Connections: To Family and To Self

Q: My seventeen-year-old son is interested in studying in Europe. We are Indians living in Los Angeles and are very connected to the South Asian community. I like that my son has friends who are of a similar background to our family, both ethnically and religiously. Yet, he talks of wanting the freedom to explore Europe and be on his own in a couple of years. As a mother, I feel afraid and torn about the prospect of my son being so far away from his family and culture. Why wouldn’t he want to continue being close to his family?

A: It’s natural that you would feel concerned and sad about letting your son leave home soon and travel halfway around the world. He is at an age in which he can be influenced by ideas different from those of his family and other South Asians in California. Given that your son has been close to you and to the community, he has probably assimilated much of the culture he has grown up in. Have you asked him why Europe excites him, or why he wants to leave California? Think about what you are most worried about. Now is a very good time to get to know your son as well as you can by curiously asking him questions about his interests and endeavors. He is at a critical age for gaining independence and becoming a young adult.

It is not uncommon for young adults raised in the United States to want to be on their own and have new experiences. This is a culture that highly supports mobility and separation from family. It may not have anything to do with his liking or not liking his family. Although you may observe him interacting with family and community members in a certain way, inside there might be other aspects of his character and interests that he hasn’t yet explored. He may want the freedom to do just that. How responsible he will be in exercising that freedom has essentially been established over the last seventeen years. Nevertheless, if you have concerns, this is the time to voice them.

If there is genuine closeness between you all, that will remain. You can ask that he visits during vacations, and you can continue to participate in his growth and learning.

Q: Many of my friends and family are away for the summer, and I am feeling lonesome. I think it’s good for me to be alone; it helps me think about and feel things I never do when I am surrounded by people. Still, I don’t know why it’s so hard.

A: Being alone is difficult partly because you are not used to it. Although good company is an essential and healthy need for people, there is a certain type of reflection that can only happen when we are alone. When we are on our own, we can look more deeply into what life is about for us, what we really want, and what we are feeling inside. Looking inward is challenging because we often distract ourselves from our dissatisfactions and fears by keeping ourselves busy or with other people. This is a good time to keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Some deep breathing or yoga may also be helpful as it is supportive of the process of connecting with your inner self.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393.


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