Growing up as a Tamil kid of the first generation immigrants, you hear a lot of expectations and standards being set. Tutorials, grades, prospective high schools, and universities all by the age of 6. And if you grew up in Montreal, your parents were trying to get you in an English school board with the loophole in Bill101. Spending thousands for 1 year of private school just so you can get into English medium for the remainder of your schooling life. Why? Because our parents wanted the best for us. But sometimes their definition of best does not equate our happiness.
When you were asked what you wanted to be when you were older by perturbing uncles and auntys, you either said doctor, engineer, or accountant. Because these were the professions that were drilled unto us as noble and acceptable and high-paying. Parents made sure we did especially well in math and science, even if you had to spend hours at scary Tamil tutors on the weekend instead of sleeping in. Of course, it did help some, and for others it did nothing.
Some lacked motivation, and others just weren’t cut out for these subjects. Unfortunately, it made them feel inadequate, confused, and angry. Parents didn’t understand that there were so many other fields that existed and that were just as rewarding.
What Tamil parents need to comprehend and this is common with many immigrant parents, is that pressuring and forcing their children to go down a path they’re not even sure of will not allow any growth for them as individuals and for the community as a whole. Becoming a doctor and engineer is great, but if everyone in the Tamil community went into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professions then where is the growth in the community? We need more diversity and Tamils to represent and strive in as many fields, because they’re just as important. Teaching for example, or social work, the arts, entertainment and so forth. This paves the path for the next generation of Tamil youth, in fields that had very few to no Tamils or other minorities.
One of the major issues is that communication is often strained and one-sided, mainly with parents saying what they like. From the parents’ perspectives, they’ve sacrificed so that we can get a good education and not struggle as they did. Sometimes, kids do share the same goals. But when they don’t, especially in a hard to communicate home, they become more and more afraid to tell them otherwise and the stress builds up.
Often times, they become demotivated, resulting in discontinuation of school, lying about what they do in school, and in some exceptional cases more drastic measures are taken.
Other times, it’s a pride issue. It’s a constant unspoken battle to see whose kid is the smartest and most successful. Parents believe that if their child does not enter a STEM profession, then others will think it’s due to a lack of intellectual ability, or that they weren’t “raised right”. To achieve this, their control is exerted in all aspects of their lives ensuring that everything is perfect; which impedes on independent thinking and personality development.
It’s this stigma against non-STEM careers, which prevent the Tamil community from growing, and preventing the potentials of kids to foster. So let your kids explore their interests; don’t just stick them into music or dance classes because others are. Because they will thrive even more, when they do something they’re passionate about. Heck, you might be an exceptional author but you’re stuck trying to figure out mechanisms and redox reactions begrudgingly.
The first step is communication: ask them about their likes and dislikes; do not restrict them. The same goes for kids; make your parents listen, get some emotional support from your friends if it’s difficult. In the end, your parents will value your happiness first so don’t get discouraged that things may get worse, as they will get better sooner or later.
If you have any thoughts, questions or experiences to share, please comment below!