What it’s like growing up with foreign parents

Can you imagine growing up having to communicate for your parents? For me, this is all I’ve ever known.


The Zuraiqi family gathered for a birthday party.

Yara Nimer, Staff Writer

You know that feeling when your parents try their hardest to explain something to you, but you’re just not getting it? That has been my life since I started school. Except in my case I’m the one doing the explaining to my parents.

Since my mother moved to America from Jordan when she was 29, her English never really came around, and as a result, my sisters and I helped my mom with just about everything in life that involves english. This seems like a normal task for people with immigrant parents, but the reality is harder than it seems. Anytime my mom gets a text message or email or telephone phone call, she comes to me, interrupting whatever I’m doing, so that I can handle the task for her. As a 16 year old, a lot of the itemsI have to manage for her are beyond my level of writing.

Here’s an example: Recently our family needed to contact a travel agency to back out of a deposit for one of the IQ trips. Instead of my mother writing the email, I did. This process really stressed me out because I wasn’t sure how to word the email or how to go about getting the result we wanted, and in the end, I never got a response. After that experience, it made me think, “I wish my mom could do this.”

My father isn’t bad at English, but he isn’t home enough to help my mom. This is where the problem ensues. Since my father owns and manages his store, he hardly ever gets a day off of work. My father has lived here for way longer than my mom, so you’d think he’d be up to help her, but that’s simply just not the case. My dad is almost always too busy.

Ever since my father moved to the United States, he has always felt obligated to put his all into his work. This leaves my sisters and I the job of helping my mother complete tasks that involve communicating the stuff most American families take for granted. My mother often feels guilty for not being able to write her own emails and text messages and make her own phone calls.

Since my mother is a stay-at-home mom, she doesn’t have an outlet where she constantly speaks English, so communication continues to be a struggle. As a result, my two sisters and I usually have to help my mother with the basics— emails to shipping companies, signing papers at the eye doctor’s office, handling bills, etc.

While I sit and help my mother draft emails and send text messages, I can’t help but wonder if anyone else has to do this with their parents, too. Before I started at Saint Stephen’s, I went to a predominantly white private school, and many students I talked to didn’t have this problem. Their parents spoke English fluently. Often, I found myself frustrated, wondering how I was going to help my mom do things that a normal 16 year old wouldn’t typically have to do. To add to this, I’ve had to take on more responsibilities since my sister left for college.

I often envied those whose parents weren’t 1st generation immigrants, who were born in the United States. On top of the struggles I already have as a high school student, having to help my mom translate, write, and get through life, in general, has put a lot of pressure on me. A lot of problemsI have to help my mom with are quite professional and complicated, and this often scares me because I never know if the way I’m writing sounds adult enough. Oftentimes, I find myself feeling mixed emotions. A lot of the time I feel bad for my mother, but I also wish that she could complete these tasks herself.

When I came to Saint Stephen’s, I finally got to meet a lot of people like me that also had to handle stuff like this. Some even had it worse than I do. This made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and that there were people just like me. I could finally relate to my friends and even talk about the stressful parts of having parents who were immigrants.

In some ways, my situation has forced me to grow up a lot faster than my friends, and even though that brought in a lot of added stress to my life, it has helped me to quickly mature. Having to translate for my mother since I was young has really shaped my personality. Talking to the people at fast food places and doctors offices and in many other situations has given me the confidence to talk to almost anyone, to communicate clearly, to take a leadership role. This has improved my relationship with my mom immensely because she feels like she can always come to me when she needs something and she always expresses how grateful she is to have daughters that help her.

I don’t think I’d be able to talk to people the way I do now if I didn’t help my mom. Being able to be there for my parents has not only brought me joy knowing that I can help them, but it has also allowed me to learn how truly important family is to me no matter how hard it can be.