It’s fall and the time of the year when I go through periods of celebrating and commiserating the cultural obligations that are thrown into my parenting routine. My South Asian heritage is rich with cultural events and celebrations that can offer so much to children and families. But, it can also be overwhelming.
It begins with the Navaratri, the nine-day festival running from the end of September to the beginning of October. For many of us, depending on which region our parents hailed from, it’s the time to dance like a rock star to Garba music, or carve out time for Durga Puja or celebrate kanjak (when we pray the Goddess form manifested in the girl child.
Karva Chauth comes next. The tradition involves starving yourself, ahem, sorry, fasting, from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands. It’s mostly celebrated in North India and parts of Pakistan.
Diwali, the festival of lights comes next. The beautiful festival of lights involves performing family pujas (prayers) and lighting diyas or candles around the house. Diwali, is by far the biggest festival for some South Asians and is like Christmas and the gift exchanges can be modest from sweets or money to a whole new wardrobe! All this in a month where there’s Canadian thanksgiving AND my daughter’s birthday.
Thanksgiving ends this month of hyper activity, family gatherings and tradition. Then the push for Christmas preps start...and we all know what that’s like! Sounds exciting, huh? Yes and no.
As South Asian mothers, our constant endeavour is to immerse our families and especially our children in our culture and that poses numerous challenges. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for instilling culture in our children. But, as a South Asian mom, it’s a constant challenge to do that while striking the ‘the right’ cultural balance in a modern day family. Especially, when the rest of the country is not necessarily rejoicing in our celebrations. For most of us, our festivals are on working days, which compounds the problem.
For me it involves driving 1.5-2 hours from downtown Toronto where I work, to lug my two children below the age of 5 and my big fat diaper bag to my mother-in-law’s or sister-in-law’s house during rush hour on weekdays. A quick stay at my mother-in-law’s house for two hours and we are ready to head home.
As we try to steep our children in our cultural heritage - juggling the dinners, the pujas (prayers), and evenings out during the week, it takes the sheer happiness that these festivals are supposed to bring - the joy of togetherness. As South Asian moms, we have certain expectations from ourselves as mothers. And as if the responsibility of parenting on a daily basis and working full time wasn’t enough we have a slew of cultural expectations thrown in.
Growing up, I was rarely exposed to ALL of the Indian traditions as my mom was an immigrant at a time when her own parents were still in India. Even after they moved here, her network of friends who were South Asian was very small and life as a working parent didn’t leave much time to devote to the acknowledgement of annual cultural events. However, marriage made me walk into another South Asian family, which was more steeped in tradition and the numerous expectations that come with it. And when my first child was born, boy, did my bag of obligations suddenly get bigger.
So while my parents might have celebrated Diwali on the weekend even though it fell on a weekday, my in-law’s would celebrate it on that weekday. For those of you who come from a family steeped in culture, you’ll feel my pain.
It’s a tough task of balancing your obligations as a mother, a wife, a daughter-in-law and above all, a working woman. We owe it to our kids an understanding of our heritage and at the same time we also owe something to ourselves. I can’t host a prayer ceremony or make sweets; I will let the grandparents take the lead but at the same time work around it to keep my sanity. The precipitous wall of expectations that come with our roles as the masalamommas is easier when climbed on our own little terms. I am not really undermining the importance of tradition but at the same time we need to do a balancing act.
How do you juggle your cultural traditions an events as a parent?