aging foreign parents

Poof. You Are An Adult. English is Their Second Language.

One of the toughest parts about getting older seems to be having to watch your parents become older. I am fortunate enough to have an incredibly close relationship with my parents and, simultaneously,  I have an incredibly unique relationship with my parents, since I have always considered myself their protector and interpreter of western culture.

My parents moved to this country from India. My dad got a head start by coming here in the late 70’s. Whereas my mom, finally came with my siblings around the late 80’s. Seeing as my dad went to school here and obtained a PhD and Masters, it only makes sense that he has mastered the language and western “culture” more than my mother. He has an accent, but not as strong as my mother, and he can communicate fluently [and apparently effectively, since he has obtained awesome opportunities throughout the years in his career].

My mother, she is a different story. To a certain extent, my mom didn’t need to master the language, she ran an ethnic story in the early 90’s (no language barriers there) and worked in some sort if I.T. testing division in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. She dabbled in day care before and after the I.T. position, but working with little kids did not necessarily require her to “learn” the language or the culture.

So now, my parents are getting older – whats the big deal? So growing up when it was just me and my mom running an errand, I would try to make sure the store clerk was talking to me, so that I could interpret the information over to my mom. I did this with simple things and more complicated things (like car issues or calling manufacturers in regards to warranties on home appliances), but I remember going to college and having this thought, “how will my mom communicate her needs effectively or understand third parties without me?” I gave my mom little or no credit, and I gave myself a LOT of credit. My mom did fine, she didn’t need me [as much as I had lead myself to believe]. I put this thought of her inability to communicate in my own head.

I remember coming home for Christmas break one year and intentionally being quiet at the store so I could witness the interaction. I thought the store clerk could have been kinder, but, I guess from his point of view my mom’s  tone when trying to speak English does not always come off as lovable, since she is more focused on trying to get the right words and conjugation out.

I created my own problem. I, like many of you, LOVE helping my parents! I love them – they are wonderful humans, who continue to do a lot for me and everyone else around them. So as an adult I see myself trying to revert to my old ways of simply doing things for them, but at the same time this is not as sustainable since I live in a different time zone, married and a young lawyer at a large firm [who by the way is studying for the Missouri Bar].

For example, the other day my mom wanted  me to send her the address of a salon near her, so I got off a call with my husband, while at Target running errands, Googled the salon and sent her the address. See the issue with this is that this is something she could have easily done, but I have reinforced her to believe that she cannot. So this morning, she told me the salon was closed [she said it in a way where it was closed forever]- I said why don’t you Google it again and try to give them another call. She hesitated, but with a little subtle encouragement she did it! She called them – made an appointment, now knows they are closed on Mondays, and even rescheduled her appointment after a second call!

This whole article was initially geared towards writing  about aging parents , but it ended up turning into an article about my mother– Happy Mother’s Day -I guess! I am amazed by how awesome she is, and I am learning to understand that our mother-daughter relationship needs to evolve and is evolving. We are both learning new things. I am learning to teach my mother how to catch fish, and she learning to not be afraid of catching the fish [broad -broad overstatement- since she does A LOT without me – but I like giving myself more credit sometimes].

 I am sure many of you struggle with these same scenarios and situations, and I would love to hear about how you handle things. Feel free to comment below – interested in your thoughts.

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