"I'd had enough of the traditional Asian way of parenting."
Many of the challenges faced by Desi parents in South Asia and the diaspora are challenges that generations of parents before have faced.
Simultaneously, South Asian parents also find themselves confronted by new challenges. This is due to issues and realities manifested in the 21st century.
In the 21st century, traditional cultural values can clash with the realities of modern life.
What’s more, with society and technology constantly shifting, individuals, families, and societies find themselves trying to adapt.
All this brings challenges to Desi parents as they try to raise and engage their children.
Adam Iqbal*, a 35-year-old teacher and father of four boys in Scotland, feels modern life intensifies the challenges faced:
“Parents have always faced challenges; it’s part and parcel of having kids.
“But today, how the world works, financial strains, the social focus on success and striving for more, makes parenting that much harder.”
The idea of family and children is powerfully valued within Desi communities.
The emphasis within Desi families is on collectivism – we before I. This fosters familial interdependence throughout the lifespan.
Indeed, children are socialised to remain emotionally dependent on their parents well into adulthood.
Accordingly, Desi parents can exert or are meant to exert a compelling degree of influence on their child’s life.
Plus, Desi parents are seen as having a duty to ensure they raise healthy, happy and well-adjusted children.
Yet what and who defines what makes a healthy, happy and well-adjusted child?
In 2021, Desi parents can find themselves facing a barrage of information and ideas as they try to navigate the challenges of modern parenting.
Here DESIblitz explores 20 contemporary challenges faced by Desi parents.
Socio-Cultural Gendering of Parental Roles
Changes have occurred when it comes to Desi parents and their roles in the rearing of their children.
However, tensions remain between gendered socio-cultural expectations of parental roles and what parents wish to do.
Gender stereotypes are deeply embedded in society and people’s psyches.
For example, in 2016, Haines et al. found that in the past 30 years, people still perceive strong differences between men and women on stereotypical gender components.
This is despite the participation and acceptance of women and men in non-traditional roles.
In South Asia and the diaspora, there are still enclaves of the Desi community that promote traditional parental roles along gendered lines.
Traditional expectations are heteronormative and position the mother as the nurturer, the parent that makes the house a home.
Whereas the father is deemed the provider and authority figure.
Ambreen Begum*, a 55-year-old Bangladeshi mum of four in Wales, found herself with “no choice” but to adhere to the traditional parenting role:
“When I was married, times were different, I had worked to call over my husband, but once he was here, I was home.
“That was seen as my rightful place, essential for the babies. I didn’t think anything could be different at first.
“When we had our first three babies, I was doing everything at home, and he came home with the paycheck.
“Unlike my daughter’s husband, mine never helped with the nappies or feeding.”
Ambreen found herself straining against the historical socio-cultural parenting dynamics. She faced the challenge of actively questioning these roles:
“It was 12 years before I had our last baby, and I’d had enough of the traditional Asian way of parenting. I realised I could do things differently.
“I put my foot down, and the husband was more actively engaged with taking care of the baby.
“He started cooking at home and started teaching our kids.
“Our children need to see that we parents have chosen our parental roles and actions. So they know they will have a choice in the type of parents they are.
“Children shouldn’t see parents forced and trapped into roles.
“Those who want to do it the traditional way fine, but it needs to be a choice for all involved – a radical thought according to my mum.”
Ambreen words show that today parents face the challenge of not simply dismantling socio-cultural gender norms.
Instead, the challenge faced is to embrace the power of choosing.
While showing their children through action that traditional parenting roles are not necessarily bad if it’s a choice.
Plus, parents have the challenge of raising their kids to not have to do things the same way. There’s no set template that works for all parents and children.
Gender Inequality in Attitudes Towards Children
Research has shown that parents play a significant role in children’s gender stereotyping and gender role formation.
Indeed, Desi parents (like many) are likely to encourage sons to engage in competitive play and discourage daughters from doing so.
Instead, parents can encourage girls to engage in cooperative, role-playing activities/games.
One key consequence of such different play patterns is that girls develop heightened verbal and emotional skills. In contrast, boys develop a strong focus on winning.
The seeds of gender inequality are planted early in the interconnected spaces of homes and schools.
Thus like decades ago, one of the main challenges faced by Desi parents is promoting gender equality.
Soni Khan*, a 25-year-old Pakistani stay-at-home mum in London finds herself fighting against gendered attitudes towards her son and daughter:
“The last six years have been frustrating when it comes to my mother-in-law.
“She’s of the mind that boys shouldn’t play with dolls, but can be more naughty than girls since it’s in their nature for her.
“In her eyes, girls should be quiet and not tumble about – my little girl loves getting her fingers into mud and climbing trees.”
Soni goes on to assert:
“The amount of times I’ve had to stop her from saying or doing things that validate gender inequality is too much.
“It makes me want to pull my hair out.
“It’s the main reason why I pushed for us to move out four years ago.”
The deep-seated frustration Soni felt rippled through each word and highlighted the tensions that can manifest when it comes to parenting.
Therefore, Desi parents continue to combat their own gender biases, those of society and intergenerational attitudes towards children.
Extended Family’s Thoughts on Parenting
In some communities and cultures, people mourn that the informal support that parents half a century ago received from extended family rarely occurs.
Yet, the opposite is true for the most part in Desi communities. The support network that extended family can be is often invaluable.
Nevertheless, within Desi families, such bonds can bring tensions and conflicts, particularly when it comes to parenting and children.
Zara Jabeen* is a 30-year-old Pakistani stay at home mum of two based in Pakistan. She lives with three generations of her in-laws:
“When my husband and I discipline the boys, his parents and aunts unravel it. Kasam [I swear] they can do my head in.
“We do or say one thing to the boys, and they say another, mainly when the boys are in trouble.
“Then they tell us what we should do differently as parents – they see themselves as experts due to their age.”
Desi parents continue to find themselves trying to dismantle gendered barriers for their children.
For Zara, challenges faced within the home regarding parenting continue to cause tension.
Zara’s words show that Desi elders being a source of knowledge and support can be a double-edged sword.
Their authority, power and prestige can also lead to disharmony when younger generations want to do things differently.
Furthermore, it is the norm for extended family members with Desi families, especially the elders, to try and advise and guide.
Yet differences in perceptions and ideas of parenting mean such advice is not always best.
Adam Jha*, a 45-year-old Indian lawyer in Canada, became a widowed single parent to three young boys in 2009.
Over the years, well-meaning advice from extended family on how to parent his boys has led to frustration, stress and strain on family bonds:
“My family was very supportive in helping me with childcare, and the boys are loved.
“But my mum and aunts are from a generation where children need a mother.
“So I found myself more than once sitting down, as my aunts firmly told me what the boys needed from my parenting.
“And when they thought I was doing something wrong, the phone would stay busy, and the visits would never end.”
“One of the aunts would drag my poor uncle with her, and he’d be sitting in a corner silent.
“His face showed he wanted to be somewhere else. Once she’s done and insisted on doing something, we’d sneak in a small drink.”
For Adam, his extended family’s thoughts on parenting have caused him “headaches”, and he sometimes loses his patience.
Nonetheless, as he knows they’re from a place of affection, he “tries to listen” without second-guessing what he does as a parent.
The extended nature of Desi families can be invaluable when raising children.
Yet, it can also bring hurdles as different generational views and expectations clash.
Independence of Children & Cultural Norms
Desi cultural norms emphasise and value collectivism.
When they are young, and in adulthood, children are meant to have familial bonds that showcase interdependence.
The world we live in is increasingly individualistic. Thus the emphasis is on “I” rather than “we”, but the opposite is true within Desi communities.
Accordingly, a key challenge faced by Desi parents today is encouraging independence whilst navigating cultural norms.
Ambreen Begum faced challenges of encouraging her two daughters and two sons to be self-reliant and independent without losing sight of the importance of “we”:
“Children need to be raised to be able to do things independently, without fear. This is something my parents didn’t instil in me, and I wanted in my babies.
“But I wanted to make sure they could be independent but not selfish, where they only thought of themselves.”
For other parents, they can struggle to let go due to the cultural norms that have been ingrained into them.
Such cultural norms can raise barriers to the independence of female children, Desi women.
Mohammed Saleem*, a 48-year-old Pakistani father of four daughters and two sons in Scotland struggled to let go of cultural norms:
“The missus and me had a fair few arguments over the girls travelling alone in the country but abroad too.
“I’d been raised to think girls need to be close in the home to be protected, and boys can take care of themselves.
“I trust my daughters but letting them go out without me there to protect them was stressful.”
“The first two years I couldn’t help check in every other minute.
“I had mates and family going the ‘girls would get in trouble’ like we were giving them a pass to do immoral acts, outside our view.”
“But the missus was right, they needed to be given that space to learn to live in this world successfully. The girls are confident and not scared to make decisions.”
Many Desi parents recognise that the modern world requires their children to be self-reliant, that cultural norms can not be rigidly adhered to.
Yet, they still face emotional and cultural challenges when facilitating spaces for their children to grow.
Sharing & Questioning Cultural Norms & Ideas
Moreover, one of the many challenges faced by Desi parents is navigating the fine line between sharing and questioning cultural norms/ideals with their children.
For some parents, their interactions with their parents when they were younger have shaped their ideas of parenting. They want to ensure they do not make ‘the same mistakes’.
Miriam Kapoor* is a 44-year-old Indian accountant and mother of five based in the United States.
As parents, Miriam and her husband Sunny* have consciously tried to learn from their childhoods/parents:
“We both love our parents, but we had years of viscous and painful arguments and didn’t want the same with our kids.
“Take my parents; they would never explain why something had to be done or followed. It ‘just was’ in Asian families, and for decades, that drove me insane.
“I was the poster child for teenage rebellion, and the hubby wasn’t too far behind me.
“That’s why we’ve made sure to explain things to the kids and let them question and get answers.”
Overall, Miriam and her husband believe parents must ensure children are actively engaged with and listened to as they grow.
Miriam goes on to point out:
“Then again, I also get why my parents found themselves grinding their teeth.
“Two of ours still loved to challenge and question everything as teenagers. They were never satisfied; thank god it didn’t last forever.”
Many Desi parents reflect on their own childhood and how their parents did things when trying to engage with their children.
What’s more, Miriam’s words indicate that some clashes between parents and children are inevitable.
Perhaps clashes are part of growing up and needed for the evolution of parent-child bonds across the lifespan?
Strong Parent-Child Bonds to Facilitate Trust
Research on attachment illustrates that how parents connect with their children has wide-ranging consequences.
Parent-child bonds impact children’s mental health, self-control and ability to create meaningful relationships with others.
Accordingly, parent-child relationships are very important and cannot be underestimated.
Strong parental ties can help foster one of the wonderful aspects of Desi cultures – cross-generational care and emotional connections.
But how can Desi parents, who are meant to be figures of authority, facilitate a parent-child relationship that encourages trust and honesty?
Alina Jha*, a 32-year-old Indian mother of two in Wales, feels that the dynamics of Desi parent-child relationships have and continue to evolve:
“My parents were very ‘do as we say’ and never gave us explanations.”
“We didn’t have that relationship where we would go to them if we were struggling. Because we’d get told to ‘suck it up’ or ‘stop being drama queens’.
“So when my sister was being bullied in school and started self-harming, it was me trying to help her. She begged for my parents not to know.
“Our parents only found out because my sister wanted to make sure her kids knew mental health issues were ok to be talked about.
“Struggling sometimes was a part of life and they weren’t alone.
“You learn from the past, right? My parents were like that because of what they had known from their parents and relatives.
“Me and my sister did it differently because of what we experienced from our parents.
“My kids say I have a look that they know means they need to stop or there will be trouble, but they also come to me when they’re struggling.”
Desi parents, like many parents, face the challenge of straddling the line between being seen as an authority figure and a safe space in which children can be honest and gain support.
Teenage Years of ‘Angst’, Rebellion & Challenging
Family conflicts often arise when Desi children reach their teenage years.
Indeed this is especially true when teens wish to date and/or pursue an unconventional career path for a Desi.
In addition, they experiment with their identity and adopt behaviours typical of youth in the dominant western culture.
Some Desi parents and older family members may interpret their child’s actions as a sign of ‘cultural corruption’.
Thus responding by applying increased pressure on a child to conform to their expectations.
South Asians are socialised from birth to believe that family loyalty and a sense of duty toward one’s parents and relatives are paramount.
Accordingly, some Desi parents have traditionally used guilt, shame, and moral obligation to regulate their children’s behaviour.
But is this still the case? How do Desi parents navigate the challenges of the teenage years of angst, rebellion and challenging the status quo?
Maya Khan*, a 30-year-old Pakistani postgraduate student in Leicester, recalled her teenage years:
“As the eldest girl, I got the most worried version of my parents.
“So even though my mum wanted to do things differently from how her parents did, we had the biggest fights when I was 14 to 18.
“I seriously pushed her a lot. Looking back yes I was a pain but when she would say ‘you’re acting like a gori’ (white girl), it didn’t help.
“You know how some people want to go back to secondary school, not me!
“I couldn’t do anything, the older I got the more freedom I had.”
For Maya, her teenage years were where she found herself straining against parental rules and cultural ideals that prevented her from exploring.
Maya’s mother Rozina* is now 58 years old and based in Birmingham. Reflecting on Maya’s teenage years, she states:
“I love her but Maya was a little sh** for a few years. I think most kids are, my other two did the same when they were about 14.
“In different ways and different time scales, but they were a pain for a while.
“Times are different, unlike when I was their age, kids have the space to do it, my dad would have taken his belt to me.
“It did stress me out, and I was worried that they were becoming too white – they didn’t.
“What I didn’t realise first was kids need the space to challenge and question. Although hopefully without giving their parents headaches across a few years.”
When South Asian parents’ efforts to regulate their children’s behaviour backfire, parents may experience heightened stress.
Plus they may attribute attempts to assert teenage autonomy as a rebellion that needs to be stamped out.
In other cases, parents may interpret their teenage child’s preferences for the dominant culture as a sign of their inability to successfully parent.
Or, as a threat to Desi culture and its continuation.
Whatever perspective parents take, it’s clear that the teenage years remain challenging for parents.
What’s more, Rozina’s words suggest this is a reality that Desi parents need to recognise as an inevitable part of children growing and testing the world they live in.
Desi Communities & Gender-Based Violence
Women disproportionately face gender-based violence (GBV). Furthermore, the gendered hierarchy of South Asian cultures makes GBV a further risk for Desi women.
The Asia Foundation’s 2017 report, “The State of Conflict and Violence in Asia”, found that GBV is one of Asia’s deadliest forms of violence.
GBV often kills more people than armed conflict and other forms of escalated violence.
In the words of The Asian Foundation:
“Between 2011 and 2015, India recorded over 40,000 dowry-related deaths.
“This is over 10 times more than the combined fatalities of the Kashmir conflict, the Naxalite rebellion, and Northeast India insurgencies during the same period of time, all genders combined.”
When looking at the challenges Desi parents face, GBV can not be forgotten.
The existence and prominence of GBV mean Desi parents can feel a need to engage with the matter with their children explicitly.
Ambreen Begum saw an extended family member face GBV and the ripple effects on that family members children:
“I remember one of my cousins, her husband used to beat her black and blue and treat her like dirt.
“The family would try and stop things but no one ever went to the cops.
“One of her sons started to mirror his dad’s behaviour with the mum but hit his sister too.”
“That’s when she snapped and left – despite everyone saying ‘stay, he will change’ – including her parents.
“Seeing what that little boy started to do, had me determined to make sure my children knew that any form of physical or verbal violence was a no!
“I especially focused on my boys knowing how to respect women. Their dad is traditional but respectful so they saw it from both of us.”
Ambreen asserted her instinct was and is always to protect her children from the underbelly of society and life.
However, she felt it was vital to approach issues off GBV in an age-appropriate manner with her children.
Doing so for her was key to breaking the cycle of cultural normalisation and secrecy around GBV.
Changing Family Dynamics after Divorce
A divorce can be intensely stressful, bewildering and emotional experiences, especially for children.
Although a two-parent heterosexual family remains powerfully idealised across Desi communities, divorces have risen.
Thus there are more single-parent Desi households, however, divorce does not necessarily mean a family is broken.
For children and the adults involved, the change in family dynamics after divorce can be healthier.
Indeed this is reflected in the words of Taslima Ahmed*, a 22-year-old Kashmiri student in Birmingham:
“You know how Asians and most people are like ‘divorce is bad for kids, they get messed up?’ That’s bogus.
“Sure it might happen sometimes, but other times is the best thing for everyone. My parents should never have married, they were toxic together.
“Me and my brother hated coming home from school, once they split, the air was cleaner for them and us.”
“After they split I swear it felt like we finally had parents, instead of living with two adults who hated each other. They’re nice to each other now, totally different.
“Plus, once dad left the house, both of them talked to us. Properly talked to us about what was happening and that they would do better as parents.”
Taslima’s words show that although overarchingly divorce is seen as a social problem that can damage Desi children, that is not necessarily the case.
Communication that includes children is key, as it ensures children’s experiences and thoughts are recognised and engaged with.
Nevertheless, Desi parents who divorce face the challenge of navigating such a significant change in socio-cultural norms and family pressures.
These norms and pressures are something children can feel, leading to parents trying to safeguard their children’s emotional wellbeing.
Indeed this is reflected in the words of Zobia Ali*. She is a 38-year-old teacher and mother of three in Birmingham:
“In Asian families when you divorce you can’t just think about you, your ex and the kids.
“You have to think about how and what the relatives might say may affect how the kids deal with it.
“My father-in-law would have these conversations with my eight-year-old son, saying how ‘he should tell aba [dad] and ammi [mum] to get back together’.
“We didn’t realise at first, when we did we both lost it. My ex had a right go at his aba.
“All the ex’s dad had said meant our little boy really struggled and felt he did something wrong.
“He was struggling, but getting back together wouldn’t have been good for him long-term.
“So we did something that made both families eyebrows fly – we went to a family counsellor to help deal with the divorce.”
Taslima’s and Zobia’s experiences show that experiences of divorce for children and adults can vary substantially.
Also, as divorce is deemed such an intimate family matter, seeking outside help can be seen as a no go.
However, at times it is vital for the wellbeing of a child and to foster stronger family bonds within the new dynamic that exists.
The Possibility of Remarriage
A divorce brings some Desi parents with another challenge – the idea of remarriage.
Family and cultural judgments around getting remarried mean that for Desi women specifically, remarriage is taboo.
In contrast, Desi men can find themselves encouraged by family members to remarry.
Not all parents wish to marry after a divorce, finding ‘freedom’ in being single.
Yet, for those who wish to remarry, considering their children’s feelings and the potential impact on them is a key concern.
Natasha Singh* a 36-year-old accountant in Canada, found herself wishing to marry in 2014, seven years after her divorce. She had two teenage daughters at the time:
“A long time after the divorce, the idea of remarrying was not an option.
“I was scared if I did, the new husband would treat the girls differently, that they would feel they didn’t belong in their home.
“Or worse, what about if I got it wrong and he was an abuser or pervert.”
“I was very careful to introduce my girls to my partner and only when I knew it was serious and I was confident I could trust him with the girls.
“I was petrified they would hate him because no matter how much I loved him, my girls always come first.
“They didn’t hate him, they were slightly cautious, but that’s it.
“We waited two years before getting officially engaged and married, so the girls were comfortable with him.
“It also meant they felt secure that my relationship with him wouldn’t change the one I had with them.”
When parents contemplate remarriage, their children’s emotional and physical safety is justifiably a paramount concern.
Thus Desi parents can face the challenge of working to ensure both their own and their children’s happiness.
Creating & Maintaining Bonds within Blended Families
In Desi cultures worldwide where divorce is still predominately seen as a failure, remarrying especially for women is seen as even more taboo.
In 2013, one high-end Indian jeweller made an arguably bold statement by featuring a South Asian mother getting remarried in an ad.
Journalists and blogs applauded and celebrated the idea.
Yet the reality of splitting and remarrying can often be messy and complex.
When a Desi parent or both marry, the marriage brings with it a new host of family members. In addition to potential step or half-siblings.
Thus Desi parents find themselves faced with the challenge of melding together two or even three families.
Natasha Singh, in remarrying, gave her new husband two stepdaughters and she herself gained a 20-year-old stepson:
“The time we gave the kids to get used to each other and us was key.
“Everyone had to get used to new people with different habits, traditions and personalities.”
“I’d never been a step-mum so it took time to get the dynamics right with my step-son.
“There were growing pains for the adults and kids.”
Natasha’s words show that it takes a lot of effort and time to form a bond. New bonds that are strong build over repeated interactions and at different paces.
It can sometimes be frustrating and difficult. Patience and understanding are needed by adults and they need to show a united front.
Furthermore, the reactions of the extended family can either ease the process or make things tense and difficult. Natasha maintains:
“The fact my girl’s grandparents, their dad, my family and my partner’s, were all supportive helped.
“I can’t explain how hard it would have been if they had been against it, as we’re all close.”
Desi families are often beautifully boisterous and big, blended families can thus add to such richness.
However, the complexities of extended family ties, navigating parenting roles, and step-parent/sibling dynamics create challenges that Desi parents must address.
Parental Financial Responsibilities
Across the globe, Desi parents face significant financial responsibilities when they have a child.
Parents make a commitment to support their children until they are 18, if not older.
With children needing technology to learn and the growing neo-liberalisation of society (e.g. privatisation, austerity measures), money is needed.
According to The Guardian, in 2016 the cost of raising a child to the age of 21 in Britain was £230,000.
Furthermore, the typical parent could expect to spend £231,843 raising a child born in 2016, an increase of 65% since 2003.
The staggering financial responsibility and burden continue to increase with each passing year.
Accordingly, Desi parents face the challenge of providing their children with all they need to flourish in society.
Eden Ravi* is a 29-year-old Indian mother of two based in America with her husband David*. The financial pressures are something she feels strongly about:
“It’s insanity but you need money to make sure kids have a good springboard into the world.”
“As soon as we thought of marriage and kids, we started talking about savings and what we needed financially.
“The good news was both our parents had some tucked away for their future grandkids’ college [university].”
Eden and her husband are in a secure financial position that enables them to create future safety nets for their children.
However, this is not the case for all parents.
Some face the daily challenge of making sure their children do not go without whilst ensuring their children have “a level head when it comes to money”.
Anique Shah* is a 38-year-old bus driver in Birmingham.
Anique feels parents have a responsibility and the challenge to make sure their kids appreciate money:
“In this world as parents, we have to make sure our sons and daughters have a level head when it comes to money.
“They need to be smart, recognise that it can easily be lost and spent. Everything costs money, they need to spend only what they have and save.”
We live in an era where payday loans, credit cards and overdrafts enable spending.
For Anique, this means children need to be taught financial responsibility from childhood within the home.
Another contemporary challenge that emerges for Desi parents is around their children’s educational attainment.
Within Desi communities, parents often have significant aspirations for their children.
As a result, there is a powerful degree of prestige in children’s educational achievements.
Research in 2020 shows that parents can contribute to their children’s academic achievement significantly.
Parents can contribute by providing a safe and friendly home environment and communicating high expectations. In addition to becoming engaged in their children’s educational activities.
Yet Desi expectations of educational success can lead to pressure and fraught parent-child relationships.
Hence, Desi parents have the challenge of encouraging their children without becoming “tiger parents“.
Tiger parenting is said to be most common in South and East Asian communities.
Faisal Malik* is a 30-year-old Pakistani gym instructor in London who felt parental pressure to succeed with his education.
He recalls the tension that manifested due to his parent’s tiger parenting:
“My parents were hardcore, with school and studying. After school, each frigging day, we had tutors. We couldn’t play unless our homework was done.
“If we got a bad grade, it meant more tutoring and less playing. It got bad man, I’d dream about homework and messing up.”
Reflecting on his parents and what they did, he expresses:
“No way would I do that with any of my kids. I get pushing kids to do good in school, but my parents were extreme.”
“They went way extra, at one point I was like f***k this.
“Kids need time to be kids. Stress comes soon enough when you’re grown up.”
In a world where education is becoming more of a currency and symbolic with gaining success, parents need to take care.
Desi parents face the challenge of encouraging their children without causing strain on their mental health and wellbeing.
Digital Media Engagement
In an era dominated by digital devices and screens, Desi parents have the daunting challenge of trying to manage their children’s social/digital media engagement.
In 2020, a Pew Research Center survey found that 66% of American parents stated parenting is harder than it was 20 years ago. Plus, many in this group cited technology as a reason for this.
Young Minds is a charity “fighting for young people’s mental health”.
They stress it’s essential to ensure children from a young age “use the online world in a way that’s safe and positive for their mental health”.
Yet with the entrenchment of digital media every day, how much of a challenge is it to moderate children’s usage? How do Desi parents approach the issue with their children?
Faisal Malik and his wife have found themselves creating a no device day, to help their kids see more than just screens:
“I’m telling you these days kids have their noses deep in their screens.
“Some of my cousins were given the choice between going out and their phones, they choose phones.”
“We don’t want that so even before the kids started reception, we did one day each weekend where no one can go on devices.
“Including me and the wife, it was frigging hard.
“They’re properly going to resist when they’re in secondary school. But right now it works”.
For Faisal, the no device day enables him, his wife, and his kids to disconnect from the world’s chaos and recharge.
Furthermore, for Faisal, this action is also key in enabling his kids to learn to entertain themselves and develop their imagination.
Desi and other parents trying to manage their children’s digital media engagement need to practice what they preach. In doing so, perhaps more kids will listen.
Encouraging Children to Embrace their Heritage
In South Asia and especially in the diaspora, Desi communities and parents can worry about their children losing their cultural heritage.
This can lead to some tightly holding on to cultural traditions while others try to encourage their children to embrace their heritage in subtle ways.
Aliyah Ali*, a 20-year-old Pakistani in Canada maintains:
“My nani, abba and ammi make sure I know my heritage through the food they teach me to cook. Through our celebrations of weddings and the stories they tell.
“It’s shared in morsels throughout my day in a way I don’t always realise.
“They don’t shove it down my throat and get British culture is part of me too.”
For South Asians, Desi food and weddings can be a means to maintain family bonds whilst sustaining a sense of connection to Desi heritage.
Tariq Mohammed*, a 48-year-old Kashmiri in Wales and father of one, feels that things are different for the better today:
“In the old days, it felt harder to hold onto our culture and heritage. It’s why some Asians became insulated in the community.
“They were worried they or their batcha (children) would become coconuts (white).
“Today, technology, social media and transnational networks of families mean it’s easier for our cultural heritage to be kept alive.
“It can be shared in a way it couldn’t in the past. From parent to child, grandparents to children and cousins.”
Accordingly, there are attempts to celebrate and promote South Asian culture.
According to Tariq, parents and family must encourage children to learn about their heritage within the home.
Plus, society at large also should recognise and embrace the diversity that exists. Hence Tariq looks upon British South Asian Heritage month each year with a smile.
The need for Desi children to know and embrace their roots is one reason he feels the darker parts of South Asian history need to be discussed and explored.
That in itself raises further challenges for Desi parents.
Confronting & Engaging with the Darker Aspects of South Asian History
Desi parents increasingly face one challenge in engaging with the darker aspects of South Asian history with their children.
The west/British’s colonisation of the Indian subcontinent and the 1947 partition brutally tore the country apart, both literally and psychologically.
The South Asians from the contemporary grouping of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi exhibit similarities. Similarities exist in language, culture and religious beliefs.
Differences had always existed and led to some conflict.
However, through colonialism and the partition, the differences between Desis were made to matter more than that which united them.
Yet, colonialism and the partition and their ramifications are rarely talked about within Desi homes.
Furthermore, dominant narratives in popular culture and schools (globally) rarely show the brutality, GBV, and deaths caused during these dark periods of history.
Sunny Kapoor* is a 24-year-old Indian sociology undergraduate student in London.
Through his university courses, he has found himself realising there is much he didn’t know about Desi history:
“Before uni, I knew that without the partition, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan were one country. But I had no clue that Bangladesh came about a few years later.
“No one in my family ever spoke about it. My dad said my grandad experienced the partition but never said a word.”
“My course has meant me and the parents talk more about it. We’re learning together.
“Some of it p***es you off, but it helps you understand some of the tensions between Asians today.”
Outside specific spaces, the darker components of South Asian history have been silenced for years.
However, this is slowly changing as groups like the UK-based Partition Education Group work to showcase such history.
But this mainstreaming cannot only occur in public spaces. It must also be engaged within homes, between parents and children.
If the past is not confronted, the present and future have no hope of getting better.
Racism in the Everyday & Structurally
In the modern era, racism has many faces, within everyday society.
For example, governments such as the British claim institutional racism is not an issue via the exceptionally problematic Sewell Report.
Yet the experiences of those positioned as ‘other’ like South Asians globally, the west and Asia show that racism remains entrenched.
Consequently, a key challenge faced by Desi parents like many years ago is to help address issues of racism.
They must help their children learn to understand and navigate the thorny and sometimes dangerous environment they live and work in.
Hassain Zafar* is a 37-year-old Pakistani father of three boys in London. In 2021, he found himself facing the challenge of engaging with the issue of racism with his sons:
“My whole family is cricket-mad, girls and boys. When the racism Azeem Rafiq faced came out, all our kids talked about it.
“We grownups had to get together and do an action plan of how to deal with it.
“Talking about the history of P**i-bashing and the elders remembering the past was hard.”
“But we have always known it is better for the kids to be prepared for what they may face and hear.
“We never want them to be completely taken from left field.”
For Hassain, experiencing some form of racism, even via a racial microaggression, is inevitable.
Therefore, he feels Desi parents and families have “no choice” but to engage with their children to have them prepared.
In turn, racism does not only occur across large groups.
The differences created and naturalised through colonialism, the partition and proceeding years mean South Asians can foster and perpetuate racism(s).
For example, generations of socialisation and the internalisation of white ideals mean colourism is entrenched in Desi communities.
This lead to the global skin-lightening industry that continues to be worth billions of pounds.
South Asians globally continue to face the challenge of dealing with racism(s) on multiple levels.
Thus, political denials that state racism is not an issue as it once was, do not help change the lived reality of South Asians.
Discussing Dangers of Child Abuse
Child abuse (sexual, emotional and physical) remains a compellingly hidden crime worldwide.
Furthermore, it is particularly taboo in Desi communities. People know it happens, but stay relatively quiet.
Due to cultural ideas of izzat (honour) and sharam (shame) within Desi communities, underreporting of child abuse is a stark reality.
Accordingly, Desi parents today find themselves navigating uneven and murky terrain as they try to engage in sensitive discussions with children.
But simultaneously they try to protect and maintain their innocence.
Alina Jha* argues that the socio-cultural un-naming of child abuse is dangerous for adults and children:
“It’s hard, painfully hard, but kids need to be taught that no matter who the person is, that they shouldn’t be touched or treated a certain way.
“That no matter what someone says, my kid will not be in trouble for telling their dad and me.”
“My mum didn’t like this, we had a relative who was done for child abuse, and almost everyone just made sure he wasn’t left alone with the kids.
“No one mentioned it, kids were just told he’s not well and went away for a bit. All of which was so bloody dangerous.
“Me and my sister would leave the room and to our room if he came to our parents when we were kids. Now I’d never let him near my kids.”
One of the reasons for secrecy within families may be because abuse is often conducted by those close to us.
Desi individuals can face conflict from older family members when they attempt to engage with their children more broadly.
Indeed, this is seen in the fact that Alina and her sister have faced criticism from their mother:
“The idea of the person being abused losing their honour is so poisonous.
“But it’s an idea that’s been marked into our skins. Even when it’s kids suffering, that can’t continue.”
For Alina, the challenges of tackling the taboo topic of child abuse to facilitate child safety must be faced head-on.
Discussing Issues around Sex & Sexuality
Mention the words sex and sexuality and both Desi parents and their children will cringe.
As in many cultures, these are topics that Desi parents and children often don’t wish to engage in.
Sex remains ideologically tied to the marriage bed in Desi cultures. It is a topic firmly placed in the shadows.
Yet the reality is in the 21st century, sex and sexuality are everywhere – such as the media and popular culture.
The silences in the home by parents is not reflected in wider society.
Furthermore, research throughout the years has stressed that a lack of sex education is a ticking time bomb.
Young people who formally receive sex education prior to their first sexual experience “demonstrate a range of healthier behaviours at first intercourse”.
Plus, those who receive sex education are more likely to delay their first time having sex.
Nevertheless, even where Desi parents try to do things differently, they can find themselves powerfully challenged and struggling.
This can occur due to the silences they faced with their own parents. They learn as they go, uncertain as they cover new terrain.
Shabana Azim* a 30-year-old Bangladeshi teacher and mother of four in Scotland reveals:
“Everyone knows it happens. But some Asian’s still have eyes popping when my husband gives me a little kiss on the cheek.”
For Shabana, the lack of open discussions about intimacy and the taboo nature of displaying affection need to stop. She feels Desi parents need to change the status quo:
“Little ones seeing parents hug or have a kiss on the cheek shouldn’t be scandalous. It teaches children that affection is normal and natural.”
Consequently, Shabana is active as a parent facing the challenge of going against cultural norms.
She and her husband display “moderate” levels of affection towards each other in front of their children.
Once she had children, Shabana began to reflect on naturalising what happens in intimate relationships.
She feels that Desi parents today must challenge cultural norms for the better of Desi children and adults.
Dating & Having Long-Term Relationships
Since sex remains a taboo topic, dating and having long-term relationships are kept quiet in many Desi communities.
Some parents pretend not to know their children are dating, while others do not advertise the reality to extended family.
Sumera Abbas* is a 38-year-old Pakistani mother of four in Leeds. She says her husband pretends not to know:
“In the Pakistani community, it’s no, especially no for girls to date. But it happens, two of my girls are, and they talk to me.
“My husband knows but pretends not to. He goes deaf if the girls mention their boyfriends.
“So he told me to tell them make sure they come for a rishta, until then leave him out of it.”
“My husband’s oldest brother is hardcore old school. He’d want the girls carted off for an arranged marriage.
“But they’ve promised they won’t do anything wrong, and I trust them.”
For Desi parents, dating can be challenging since it goes strongly against cultural norms.
But some Desi parents are going against the grain, even as they try to bypass and avoid extended family conflict and judgment.
Nevertheless, Desi parents often think and worry about heterosexual relationships and dating, in the context of their children.
Do Desi parents today think about children possibly being in same-sex relationships?
Desi parents face the challenge of learning to open up about relationships that do not fit the norm of heterosexuality.
Overall, it appears that with each generation, more Desi parents are embracing the challenge of doing things differently with their children.
Parenting can be like undertaking a circus act, juggling multiple things at once.
In Desi cultures, where the extended family often play a role, Desi parents can face the challenge of parenting in complex dynamics.
Furthermore, an overload of ideas and information can overwhelm those who become parents for the first time.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ mantra for parenting. Instead, Desi parents need to step forward and ensure open dialogue with their children.
In addition, Desi parents must recognise that sometimes parents need to learn from their children as well.