When I was growing up in Dubai, I often butted heads with my mother – she was stubborn, and so was I. From curfews to outfits, we had our fair share of fights and disagreements. My childhood was a mix of entertainment and challenges. With so many family members and a thriving religious community, it felt like I was watched almost constantly, and that kind of monitoring felt stifling. I longed to break free, but my mom would admonish me – ‘what would the others think?’ Part of me wanted to tell off these “others”, let them know I didn’t care what they thought. I always tried to be my own person, while still trying to succeed in the real world. 

My mother’s own childhood was rich but stifling. My grandfather was a successful businessman and religious leader, meaning. she had similar situations of constant monitoring by her community in Kerala, India, where she grew up. Consequently, my mother internalized a lot of religious and community ideals. Married at 20, my mom was forced to drop out of college and accompanied my dad, a doctor, to Dubai – a then empty, sandy desert town with almost nothing to offer, with two kids in tow.

She spent the next 10-11 years as a housewife to two children who constantly argued, and taking care of a home, with a husband who spent most of his waking hours at a clinic. When I turned 8, my mother started working as a saleswoman to try and bring in some extra money.

My mother would often come home after work to a crying little girl, an angry little boy, and loads of housework. Despite not having a bachelor’s degree, her head for numbers led her past sales and into real estate. She got her real estate license and began climbing up, eventually becoming the manager of a real estate company in Dubai.

My dad let her manage the family’s finances – which meant that suddenly, we started doing well! She invested in property, in stocks, created portfolios, all while continually making real estate transfers and growing to become a popular real estate agent. By the time I turned 15, my mom became a successful manager and real estate owner. 

Having spent time in college, away from the family, helped me get a new perspective.

My mother wasn’t the controlling, bossy woman I made her out to be, but rather a self-starter. She was someone who had almost nothing and made enough money to buy houses in an expensive city. The best part? She’s more open-minded than I give her credit for. Her concern over the community was because she was raised in a small town and had a popular, ever-looming father. When we travel, she lets me be free – even when I went to college, she didn’t hover or ask what I wore or when I came home – in fact, she only would call about once a month, to check up on me.

She’s accepted my irreligious nature. She’s proud of my talents despite them not being STEM-related. She hasn’t forced or coerced me to get married, despite her own history. She’s happy and successful.

My mom went from being a housewife with a high school degree to being a popular real estate owner. She’s the one who encourages me to learn about money, about investments. She’s the one who taught me how to save when I freelanced in college. She’s the best example I’ve seen of ‘if you work hard, you can make it’. 

Of course, we still have our fights, but I remember where she came from, how she managed to shed so many preconceived notions. I remember how she let me be my own person and have my own life, while still continually supporting me. This is for you, mom. Even though I may not act like it sometimes, I’m really proud to be your daughter. 

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  • Natalia Ahmed

    Natalia Nazeem Ahmed is a budding writer and editor with a BA from Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune, India, with a major in English Literature and a double minor in Philosophy and Film Studies. An avid reader, her goal is to build a career out of her fiction and non-fiction writing. In her spare time, she loves to knit for her loved ones.

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