... and they're standing by their decisions.
Canceling Parents, a brow-raising departure from our communal ways in the Motherland, is rising. So, I guess the question is, how did we get here? And why now?
In this post, I'll share my thoughts and findings based on conversations with The ImmiGreat Life community.
How did we get here?
Life. That’s the answer. The quote about change being the only constant thing in life isn't always accurate. Take wrinkles, for instance; we fight them every step of the way. I could never have guessed that our Family dynamics would change so drastically.
Sometimes it’s impossible to adopt the new without letting go of the old. And that's what we've been doing in the last decade, absorbing inestimable levels of change in every sphere while juggling old relationships and trying to fit them into new molds.
Conflict is inevitable.
According to pre-Covid stats, over 25% of Americans are estranged from a family member. In America, the great political divide of 2019 saw families in turmoil due to the political climate. Remember Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois? He faced death threats and insults from Trump supporters for daring to be one of ten republicans to vote for President Trump's impeachment. The worst was the certified letter of disownment penned by eleven of his relatives thatrelatives who clearly said they no longer considered him Family.
Considering enforced pandemic separations and accompanying stressors, mental health experts have estimated a 12% increase in these estrangement numbers.
For African parents, it’s frightful, a cause for concern. In the words of one mom in her 60s, "our children are copying everything these people do now. They don’t even want to call or write. Maybe they’ll abandon us in Senior homes like white people when we are old, so they don’t have to see us."
Sometimes these cancellations don't go all the way. Some of these grown children consider financial help, i.e., health & holiday expenses, a primary obligation. The fractured relationships are reflected in terse phone calls and no invitations to visit or attend holiday family gatherings.
From my findings, there are a few recurring reasons why more Gen Z migrants put more distance between themselves and their parents.
1. While it may seem like a super drastic step, we must consider the cutter offer, who is most likely severing the relationship based on offenses that have not been voiced but have left marks each time. So, while it might seem extreme considering parental sacrifice, it may just be the last straw for them.
2. Some Im-millennials are only beginning to explore the possibility of this, and as is commonplace in the child-parent dynamic, the child in the relationship, albeit grown, may choose to do something completely unexpected, not as a permanent solution but to force a different outcome.
3. The pressure of maintaining the status quo in the diaspora. In many countries and cultures, immigrants who exempt themselves from the cultural beliefs of their parents are not considered admirable. On the contrary, they are labeled “lost.” Leading to the individual feeling judged or ostracized by those who should show them the most love. They live in a different country with varying beliefs and yet are expected to maintain the cultural norms of one far away, still speak the language fluently, and respect the unwritten rules. The status quo of a good “immigrant” can feel like work when it is accompanied by a low tolerance. Take marrying outside one’s race, for example, which is frowned upon in certain circles as the older generation considers it a practice that dilutes culture, inevitably leading to future generations losing touch with their heritage.
4. Relinquishing the shining star role: They don’t want to belong to everyone anymore. They no longer wish to carry the guilt of letting down an entire community when they fail or don’t meet an expected standard. To understand this, you would have to understand the idea of a communal culture where “a village raises a child,” and a person belongs to the community and is expected to make the community proud and inspire younger ones. The expectations of 2 dozen aunties and uncles plus neighbors and childhood friends can be overwhelming when parents fail to work with their grown children to maintain boundaries; it can become an us vs. them situation where the grown children feel alone and attacked.
In a recent survey, sibling estrangement is also on the increase, even more than parental estrangement, and the top 2 reasons were Entitlement and Marriage.
While estrangement may be justified in some cases, it's important to remember the roles family plays in the lives of people who are already estranged from people they have known their whole lives.
In general, estrangement leads to serious trust issues, negative mindsets regarding relationships, depression, and ill health. So, estrangement isn’t a path without consequences announced on social media.
Loneliness, the lack of a support system in hard times, and the stress of code-switching are already significant causes of depression among first-generation immigrants.
At least I’ve been estranged from certain family members for the last seven years, and they come to mind when I write in my ImmiGreat Legacy Journal or while reminiscing about my childhood with my sons.
I’m learning to grieve what I no longer have and cherish the good. I’m just beginning to attempt communication and reconciliation for some of these relationships. Will it work? I don’t know. But I do know a few things that I think we will do well to remember moving forward:
My son's most memorable visit to his Dad's Lagos residence involved watching a live chicken's neck wrung by the housekeeper. I suspect his dad or I (by association) may get dragged into therapy one day for it.
Remember that our parents did not have access to the information at our fingertips. That some of the ideas we now consider norms are as foreign and uncomfortable as the thought of relocating to another planet. It's a rabbit hole that most would rather not venture into because "how deep does it go?” and "what else have I been doing wrong?"
Forgiveness brings healing. It’s not a magical potion but it helps us see our mortality. Holding on to the hurts sucks out the simple joys of our lives and robs our children of some relationships. I’ve also come to believe that while we may swear to be nothing like our parents, we may start to manifest unhealthiness in other areas of our relationships.
Estrangement should only be permanent if all avenues to communicate and reconcile have been exhausted. While this cause of action may seem deserved, it can leave the parent feeling angry, bitter, and sleepless. In worse cases, ill health, forgetfulness, high blood pressure, lack of appetite, and ability to focus. In some instances, the parent cut-off may reach out to other family members to stage an intervention – the famed and feared family meeting where relatives (some so far removed that no one remembers where they fit, lol) try to guilt you into a steady relationship with little or no attempt to get the parent to acknowledge your feelings. This may worsen the situation.
Suppose you are a parent in a relationship where you are estranged from your immigrant children. You can’t fathom how you could give everything and still find yourself silenced by those you love, a willingness to listen without judgment. It may hurt. In cultures where elders are revered and never questioned, this may be extremely difficult and require a 3rd party. However, acknowledging that you have significantly hurt your child/ward/family member and are willing to do anything for reconciliation may be just what you need for healing to begin.