LEARNING TO GROW UP

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be perceived as the “good kid”.  When I was old enough to go to school I distinctly remember the daily reminder from my mother on our way to school on the importance of following the rules and honoring our god because at the end of the day “que van a pensar de tus padres” if my brothers and I  made the wrong choices? Those thoughts quickly were sprinkled onto every decision I made from there onward until I entered my 20s and things began to shift but the contradicting nature of feeling like an adult and a child simultaneously is one that is all too familiar to me and daughters of Latino parents, everywhere.  

It’s hard to determine the origin of these feelings as the lines are continuously blurred or swerving in between the lanes of our culture and the religions we were raised in. I’m the proud daughter of loving and hard-working Dominican and Nicaragüense parents who taught me values I treasure until this day. However, as the years pass, I can’t help but recognize the battle that is weeding out elements of the strict culture and teachings of the Catholic Church I grew up in that don’t serve the life I wish to live. 

I remember watching “My Super Sweet 16” on MTV and thinking 1. wow this show must be scripted because that girl just told her mother off and is still alive. 2. fantasizing about the day of my Quinceañera because I thought womanhood=freedom= FREEDOM. After all, this celebration does mark the beginning of “womanhood” for us.  Well, my quince came and went and more than 10 years later it’s hard not to feel like that same starry-eyed girl in that poofy-pink dress because the truth is it’s a perpetual work in progress trying to make my conscious sound like anything but the Catholic guilt driven and parent pleasing girl I grew up being. 

My first job out of college granted me the opportunity to travel to the United States for a year. My college experience was my first taste of freedom or not having what felt like 24-hour surveillance, but I was still only a couple of hours from home and visiting frequently so this was freedom on a totally different scale.  I was at a Target with a co-worker when my mom called to see simply what I was up to. Even from states away this was the norm for me, “checking in” that I didn’t think anything of it. When my co-worker asked if I was talking to a boyfriend and I didn’t miss a beat telling them it was my mom their look of confusion said it all to me. During that job is when I realized how fundamentally different parenting from US-born kids was from my upbringing. My coworkers would tell me they sometimes would not speak to their parents for weeks! They were equally perplexed that I spoke to mine at least once a day and that’s when I began to really question- will I ever feel like an adult? Is this a cultural disconnect first-generation kids like myself experience from growing up here, eternal? I’m slowly finding out that the answer to my question is both yes and no.

While my peers periods of rebellion seemed to take place as early as high school I feel my early 20’s was when my experimental era took place. This was the time when I really found myself questioning if the opinions I held on topics like careers, money, motherhood and sex were my own or what was taught to me by my religion, culture, and parents. This was a turning point I seem to be riding on during the latter part of my 20s and while I continue to explore myself and I can’t say that Catholic guilt, doesn’t continue to creep in and make me  question everything I’ve ever known.When I was casually dating that Catholic guilt crept in making me feel that I was committing a crime by dating without the intent to marry and simply testing the waters. But now I know it is okay.Things like dating used to bring me so much anxiety thinking about if my reality would align with my parents' expectations. Anytime I feel those thoughts creeping in I remember, this is my life to live.  It’s easier said than done and it’s been a steep and sometimes painful uphill climb navigating growing up 

 I’m on the brink of entering my 30’s, and I’m still struggling with establishing boundaries but making it my business to power through. Trying my best each day to not feel inclined to share every detail of my life with my parents or making myself feel shame for straying off the path they lovingly have designed for me, as I try to lead a life based on what I want and not what I’ve been programmed by my parents to think. Taking each day to acknowledge my growth of honoring my family but building my own life while surrounding myself with girlfriends who understand these obstacles, grew up in a church or simply seek to understand remains the best medicine for me these days. Realizing that you can respectfully place yourself in the driver's seat of your life is equal parts scary and liberating. The sheltered nature that filled my 20’s is slowly diminishing and making room for what I hope are the best Carrie Bradshaw years ahead of me. 

Jennifer Chow is a Guest Contributor for theGIRLMOB.