5 Lessons From My Mother That I Never Learned (and 1 that I did)

Though bound by immense love, my mother and I are not best friends. Because she doesn’t like talking about “unpleasant things,” we’ve never discussed this elephant in the room. So I arrived at this epiphany through things most brown families pretend aren’t real: children transitioning to adulthood, transparent conversations, misaligned expectations, and therapy.

Lookalikes: Mama and me

That our ideologies aren’t synchronized, is a recent revelation. I was initially mind blown. We look so alike! How could such a wide delta of thought have passed through the narrow umbilical cord? We’re conditioned to believe that our mothers are “perfect” — they should be the living creature closest to us, have all the right answers at all the right times, and we should always get along. But we’re not taught how wildly implausible that scenario is. Mama and I are not the picture-perfect mother-daughter pair, which has been difficult to accept. Even though my mother is the parent, I have been her uplifter and protector. It has taken 42 years (and therapy) to finally understand the dichotomy of our relationship.

For many years, I felt justified in wanting my mother to be empowered. After all, despite a stiflingly patriarchal Indian society, Mama has a Masters’s degree, worked since she was 21 and ran a side-hustle, drove since she was 18, traveled worldwide, chose who she wanted to marry (arranged marriages are still an Indian norm), and made unconventional fashion choices. But in my lifelong haze of expectation, I forgot that she came from conventional parents, who loved her but never truly championed her.

Once I got past my misaligned expectations, I could see her in the totality of who she was — an imperfect human being, like me. Just because we were different didn’t make me better. I could appreciate struggles that she had to face, that I never will. I could be grateful for the choice and voice I had cultivated because she didn’t have either. I recognized that I had been standing on her shoulders to reach higher. We are products of our environment unless we decide not to be.

Here are 5 lessons I couldn’t learn from my mother. And 1 that I’m grateful I did.

Public Health Communicator. Photographer for People of Color. Vegan.

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