Thursday, June 11, 2009

On Motherhood, as an immigrant

Disclaimer: The following essay is based purely on the author's experiences and not at all a representation of all immigrant mothers. Did that sound official? Good. Lets get started.

Naturally as a mother, my ultimate goal is to raise happy, confident and loving children. However as an immigrant in this country, I desire more.

This desire. This hungry for more is a common thread between many immigrant experiences. Library shelves are full of fascinating written words ranging from Japanese-Americans assimilating into the vineyards of California to the Mexican migrant workers surviving droughts in Texas to the Jewish people building an empire with their hands in the early years of NYC. The mothers in these carefully crafted histories did more for their children then just basic mothering.

They came to America for a better life. Leaving behind all the hardships in their homelands for a chance to conquer all the opportunities in a free world. They witnessed living in countries where success was measured by the entree served for dinner instead of by experience and education. Immigrant mothers grew hungry for more, taking nothing for granted.

There's a valid reason why I can not really identify with any references made to Saturday morning cartoons from the 80s. I remember the scent of my mother's hair as she knelt down before me and repeated in a heavy Polish accent, "I did not come to this country for you to sit and watch TV." Minutes in front of the TV innocently robbed us from essential backyard free play, from extravagant vacations to Machu Picchu, from endless summer fun at the community pool and from rhythmic gymnastics competitions. TV and video games deferred us from my mother's desire for a better life. "We are different. You are different." She repeated my entire life each time I begged to go to the mall or asked to watch The Wonder Years, yearning to become more American like my peers.

Richard Rodriguez's acclaimed autobiography Hunger for Memory set a nationwide debate some years ago by addressing, "If Richard Rodriguez could succeed given his obstacles, why can’t everyone else?"

His success came from his desire for more. His hunger. That motivated him. I do believe that those factors are a result from his immigrant experience as he witnessed the hardships of the community first hand. Of course you don't need to be an immigrant to experience hardships and to have desire/motivation for more. Although. Had Rodriguez been born into third generation Latinos his life might have been different on a more stable and paved journey through life. It's difficult for educated immigrants to watch life in America pass them by; instead, they leap at every available opportunity within their sight.

I want so much more for my children then just second rate state colleges and overrated Disney World. Gasp, did I just say that out loud? It's so true though. It's part of this desire for not settling for average when you can strive to be above average given the opportunities. I did not cross an ocean for my children to be glued to the TV or get an up-do at the Bippity Bop Boutique. I want my children to be more, do more, experience more, and live more. There are a lot of things I do differently from perhaps you or her, as a mother, that aren't necessarily for the better or worst. It's just what I know and believe.

The same desire that spread like wildfire in my mom's blood is beginning to ignite in mine.

In conclusion (Does that sound official? Good. Carry on) you might notice some changes here on my blog in the future as I shed myself of doubting my ability to truthfully document mothering my children, in my immigrant way. This is me. I want my children to re-read these chronicles and know me. Know and understand why we are different.

43classy comments:

Momo Fali said...

I'm sure they will read things like this and be very, very proud.

Rachel said...

Maybe more of us should be born of immigrants or have that same fire.
This is beautifully written. Thank you for sharing and for the small flame that you've ignited in me tonight.
<3 you

Crystal D said...

You are awesome, I mean it. I am so happy I found you and your blog. xoxo

Amy@Bitchin'WivesClub said...

I wish that this passion came to every educated household. It makes me want more and to do more, too. :)

Oh, yeah, wait a second... That is why my husband and I are moving with out three kids to ENGLAND for three years! We need to shake up our family and remind them that it is not all to be taken for granted.

I feel like Americans really need to hear what you are saying and remember what it felt like when we were kids and were reminded by adults how lucky we were to be born in the USA and feeling so proud that we were born in this country where every opportunity is available to us and within our grasp if we tried hard enough and wanted it enough.

Thanks for that reminder! :))))

Anonymous said...

i am the daughter of a son who was the child of an immigrant mother. she wanted more for her children. and that rubbed off...not necessarily sticking his children.
what i am trying to say is...that wanting. that need. for more. it doesn't end at just you. you are teaching it to your children now. who, in turn, will teach it to their children. and you will have generations of success. because you desired more.
that was beautifully written! and as the daughter of a son of a russian jewish immigrant...
i can absolutely relate in some ways!

Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] said...

It's very motivating for myself to read that Yes, I do need to pull my girls away from the TV, and Yes, I do need to make sure they focus on the good in themselves.

You are above-and-beyond lucky to have your 'thing' be trips and experience the world outside of their own neighborhood. But for those of us without such luxuries, we'll take our trips with Toot & Puddle and a map and color in the places they've been. Please send the pictures of those places so we, too, can enjoy the culture.

For now, my girls and I will be lucky enough to learn about the countries we'll never visit in an around-the-world visit to Epcot.

(PS - If you want to take a few well-adjusted kidlets and their parents with you on a trip, we're good companions. Just sayin.)

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to get to *know you*. :)

Loukia said...

This was a beautiful, well-written and very honest post. You have a lot to be proud of. You're a great mother, for starters. And you come from an amazing family.
My parents were immigrants, from Greece. My grandparents, especially my grandmother, is the hardest working woman I know. She is 72 and she comes over almost every morning at 6 a.m. cleaning my house and taking care of my children (along with my mom and mother-in-law, on different days) so I can go to work. She is an incredible woman; I don't think I'll ever be as great as she is; but I know her earlier hard life made her who she is. I think immigrants for the most part want to be the best they can be; they have a strong work ethic that I sometimes don't see in others. When they had no other choice but to make it - they made it happen. I think also Europeans have this strong attachment to family that is very beautiful. I embrace my culture proudly; as do you, from what I have read. Family is the most important thing in life; and if we can teach out children about our history, about our past and about our families I think we've done a good job!
Have no fear; your children will think as highly of you as you do about your own mother.
Thanks for sharing this lovely post.

Jen said...

I think the "real" you is fantastic and someone I should take lessons from!

Tiaras & Tantrums said...

I don't think you are as different as you think you are!

My father is first generation and my grandparents (German) were incredible people . . . my father was perhaps the hardest working adult I have ever met to date.

My husband is first generation and his mother seems a lot like your own mother. She loves her German roots, but is so proud to be an American, away from the memories of her childhood in the war camps away from her parents.

Be proud of who you are for yourself and your children!

I happen to think you are quite lovely!

Amie said...

I am new to commenting here but really enjoy your blog. My husbands family immigrated when he was nine and this just gave me a slightly different perspective/understanding of that, thanks!

carly_grace said...

i would love to interview you - i love to read your blogs hit me an email at or check out my blog for more details :) i hope you'll be a part.

Kari said...

What a blessing this post is for me in this moment! I have really been struggling with some things about my relationship with my children and this is just what I needed to read! Thank you! You are a wonderful mother and I am happy for you and your family that you have the opportunities to do and show them the things and places of this world. What a blessing that must be!

Laura said...

A brilliant post - and a brilliant ambition - Thank you for sharing

Cafe Mocha Momma said...

After recently coming out of what would best be described as a severely religious mindset for the past 5 years, I, too, am at a crossroads of defining my role as a mother. It has been a very slow, pain-staking process, and I just now feel as if the fog is lifting. I'm very interested to follow your journey here to see if our paths may cross or end up at the same place! So glad to have found your spot on the 'net!

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

Though we are complete opposites on this point of view, I respect your opinions. I also know that my way isn't the only way or perfect way. If everyone was the same, what would be the point?

You SHOULD document who you really are. After all, our blogs are supposed to be for ourselves and our loved ones, right?

Daniella said...

Incredible words - I loved reading this and read it twice. My husbands gparents were Polish immigrants and my husband tells us the stories that give us chills. We share similiar goals for our family. To want more, succeed through hard work, passion and for sure not be the "norm". Recently a women from our bank told my husband "he was lucky" when he said I'll wait for your call back, I'm home cleaning our boat with my son. He got very upset by that comment - luck he said, no I worked 30 years 3 jobs at times to have anything I have today. Anyway, sorry for the tanget - your post was awesome

Nan Patience said...

My parents also raised us "differently." On my mother's side, the immigrant's quest for a better life in a new land is part of her life story, albeit a couple of generations down the line. I think it's easy for others to underestimate the magnitude of such a quest in the life of a family, or how long that fire burns.

In particular, the immigrant mother. The road is harder and longer, and she is not at peace. There is a life-or-death aspect to everyday life that is hard to shake. An emphasis on meaning. A high level of stress and distraction. These are maybe good and also not so good for children? I'm no scholar or psychologist! But I know a little about it from experience. If there isn't a study or book about this yet, there should be.

Gotfam said...

I am constantly amazed by you! I think that your drive and passion is something that is rarely found in this country - and we should all be so lucky to have it in us! Rock on OhMommy!!

Musings of a Housewife said...

This is so interesting. Thank you for writing it. I have friends from immigrant families, and there is certainly a drive there that we don't have. I always wish I had a little bit more of that.

I love reading about your perspective on things. Keep it coming! :-)

Anonymous said...

Does this mean we can expect more profanity and nudity?

Oh, right you want your child to re-read this.

Tara R. said...

Were that all moms approached parenting the same way. Your children are amazing and you are fabulous for wanting more than the status quo for them. They will be better people and parents themselves because of it.

Tee aka The Diva's Thoughts said...

You do your children proud.

Ali said...

while not an immigrant mother was when her parents moved to canada after surviving the holocaust. they lived with, I totally get it. EVERYTHING.


Heather said...

I was not raised by immigrant parents, so I have no idea what you went through as a child growing up here. I do know that because I grew up in poverty and then ended up having Giggles so young and getting married at 17 that my hubby & I strive to be different-to have our girls do so much "more" I know that you understand what I am saying. I am glad that you are embracing the confidence I know you have in you. I think that many will be inspired to do more. Not that it is why you are doing it, but I think it will be very refreshing.

LceeL said...

Actually, you're not as different as you might think. We ALL want our kids to have more, be better and do better than we have, were and have done. It's just that it's expressed differently by different people, in different families, from different cultures and backgrounds. Your mother wanted those things for you, just like my Mom, an Iowa farmgirl, wanted those same things for me and my sister.

Don Mills Diva said...

Wonderful, powerful post Pauline - one of your best.

I look forward to reading more, as always.

I am P said...

"It's part of this desire for not settling for average when you can strive to be above average given the opportunities."

What a powerful statement. I love this!

I agree with LceeL, you really are no DIFFERENT than those of us who were borne in the US, because we all want more for our children, we want them to be above average!

You r DIFFERENT in that you have been (in my eyes) fortunate enough to have been flavored by your immigration and all the "opportunities" you and you parents have drenched yourself in.

And, that's really cool!

MKMom said...

What a great, great post...I have been reading your blog for a while but haven't commented until now. Both of my mom's parents were first generation American (my grandmother from Italy, my grandfather from Ireland) and I'm always so sad that by my generation so many of their traditions have been forgotten. It truly does take intention to keep the past alive. How I wish that my mom would have pushed me to speak Italian with my Nana before she was gone! Your kids are really lucky that you are intent on instilling in them the wonders of being a part of another culture. Definitely very classy!

Colleen - Mommy Always Wins said...


I am not an immigrant, but do know growing up poor and uneducated and wanting more. (In fact, often my biggest issues are that I can't let go and be OK with what I have...I always want to do more.)

I'm looking forward to your new blog identity! ;-)

carrie said...

It is so easy to get caught up in the commercialism of just about EVERYTHING (from underpants to vacations) in America, immigrant or not. And I COMPLETELY understand you here - completely.

There comes a time where we need MORE. And we need our ROOTS to ground us, and our children, to where we came from.

I think you're on to something. :)

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

Good stuff. I am sure your children will be blessed by all you share with them.

I think we all struggle with figuring out what we "should" want for our children and balancing that with what our mothers wanted for us. I know that once I became a mother, my own mom's desires and actions became so much more clear.

But I also know that while she had so many wonderful ideas and I learned a lot from her simply by reflecting on how she mothered me, I also learned how to be my own mother and how to take what she'd taught me and blend it with my own personality. After all, my DNA came from both my mom and my dad and now THOSE are two people who are really different! So, some of my present-day mothering is from mom, some from my dad's influence, some from society's influence of today, and some from 50 or 75 years ago (I often yearn to live in a simpler time!)

I hope you find the right blend that is exactly YOU!


Amy said...

Good for you!! It's about raising the bar and keeping it there. No easy task.

Awesome post.

Kel said...

You are a wonderful mom and have so much to offer your children, to help them create memories that last a are not are special!

Indy said...

You are definitely more ambitious than I am. I wasn't sure if it was your personality or your upbringing. We all have our own way of raising our children and living our lives. I have thought about your post all day. My only wish for my children is that they love others and love themselves. I don't need them to do anything spectacular with their lives. I want them to feel peace and be happy with what they have. We all have our own dreams and desires. I think you should share them on your blog exactly as you feel. Don't worry what others will think. The more authentic you are the more people will respond.

Dana said...

My ancestors came to America from Poland in the late 1800's. My grandmother would tell us stories of their journeys that had been handed down to her.

I used to ask her to speak in Polish and she knew some words, but couldn't write in Polish. She had said that her grandparents and great-grandparents had tried to so hard to become "American" that so much of their culture was lost.

I love your post so much because of the history and honesty. It's just brilliant. And it makes me wish I had the same passion.

Jaina said...

Great essay OHmommy ;) I'm looking forward to continued always have the best posts. :)

Anonymous said...

That was such a great post. Thanks for sharing!

Marinka said...

There is so much here that I can relate to (except I got to watch The Wonder Years, it was awesome, you totally missed out!)

The immigrant strive is so powerful. What our parents overcame in order to give us a better life is mind blowing.

Thank you for this post.

Karin Katherine said...

I'm an immigrant too and this is probably one of the (many) reasons I choose to homeschool my children. I want more for them and I want them to be out in the world and see it, not just turning to page 6 in their textbooks and getting a watered down version of life.

I think our individual experiences cause each of us to parent our children differently. Infertility has certainly played a role in how I parent my children too.

I think it's great that you are standing up proud. You should feel proud of the choices you make. Hopefully each of us can feel equally proud of the parental choices we make, even if they may be different from what others may choose.

Shellie said...

Personally, I wish more Americans appreciated what immigrants bring to this country-rebirth. That fire you mention, and such powerful experiences they have survived on the way here. We have a lot to learn from you. Pass it on to your kids, it doesn't have to die within three generations. Keep the fire burning strongly.

Karen MEG said...

This was a wonderful post, OM. I've seen hints of this fire in some of your posts, and I'm so glad that you're going to let it shine brighter. It is a wonderful legacy, this, for your kids.

As a child of immigrants, first generation born out of China, my upbringing sure does shape the way I'm parenting. My parents, through their limited means when we were little, were still able to show us that the world had endless possibilities. And I'm doing my very best to make sure that message doesn't get lost.


Dziadek said...

"Great America is everywhere"


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