Motherhood in a New Culture: Gauri's Story

Mother’s Day is over, but I’m continuing my series of reflections on motherhood from some dear friends! Today, my friend Gauri shares about mothering her adult daughters, and how her identity as an Indian immigrant shapes her perspective. I so admire how she has navigated finding her parenting style, which is different from her upbringing in India while also different from those around her in Wisconsin; she’s had to find her own path, and has pondered how to bring the best of both cultures to her daughters.

I met Gauri at a vendor event last fall, when I saw her beautiful henna-inspired burnt wood pieces. I of course have a soft spot for handmade, artisanal pieces - and encourage you to see what she has to offer at her Etsy site! She custom-made the frames below for me to gift some of my teammates.

Guest post by Gauri Bansal / family photos by Jennifer @photo_jennics

Even before sitting down to write my perspective on motherhood, I knew it would be difficult. How do I describe something, a position, a phase of life, the epitome of being a woman (to some) when I don’t feel qualified to be in the position? I am constantly questioning myself. Am I doing this motherhood thing right?

Yet here I am, a mother of two beautiful and talented girls, who I like to think are turning into me in some ways. I see parts of me in both. I understand both, as they go through their life struggles, for I have been where they are. I get a kick out of watching my older daughter speak to her younger sister just like I would speak to her as her mom. It’s heartwarming in some ways to see them wanting to cook like I do. They are mini me…But I don’t want them to turn into me. I want them to be better, more confident and more independent than I ever was. In the same breath, I can see some of my mom in me. How ironic, isn’t it? Can’t help but compare.

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I wonder if raising me and my siblings in India was easier for my mother than it has been for me here in the United States, where I have raised children with Indian values in a school district with no other Indian families around. How do I tell my kids NOT to have jack-o- lantern on Halloween or wear skull masks due to cultural and religious concerns when that’s what all of the kids around them are doing? How do I stop them from wearing short shorts and spaghetti straps? I need to let them have their independence and preserve our heritage at the same time. Being an immigrant parent, I have the privilege of understanding or at least knowing two different cultures. I have the chance to give my girls the “good” of both cultures. Mothering to me is a balancing act of participating in American activities and not letting go of Indian ones, some of which conflict, especially around holiday time.

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I am youngest of my siblings, and the only female, which meant lots of restrictions growing up in a male dominated, patriarchal Indian society. Even today, my mother defers to my brothers for all decisions. I had vowed to myself that that’s not how it was going to be with my daughters. They will be allowed to speak their minds. They will be allowed to make mistakes. They will not be criticized.  

Gauri is a fellow entrepreneur, and did this wonderful henna-inspired custom wood burning design for my teammates! See her work at  https://www.etsy.com/shop/GsMade4U

Gauri is a fellow entrepreneur, and did this wonderful henna-inspired custom wood burning design for my teammates! See her work at https://www.etsy.com/shop/GsMade4U

I was very loved as a child, but maybe protected a bit too much for my own good. Would you believe if I said I had never gone shopping on my own until my sophomore year of college? I never watched movies with friends because it was not allowed. My mother did what she thought was best for me. She loved me with all of her heart. She is the personification of sacrifice, love, humility, strength, resilience, ever learning, and perfection; I will be lucky if I am half the individual she is. But I believe she lost herself somewhere in the life journey of raising a family. When I see her today, I see an individual who could have been much more than she is. Caring and giving is in her DNA. She would have been a terrific nurse in addition to simply being a mother. There is nothing simple about being a mother, but my mom has more in her than that, and I feel she never got the opportunity to be all that she could be.

I don’t want to lose me. I have seen women believe their mothers “can do no wrong.” I certainly did. For years I sat my mom on a pedestal, but I never felt close to her. Despite all of her caring, she was a strict parent; everything had to be just perfect.  I would rather have my girls come to me for anything and everything than be perfect and unapproachable for them.

Motherhood: a promise to protect, to guide and above all unconditionally love.