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How Familial Expectations Cause Double Lives

By: Anusha Asim

It’s not uncommon for families to have expectations from their children. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your child to grow up to be a decent, compassionate and happy human being. The problem arises when these expectations are so elaborate that they distort your perception of your very own child and you see them as who you want them to be rather than who they are. 


Unfortunately, this is very common in Asian families. Parents often have a desire to live through their child or force their standards of acceptability on them. These standards extend to things like fashion choices, social lives and especially academic lives. 


Not only are these standards unrealistic, such as ones about perfect grades, they can be very damaging to a child’s self esteem and parents will resort to excessive strictness to enforce them. Even emotionally abusive tactics.


As if these standards aren’t already bad enough, they are much harsher for Asian women. This can be attributed to honor culture that is prevalent in many Asian countries. As well as the “boys will be boys” mentality which is universal. The high expectations that Asian parents set on their daughters are proof of this. 


Despite some shared expectations, they tend to be much more lenient with their sons than daughters. They’ll have later curfews, freedom to choose what they can wear, who they can be friends with, etc. 


Whereas daughters have every aspect of their existence monitored and controlled. From what they can wear, who they can hang out with to when they can leave the house. And they better comply unless they want to be the talk of their relatives and bring shame on their family.


Asian parents have this rigid idea of what traits are acceptable for a woman and anything outside of that is seen as inherently “shameful”.


Granting more independence to sons leaves daughters feeling like they aren’t equal and can be damaging to their self image.


Such strict standards can be very suffocating. This inevitably leads Asian children, especially female and LGBTQ+ kids, to living double lives. 

This is common to the extent that it is joked about.


Double lives enable kids to participate in similar activities as their peers such having dating lives or things they genuinely enjoy that their parents consider wrong, like dressing differently. As valid of a coping mechanism as this is, living tangled in a web of lies and excuses can be exhausting. It causes unwarranted guilt for simply enjoying innocent things.

 Not to mention, getting caught means facing dire consequences and risking the loss of your already very limited freedom.


I remember having friends who would leave their houses wearing abayas and change into clothes of their liking once they were out of sight. 


A lot of us feel compelled to act like different people around our families, to the point that we have to dial down or even hide parts of our personality like our opinions, ideas and alternating views. 


It feels like we’re two people. Who our parents want to be and who we actually are.


This shouldn’t be the norm but sadly, it is. Parents shouldn’t have  standards and expectations that barricade them from truly seeing their children as who they are.


It feels like we can’t do anything about it besides finding different ways to cope and express ourselves because in the long run, these things don’t seem worth risking our relationships with our families. But eventually, they will. We can’t hide who we are and how we want to live forever. What we can do is break this cycle. From establishing better relationships with our younger siblings to being good parents once we’re adults with kids of our own. I doubt anyone who has gone through this will feel the need to put someone else through the same thing.


I hope there comes a day when who a parent wants their child to be and who their child actually is, are the same thing. A parent shouldn’t want anything more from their child than to be the best version of themselves.  I hope there comes a day when parents stop trying to mould their children into their own image or make them accomplish their own unfulfilled dreams. Because that’s now how it works. Killing your child’s individuality isn’t worth having them satisfy your expectations. It is selfish, despite how well-meaning you think your intentions are.

Anusha is a 16-year-old writer, content curator/creator and activist residing in the United Arab Emirates. She considers herself a leftist and hopes to amplify voices that people try to stifle.

Instagram: @nushie.7 

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