From Disciplinarian to Role Model- Are Desi Parents Trying to Do It All?

By Neha Navasaria

I’m back with updates on the CHAI Parenting Initiative.  The last time you heard from me, I expressed wanting to “take this show on the road” referring to the parenting focus groups.  And that is what we did.  In July, Razia (my MoCo focus collagepartner-in-crime) had a fun and productive trip to Austin, Texas where she was able to hear unique perspectives across generations of South Asian parents.  Our recent stop brought us to the home of CHAI where we held two focus groups in the Baltimore/Washington DC area.  We met mothers and fathers representing different South Asian countries and religions, each bringing their distinct viewpoints and experiences to the discussion.  As with the last focus group, I always wonder if parents will be open and comfortable in sharing their parenting experiences and vulnerabilities with strangers.  And each time, I am not only surprised, but amazed at the depth of discussion that takes place.  South Asian parents are ready to talk about parenting.


We explored the idea of what defines successful parenting.  Parents’ responses varied. They discussed the importance of having kids practice their culture and faith and the need to respect others, especially elders.  There was a focus on education and achievement balanced with building good self-esteem and confidence in their child.  Parents wanted their children to have experiences that promote positive growth and valued the role of open communication in their relationship with their children.


HoCo focus collageThe discussion shifted to the roles that parents play in their children’s lives.  This conversation generated a long list of parental roles: coach, teacher, driver, advocate, provider of faith, nutritionist, caretaker, friend, disciplinarian, negotiator, counselor, cook, role-model…just to name a few.  To look at this list was overwhelming and we talked about the difficulties in simultaneously maintaining all of these roles and parents’ ongoing need to be superheroes when it comes to parenting.  Throughout the discussion, a number of parenting challenges were identified and we asked the group how they have addressed these issues.  Parents talked about how they’ve helped build their child’s positive self-esteem, focused on a child’s individual needs, valued what is important to the child, placed less emphasis on achievement, broadened the definition of their culture and integrated with society.  It was so inspiring to see the way in which South Asian parents have figured it out for themselves and their families!


Before we knew it, our 90 minutes was up.  In individual conversations with parents after the group, I quickly realized that parents not only enjoyed the exchange of ideas, but found it to be a validating experience.  While we could not provide specific answers to all parenting dilemmas, just knowing that others face a similar struggle is a comforting and powerful experience.  It was refreshing to see South Asian parents come together to openly share stories of their upbringing and stresses, worries, and triumphs in parenting rather than compete about whose child is in the spelling bee, became a doctor or won an academic award.  It takes bold, dedicated and strong parents to be willing to share their greatest concerns and vulnerabilities with others in the community.  The most exciting news was the parents’ willingness to continue these conversations outside of the group.  Some parents were even interested in starting an online forum!  This made me wonder–while our intent was to learn more about what South Asian parents are thinking, I realized that we are also giving them a sense of support and validation through these groups.


At the end of the day, Razia and I were energized by the parents we met and felt a need to do more for the community, yet we were exhausted.  We reminded ourselves of the need for our self-care in these roles.  Earlier we reminded parents that they are not superheroes…and neither are we.  In order to be effective in helping our community, we have to remember to balance our passion to reach out and support others with time for replenishing our minds and spirits.  With that said, we replenished our spirits South Asian style (indulged in tasty food!) with yummy South Indian dosas (savory crepe with potato filling) and Nepalese Momos (dumplings) and then pampered ourselves with a pedicure.  Overall, it was a nice mix of helping to change the world and enjoying it at the same time!  And it is with this recharged mindset that I head to the West Coast in 1 week to learn more from South Asian parents and provide them with a supportive forum–I can’t wait!  And any recs for restaurants and spas will be gladly taken 🙂


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