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Growing up

Adults are what they are when they were children: how they were raised determines how they turn out as adults. We talk to three adults who reflected on their own youths to see where this took them and how they plan to better themselves from the lessons learned from their own youths.

Sara, a 29-year old Iranian national who grew up in Dubai looks back at how she was raised and sees holes that could have been filled had she and her brother been raised the same way. For instance, she feels that she could have learned and discovered more about herself if they got the same quality of education. Her brother was sent to a private, mixed gender school while she was in a public all-girl school. “It's not that my parents wanted me to have a poorer education, but what happened with us was caused by our circumstances. My father's business went into the red, so I couldn't be transferred to a private school because we couldn't afford it anymore,” Sara explains. “I just think that maybe, if they encouraged me to learn outside of school or to interact with other people, I could have discovered my other talents earlier.”

It was only in her mid twenties that Sara discovered that she has a good singing voice and that she has a drawing talent. “Perhaps, I could have been better if my parents were more encouraging. I guess, because girls are meant to study and find husbands instead of study and excel in a great career, they never really thought about it. In school, we were also never encouraged to look within ourselves for our talents.”

Like in typical Arabic families, Sara was not allowed to go out by herself or in mixed gender groups. Her parents implemented a strict all-girl company for her and they always were accompanied by an elder sister or auntie if not by one of their mothers. “When I was growing up, my parents were very strict with me because I am a girl. I was not allowed to go out even with other girl friends. We always had an elder sister or a mom as a chaperon. It was very different when my brother was growing up. He could go out in mixed company even without a chaperon. He can also invite girls to our house. I'm not even allowed to socialise with boys,” she elaborates.

For a young girl, the differences of treatment between one sibling and another can be difficult to understand. “Being stuck between childhood and adulthood is never easy,” starts Lisa Biasini, Psychoanalytical Psychotherapist at the Human Relations Institute, Dubai. “At this stage, many changes can occur and it can be very scary for teenagers. The secret to overcome this is communication – it's the key to any kind of relationship. If you are parenting a teen, it's important to explain things to him or her, but it also equally important not to reach to the point of intrusion. You role as a parent is to guide your child by being supportive and understanding. But of course, this is not to say that he or she can do anything they wish, you still have to set the boundaries, the rules that they must follow.”

“Your children on the other hand, should be able to express their understanding, their need for experience and the need to know that they still have limits because they are not yet adults,” shares Lisa. “Parents should also consider the changes in societies nowadays and find a compromise between what they expect from their children and what their children want to do.”

Sara smiles and utters a quick thank you to the higher beings that she turned out ‘okay' despite the differences in how she and her brother were raised and educated. “I didn't turn out quite bad,” she's quick to add. “I'm successful in my chosen field as it is but when I look back at my childhood, I just think that I could have been more successful with proper encouragement,” she shrugs off. Indeed, she did not turn out badly. Sara is currently the corporate communications manager of an oil-based company in the UAE.

However, she also attributes this success to being forced to be a full-fledged adult at 19 years old. Shortly after her birthday, her father's business finally went bankrupt. At an age when she should have been studying for her college exams and worrying about what she should wear the next day, she was forced to stop studying, look for a job and help the family out financially.

Their lives became very difficult for some time so when Sara started earning her own money her father was also forced to acknowledge that she is an adult who is entitled to her own freedom and make her own decisions. “That's when I got freedom, when I started working and earning my own money,” she reflects. “My parents kind of said, ‘Let her be, she's working now, she's independent.” It wasn't until Sara turned 21 when she was finally able to go back to school and finish her studies. “That early working experience made me appreciate that if I work hard I'll be able to achieve success in my career, so I went back to school and finished my bachelor's degree in communications.”

“Adolescents need balanced parenting. It should be balanced between support, love, and an explanation of life. You cannot just let them off on their own without any boundaries, authority and fairness because they still need in their lives. And as I said before, communication is essential to know who really your child is and if what you expect from him or her is realistic or ideal,” Lisa cautions.

Rami on the other hand is the youngest in a brood of six males. Being the youngest he felt very spoiled especially when he was a child. He got what he wanted and he had five brothers to look up to. But when he turned 16, as was the custom in his family, the special privileges stopped.

“My parents thought that at 16 years old, we were already adults. So whenever one of us turned 16, they would stop treating us as kids and because of that we started behaving like adults. For my family, that system worked. For me, it was good because I already have my big brothers to look up to. Now, with me as the youngest and the last to finish my studies, getting a new full-time job just months after my graduation, we are all responsible adults. Most of my brothers are now married and it didn't seem to matter who is the eldest, second or youngest.”

From another male perspective, we spoke with Abdel Raouf Ibrahim, a computer game programmer. “I wished I was the eldest,” says Abdel. “My elder sisters made my life hell. They refused to play with me and always bossed me around.”

Abdel grew up with all females in the family. At the age of 10, his father died in a motor accident. Fortunately enough, his father had a good pension which allowed for all of them to live and study within moderate means. Abdel has two older sisters and their youngest sibling is also female. So in effect, he did become the eldest according to their customs and traditions that men be given responsibilities.

“My mom, for me is very liberal but she raised us with an iron fist,” he continues. “After my dad died, she told us that we must all work, especially me because being the only surviving male member of the family, I became the man of the house. She did not really restrict me and my sisters but of course, we had to conform to the norms of society. My sisters were responsible for the house while I only cleaned my own room but I did all the chores that needed to be done outside the house like buy groceries from the store. My mom believed it was not appropriate for girls to go out and do those things even though they were older than me.”

Perhaps because he's male, it did not bother Abdel that his mom did not explain why his sisters were kept at home while he could go out and play. He did not question this because it was the norm that he grew up in, the norm that he saw all his other relatives and friends practice. “In a way, it was better for me than my sisters, ever since I was nine or 10, I could go out and play with my friends. But I was not allowed to socialise with girls, nor my sisters with boys, my mom was very strict about that! They can invite their friends over to the house but no boys are allowed!” Abdel explains. It wasn't until his sisters reached the age of 16 when their mom allowed them to go out with friends but it was still limited to an all girls crowd.

Now married with a daughter of her own, Abdel has decided that the he will raise his own daughter in the same tradition that he grew up in. But with the current youth's exposure to other cultures and the media, Abdel plans on opening the communication between him and his daughter more than it was between him and his mother. “I inherited all my mom's beliefs and I will definitely raise my child the same way she raised me and my sisters.

But there will be one big difference – I will always talk to my daughter and explain to her why I will restrict her freedom. I will introduce her to Islam at an early age and I will tell her how Islam respects women. I will always tell her that she, my daughter, is very dear to me so she will understand that according to our culture, tradition and religion, mingling with the opposite sex is not allowed. I want her to grow up with the two of us openly talking about these things. She is very dear to me and I would like her to remain so in my eyes and in the eyes of other people but I would also like her to understand why we are doing it.”

Communication being the key to any relationship, Abdel is taking the right path especially when his daughter comes into the difficult teen years. It might even prevent future teen rebellions. “Many cases of teen rebellion are caused when teens test their limits and boundaries. If something is forbidden without explanation, they are more tempted to defy authority and have a taste of the forbidden. Lisa explains, “If you forbid something without any explanation, they will probably be tempted by it and will defy your authority instead of thinking rationally about it. Teens don't want to be overprotected anymore they want to be guided through life. It's a two-way street, parents guide their children by being supportive and understanding and at the same time, children should express their need for experience but within acceptable limits as they are not yet adults. Parents should also consider the changes in societies nowadays and find a compromise between what they expect from their children and what their children want to do.”

Sara is still single, but when one day she also plans on having a family of her own. When she does, she knows that she will be more supporting of her children's education. With the way she sees how girls now dresses up, she is sure that she would be strict with hers in this regards but she will tell them why and at the same time, she'll treat both boys and girls equally. Three adults raised in three different ways. They all look back and appreciate the lessons their parents have given them and seek to better it, if they can.

Source: Arabian Woman
Posted: 26/06/2008

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