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Mothers and Daughters

Today’s guest post comes from Amira, who has lived, worked, traveled, and studied around the Muslim world. Visiting the Great Mosque of Djenne or the Registan of Uzbekistan sounds much more enticing than seeing the Louvre or the Colosseum. Fortunately her husband agrees and they have happily lived together in the Middle East and Central Asia. Unfortunately her children think their parents are crazy and wish for a quiet life in the U.S. Amira blogs at The Golden Road to Samarqand: http://amiralace.blogspot.com

We all sat at the table together over the leftovers from lunch. Bits of plov, pirok, slices of apples and oranges, salads, cookies, and napkins were on our plates. The conversation was in a language I couldn’t speak well, so I did lots of listening while the women around me talked about their daughters and their futures.

It started with Asel talking about her daughter, Amina, in the U.S. She left home almost ten years ago to go to school in the U.S. Amina now works as a nurse in Texas and hasn’t been back home in years. Asel wishes she had never sent Amina to the U.S. for school and she is very glad her youngest daughter, Wardi, is halfway through medical school in her home country.

Fatima jumped right in because her daughter, Layla, is nearly finished with high school and has an opportunity to go to university in the U.S. Fatima worries (or knows) that if Layla goes to the U.S. for school, she won’t come back, like Amina. Fatima’s sister moved to Germany years ago and Fatima feels like her sister is lost to their family. Yasmina, another mother at the table, agreed. It’s too hard for mothers to lose their daughters. It’s just the way a mother’s heart is, she said.

The daughters—Nur, Layla, and Wardi—sat quietly as the discussion ran around us. Nur is Yasmina’s daughter and has never left home. She completed a master’s degree in architecture about seven years ago but has never been able to find a job as an architect. She lives in an extremely well-educated country, but it doesn’t have jobs for all those well-educated people. Nur is at home with her mother, Yasmina. She told me she spends most of her time reading.

At one point they asked me how my parents felt about their daughters leaving them. But it’s different for my family, because my parents always expected us to move out and go to new places. And they themselves have left for missions in Russia and Lebanon. It’s not like in my friends’ country where parents usually expect their daughters to move a few hours away, at the very most, and only with their husbands and children. And I know plenty of American mothers who wish their children stayed closer when they were grown.

My heart hurt for Asel when she talked about how much she missed Amina. But how could I think Nur’s situation was any better? Is one way of thinking better than the other? Is there a way to find balance? Have you been pulled in different directions in your family? Does your heart ache for daughters (and sons) who are far away?

8 thoughts on “Mothers and Daughters”

  1. Erica! How nice to see you around here. I should read your blog more.

    Your post prompts all sorts of questions for me–specifically involving Megan, who (if Melissa hasn't told you) is pushing us to allow her (assuming we could find a away to pay for it, which is doubtful) to do a year on a student exchange program to India. It's a different question, obviously, because if she does this her junior year, she'll definitely return to us. But at the heart, it's the same sort of thing: girls reaching out, wanting to escape the confines of the familiar, searching for opportunities that may take them far away, or remake them so thoroughly that perhaps "return" becomes unwanted (or even impossible). I can see us as perhaps having to deal with this with Megan, and we're worried. Any advice?

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  2. Russell, I couldn't possibly have any advice, since I'm one of the wandering daughters, not a lonely mother. But if one of my children wanted to go somewhere else for a year, I hope I'd encourage them to find a good way to do it. I've always been grateful that my parents, especially my mother, encouraged me to go places instead of staying at home.

    Or you could all just move to India.

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  3. My children are all still at home but I live in a different state from my parents and in-laws (and always have) but it doesn't seem strange because I grew up away from my grandparents. We saw them at least every year, more if we lived closer. I have mixed feelings about living away from family. I do wish we lived closer but at the same time I see the struggles of friends who have lots of family close by and are expected to go to weekend events all the time or babysit a lot for siblings. I'll admit that even though I wish I saw my family more I heave a sigh of relief when I realize what costs I do NOT have to pay. I would like my children to live close to me though. Is that selfish? 😉

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  4. My husband and I both grew up far away from our extended families and never felt like we knew our cousins, aunts & uncles, and grandparents very well. A few years ago when we had the choice of where to live we decided to move back here closer to family. Actually, neither of us grew up where we live now, but three of my husband's sibling and his mother now live here. My parents are only about 5 hours away and most of my extended family is close as well. Generally, I've been grateful for the closeness. Several of my kids' cousins are only children and it is great for all of us to be here together. Our relationship with my mother-in-law is much easier now that we live close enough to have casual, frequent visits. Yes, it can feel a little hard sometimes to feel like we have a lot of 'obligations' with family, but thankfully we have a good relationship. I'm also grateful that my kids have more family in their lives than just my husband and myself; they really love their aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

    It's hard, though, to decide, especially if you come from an area that doesn't offer much in the way of opportunity for the young and educated. That's part of the reason why my parents left where they grew up, and I'm glad they did. But I'm also grateful to now give my kids a different opportunity.

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  5. The trouble with life, is that you only get one chance at it. I grew up surrounded by relatives–generations of them. I was the first in my family to not continue living within that same 40 miles. Our children had the complete opposite experience. We were never nearer than 800 miles from the region where every kin on both sides of our families lived. It was good and it was bad. But we each get only one life, so there's no way to know how one's children would have fared if they'd have done what you did, if they didn't get to do it.

    Relationships can be destroyed by proximity or nurtured or ignored. Each of us has to decide how close we want to be with our extended families, and then make that happen deliberately. You can do it from far away with pictures and stories and "eating Grandpa's favorite food" on his birthday.

    Some people don't do well living close to their big families. I wouldn't have been who I am today if I hadn't had the opportunity to live anonymously and become an adult outside that circle of generations whose expectations of who I ought to be would have smothered me.

    As the mother of grown children, I know how sad it is to have them grow up and leave you. I crave more frequent visits and sometimes wish we had the same ZIP codes. But, then I remember how much I loved being an adult in my daily life, rather an appendage of my parents, and I don't begrudge them their distance.

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  6. Russell,
    My parents supported me as an exchange student to Turkey between high school and college. It expanded my world, taught me much good and made my life richer and wiser. It was also harder than I anticipated it would be and it was worth it. It isn't right for every student, but if the exchange program is reputable and you trust your daughter's general powers of discernment I'd say it may be a blessing for her, challenging as it may be for you.

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  7. I lived away from my Mum for years from age 18, and it was a tremendous benefit, both for my own development as an adult human being, and for our relationship. I now live in the same town, and have for about 5 years, so the 'being close' realities are well known.

    For my own boys, I look forward to encouraging them to go to wherever they need to in order to be what they want/have the potential to be… but I would also hope that distance isn't huge all the time.

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  8. After a second Sunday in a row of children and grandchildren here for Sunday dinner I must say I love having them close. The driveway is chalked, the slugs are dead, there are still eggs waiting to be found and the house is a little worse for wear but I wouldn't have it any other way. We aren't in each other's business every day of our lives but we enjoy spending time together visiting and watching cousins play. I vote for families living close enough to know and love their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.

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