On growing up liberal in a conservative Household
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“Do your parents give you beef for what you do given that they’re Lebanese?”
I get versions of this question a lot, so I thought it’d be helpful to share my experience. To condense the struggles of my upbringing in a blog post is tedious at best, but I’ll say this: a relationship with parents is just like any other; it takes work.
My parents and I argued often growing up. I was raised overseas in American schools, but they wanted me to upkeep our Lebanese traditions. We clashed over simple things: sleepovers, dating, and hair dye. Many liberties my American friends took for granted were completely off the table for me. I dealt with their restrictions patiently, hoping things would change as I got older, but it only got worse with time. I learned that asking them for permission was simply a lost cause. So I decided to take risks and ask for forgiveness when I got caught instead. This injured our relationship because a few red-handed lies are usually enough to diminish trust. But I was determined to explore my curiosity at any cost, and I definitely paid the price. They increasingly limited my freedom: first they moved the computer from my bedroom to the living room. Then they began controlling my wardrobe. They even began monitoring my landline calls and took away my cell phone. But no matter what they did, I always found innovative ways to express myself.
I knew deep down that there were questions I could only answer through experience. And being the stubborn Leo that I am, I refused to miss out. Nonetheless, I am grateful to say their influence kept me in check. I didn’t mess with drugs besides drinking at parties in high school. I also wasn’t in a rush to have sex. But living in Japan at the time offered me plenty of opportunity for adventure. Luckily, surrounded by Americans, my parents were forced to question their beliefs. While this made my task somewhat easier, I never stopped actively challenging them to meet me halfway.
Sometimes we forget our parents are just people—programmed from childhood. Their rigidity is a product of their past, and when they sound absurd it’s because they haven’t taken time to explore alternate perspectives. Unlike our friends, we don’t get to choose who our parents are. We only get to choose how we deal with them. When faced with this predicament, do we show them who we are or keep on the mask?
Many who reach out to me feel stuck doing the latter, but are curious to know what it’s like to try something else. While I can’t speak for everyone, I can attest to being raised by religious Arab parents who forced us to turn our heads during kissing scenes (little did they know the windows in our living room reflected the T.V. set, so we could still see everything). We had to shake their conservatism if we dared to live in our truth.
My little sister is a lesbian, and I write about sex...not exactly an Arab family’s cup of tea. Our choices haven’t been easy for my parents to digest. In fact, they’ve received a lot of backlash from our relatives back home about it. But we keep it real with them. I feel my parents deserve as much explanation as the next person who wants to debate my views, so I don’t skimp out on breaking down my motives to them. By communicating openly and concisely, I’ve gained not only their approval, but their support.That doesn’t mean they don’t challenge me, but now our debates are healthy and not just one-sided.
You may think it’s too tedious to reveal your truth to your family. Every situation is unique, and I don't expect to offer a one-size-fits-all solution. However, I do find that a relationship with family is one of the most important ones we can work on in a lifetime. Besides, somewhere between what our parents want for us and what we want for ourselves is a sweet spot where our ideas overlap. If we dare to meet our parents in that space more often, we may be surprised to find that our authenticity actually has a safe space to dwell.