Following in My Parents’ Footsteps, Without Repeating Their Experiences

by Mela Seyoum
Also Featured on KQED

Following in My Parents’ Footsteps, Without Repeating Their Experiences

by Mela Seyoum
Also Featured on KQED
06.05.19
Mela Seyoum says it's difficult explaining teen life to her parents, who fled a war in Eritrea as adolescents. (Photo: Shawn Wen)
06.05.19

When my parents were teenagers, they fled from a war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In their 20s, they settled down in California. My parents and I have a generation gap and a cultural gap. On top of that, they survived a violent, historic event that robbed them of their adolescence.

My mom often tells stories about her childhood in Eritrea in relation to mine. When I was 14, I was anxious about entering high school. When she was 14, she was doing chores for her five-person family. When I was 16, I was worried about midterms and when I could see friends. When she was 16, she was crossing a desert to save her life.

Recently, I forgot to do the dishes. When my mom saw a pile of dirty plates in the sink, she scolded me. She said that at 18, she was working as a maid in Italy and taking care of her brothers, while also learning Italian. If she could handle that, then I should at least do the dishes. I felt inadequate saying that I forgot because I had debate practice and homework.

At times, I feel like I’m disappointing my mom by not living up to the standards she set.

As I’ve grown older, I realized my mom’s experiences are unique and important. But so are mine. That’s when I started looking at our stories side by side, rather than measuring my life experiences against hers.

I realize I can follow in my parents’ footsteps without repeating their experiences. For instance, although my mom took care of her family at 18, it doesn’t mean I have to take care of my entire family now. It means that I should work hard for myself and those I care about.

By changing my perspective I was able to build a stronger relationship with my mom, and honor her journey — a journey that led to this life I have now.

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