Love, Life Stories

I spent my whole life rebelling against my Punjabi family – until I realized something awful

My whole life, I’ve been told by my first generation Punjabi parents exactly what to do, what to wear, and how to act.

“You know I don’t expect anything from Avneet. But you are my good child. At least you should behave.”

I would hear my mom say these words to my younger brother all through my childhood, but it didn’t bother me. Instead, I relished the feeling of being the bad kid. If you asked my mom today, she would tell you, as she has told me a thousand times, that I spent my life doing the exact opposite of what she told me to do.

So it wasn’t a big deal for me when I was always the one getting in various arguments with her while my brother acted as a mediator.

You can imagine how much of a shock it was when I realized I was more obedient than I thought. Click To Tweet

My life was the same as I grew out of my teenage years and transitioned into adulthood. We argued about activism, dating, sexuality, traditions, conservatism, and parenting. I was loud and headstrong, ready with my facts and statistics, unafraid of showing my mother exactly why I was right and she was wrong. I loved being the rebel.

So you can imagine how much of a shock it was for me when I realized I am more obedient than I thought.

My whole life, I’ve been told by my first generation Punjabi parents exactly what to do, what to wear, and how to act. When I bought shorts to wear in the hot California sun, my mom told me off in the store for “deliberately trying to hurt her.” All dresses were to be worn with leggings, no shoulders should be seen whatsoever, and no leaving home after dark (which, according to her, fell around 4 pm).

I was told that going out was for white people, and if I wanted to hang out with my friends, I should invite them over to my house where my parents could keep an eye on us.

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Of course, these statements brought on more arguing. However, I seemed to upset her the most when I started critiquing Punjabi culture and traditions. Even in the parts of my life where I followed her lead, by embracing Punjabi culture, I was rebelling.

However, no matter how much I went on, I could never act on my thoughts. All of these ideas were great for other people, just not me. For years, I argued with my mom about what was right and wrong, but I never acted on it unless she had agreed that it was okay.

I told myself that I did this to avoid confrontation, but I later realized that this was simply not true.

One summer evening last year, I pulled my mom aside for a minute. After years of being told that having a boyfriend was the worst possible thing I could do to my parents, I realized that I was now at the age where my mom expected me to “find” someone. I had originally intended to begin this conversation, face serious resistance, and then spend the next year convincing her that dating was not as bad as she thought (which was my battle-tested method for everything else I had argued with her about).

Imagine my surprise when ten minutes into the conversation she said it was okay.

Armed with this new power, I first decided to tell my friends, who were thrilled. Once the hype wore off, however, I came to realize that I couldn’t actually go through with it. The fear of my mother’s disappointment had been one of the biggest factors holding me back from dating.

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Now that it was gone… I didn’t feel different. I still instinctively stay away from relationships.

I have spent almost my whole life being conditioned to think that dating someone would break her heart, and even now, with her approval, I can’t bring myself to do it.

The rebellious part of me wants to act on my arguments and live my life the way I want. Another part of me is afraid that the first part will destroy my mother, who lived her entire life for her children. As a child, convincing myself that I was a rebel, this all seemed much simpler. Going against the conditioning was easier because that was how I identified myself. Now that I am aware of a part of me that is obedient, I am faced with a new dilemma.

I feel guilty for rebelling as I see her age and tire out. I am afraid of taking risks, moving away from the plan. I am afraid that living my life the way I want will hurt her.

I didn’t feel different. I still instinctively stay away from relationships. Click To Tweet

I am also afraid that I will obey and live my life filled with regrets, thinking of what could have been.

What I do know for sure right now is that obedience and rebellion aren’t mutually exclusive. You just have to strike the right balance and go from there.

Avneet Athwal

Avneet Athwal

Avneet is currently finishing her degree in History Honours at the University of British Columbia. Her greatest passions include writing, working to demolish the patriarchy, eating great food, and competitive bhangra. In her free time, she can be found snapchatting bad jokes to all of her friends.

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