My partner-in-publishing, Josephine, has been writing to you all for some time now about our project called “Mama Says Good Girls Marry Doctors” (/blog/2010/03/are_you_a_good). She has told you how it was born, what it is meant to be, and all the reasons why we think something like this is so necessary. So now it’s my turn to swoop in and give you a real-life example of what this project will really entail.
As you know, the project is in two parts. The anthology is meant to showcase stories of South or East Asian women who have grown up in North America, and the issues they have had dealing with diasporic parents. Our blog and website however, are open to any woman who would like to share a story about how parental expectations can sometimes be tricky.
Josephine and I have spent a lot of time making sure that this doesn’t just degenerate into parent-bashing. In fact, it is because we love and respect our parents so much that disagreeing with them can sometimes be so painful. So here, I would like to share a small story about my mother and myself. It is one that I believe is a tiny insight into the kind of thing we are trying to get at with our project:
My mother and I are currently in the midst of planning my wedding. This is an activity that is frustrating at the best of times. But when it’s a four day, 500-person affair (as most Indian weddings in the States tend to be), things get all the more sticky.
At first, I was terribly excited to pick centerpieces and daydream about my wedding sari. But as the guestlist has been growing, elopement has seemed like a better option.
I should mention that my fiancé (the world’s most wonderful and patient man) though he is Indian, is not of my specific background and this had originally been a problem for my parents. (Look for that full story in our forthcoming anthology!) He’s from a family where big weddings are somewhat frowned upon; a community of academics who would rather free themselves from the chore of having to invite every uncle and aunty to the wedding feast. So his family is having a tough time understanding why my end of the guestlist is literally more than 400 people, and why it is so necessary for us to have so many events. And lucky for me, I have become the gofer between my mother and my future mother-in-law.
Well folks, it turns out that there is something more complicated than having to just deal with your own parents, and that is having to negotiate your relationship with your partner’s parents in addition! In this case, I have two sets of Mamas, each with their own definitions of how I should be a Good Girl. Each is equally demure and yet demanding; calm and yet commanding. Each has a set of saris and jewelry they want me to wear, each has notions about who should and should not be invited, and each has specifications for what they want the ceremony to look like.
So who do I listen to? Who do I “choose”? Up until now, there was only one Mama, with whom I either agreed or disagreed. But lately, every small aesthetic choice I make about the wedding seems to have resounding consequences about which “side”; I’ve chosen to be on. Every message I try to relay has many return messages.
I should say that I have magnificent relationships with both my mother and my future mother-in-law. My mother is my confidante and best friend, my mother-in-law has become a mentor and source of total comfort and love. So I know they’re not purposefully putting pressure on me. Then why is it that every time I even think about the wedding, I feel faint and completely overwhelmed? What is it about parental (and specifically maternal) expectations of events like weddings that make parents drive their children to the brink of insanity? What are the ways in which women like myself can gain some control and agency over our own lives?
Our book seeks to examine these issues, and we invite you to do so with us! Let us know about your relationship/wedding dilemmas (or how you feel about mine!) in the comments.