We’re Sorry: An Open Letter to South Asian Children

by Vishnu Subramaniam 

Dear (fill in your name),

You’re likely not going to believe that we wrote this letter. It’s not something we ever would have done, but it’s probably better that we write this now than forever hold our words and grieve in silence.

We reflected on your childhood and now realize that we screwed up.

We are sorry.

We are sorry for stealing your childhood from you.

We are sorry for the judgments, negativity, comparisons, put-downs and shaming behavior.

We judged you when all we wanted to do was praise you.

We compared you when all we wanted to do was uplift you.

We put you down when all we wanted to do was see you happy.

We criticized you when all we wanted was to see you be the best you could be.

We spanked you when all we wanted was to see you on your best behavior.

We condemned you when all we wanted was for you to do well in school.

We laughed at you when all we wanted to do was protect you.

We told you that you were nothing when all we wanted to do was tell you that you were our everything.

Honestly, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were scared, fearful, unaware and not sure of how to raise you. We did the best that we knew how to do.

Our parents didn’t raise us to be the parents we could have been. Our parents were hardly there, absent for us emotionally and believed that discipline always trumped affection.

They didn’t show us what love looked like. They didn’t praise us. They didn’t laud our efforts or show up to support us at our school activities.

[Read Related: Desi Wellbeing Warriors: South Asians Breaking the Mold]

Our parents thought that parenting was a passionless endeavor. They wanted well-behaved, educated and successful adults who were capable of raising their own families. They cared about our performance, not our purpose. They fretted over what others would think of us, not our happiness. They cared about how well we would turn out for society, ignoring how we would turn out for ourselves and even for you.

Instead of happy, loved and joyful, they wanted us to be responsible, successful and reputable in the eyes of others.

And we wanted the same for you.

We realize now that it wasn’t your studies we should have focused on, but your spirit.

It wasn’t your shortcomings and failures we should have focused on, but your feelings.

It wasn’t chess class, math tutoring, karate class, the SAT or Carnatic music class that we should have emphasized, but your happiness.  

It wasn’t your long-term career plans we should have harped on, but how loved you felt.

We can’t go back and change this, but we can tell you that we didn’t know what we were doing.

We plead ignorance and ask for your forgiveness for the mistakes we made.

We are sorry for the belt strokes we delivered, the demeaning words we used, the brutal comparisons we made, the way we brushed off your feelings, the animal names we called you and the love we never showed you. We are sorry that we criticized your grades, punished you for mediocre scores and disciplined you when we didn’t see all A’s. We thought that we were motivating you when we likely made you feel unworthy and inadequate.

If we knew better, we would have done better.

We just want you to be happy, healthy and successful. Whatever success means to you. We got caught up in the definition of success because we thought, like all Indian people, that financial success and educational achievements were what mattered. It was how our friends judged us, it was how we thought others would judge you.

Yet, we see the error of our ways and this open letter is our first step toward a new beginning. Only when we can tell you that we have made terrible mistakes and that we didn’t know what we were doing can we start over again with you.

Today, we vow to do better. We now know about feelings, emotions, affection and love.

We now know that it’s your happiness and well-being that matters.

We want you to know that no matter how we raised you and what we said about you, we have always been proud of you. Whatever words we used and whatever actions we took couldn’t show you the depth of our hearts.

We weren’t the “I-love-you” generation, but today we want to make sure you hear us saying this loud and clear – we are grateful that you’re our child, we accept you unconditionally and we love you beyond words.

You’re a divine blessing. A treasure from above. A piece of our soul.

Love, Mummy and Daddy.

TDWPVishnu Subramaniam is the writer behind the popular self-help blog vishnusvirtues.com where he writes about starting over in life. He also writes books about self-love and relationships, which you can find on Amazon.com. The Desi Wellbeing Project celebrates and promotes people and qualities that cultivate emotional well-being in the South Asian communities. Send your stories to thedesiwellbeingproject@gmail.com. Follow The Desi Wellbeing Project on FacebookTwitterInstagramPinterest and WordPress. You can also contribute your stories to thedesiwellbeingproject@gmail.com.

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