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.