relationship with my parents is almost non-existent. 

While it was a hard decision, and things definitely got worse before they got better, along the way, I found myself again, in a way I wouldn’t have been able to in my family home.

Looking back at my experience, I sometimes ask myself, would I trade it for something else? And the answer is no, absolutely not.

During the process, I learned so much about my purpose and what it means to be a family.

I learned that sometimes the people who you love will hurt you the most and that was one of the hardest pills I’ve had to swallow. But I also learned how strong I am, how resilient I am, and how much life I have left to experience.

When I reflect back on those years, I can see that they were filled with growth, understanding and letting go.

There are plenty of South Asian women who have defied the odds, followed their hearts, and made this unconventional dream of independence turn into a reality, no matter what their situation was.

What we often forget is that we hold the very keys to the shackles that hold us down.

Although my story is different, I encourage all South Asian daughters to follow my lead. Put your well being first in whichever way feels most comfortable for you, and recognize that even if it may not feel like it, things will be okay. 

If that means taking a few days in a week to yourself, or if it means removing yourself from a situation entirely, then so be it. 

Independence is an integral part of life, but as South Asian daughters we are not taught that.

Instead we are conditioned to live our lives a certain way for everyone else, even if it comes at our own expense.

Not anymore.

We may not be afforded the privilege of independence, but it’s something worth fighting for and taking for ourselves.

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About the author: Manisha is a writer and reporter with previous radio and television experience, who is passionate about connecting audiences to the stories and voices that matter to them most. Check her out on Instagram: @exclusivelymanisha

5X Press is a forum for opinions, conversations, & experiences, powered by South Asian youth. The views expressed here are not representative of those of 5X Festival.

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