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How I Cope With My Mother: Lessons Learned From My Most Challenging Relationship

How I Cope With My Mother: Lessons Learned From My Most Challenging Relationship


Gawd, You'll never get anywhere singing like that!

Welcome back to my friend Razwana! Take it away amica mia

Sometimes whatever you do, it’s never enough.

You could sacrifice everything for your family, but it wouldn’t even scratch the surface.

The demands never end.

When my (clichéd) arranged marriage was over and I finally decided it was time to live my life, I announced to my mother that I was moving to London.  Now, the first generation British-Pakistani community do not care for women living independently.

A woman living alone means one of two things – you are either hiding something, or you’re a whore.  I fell into neither category. But the truth didn’t matter so much.  It’s what my actions appeared to say that was the problem.

So I had a decision to make.  Do I do what I want, or do what my mother wants?

I decided to use a bargaining chip so we both get what we want.

‘OK, mother. If I don’t move to London, I will move out of your house and live on my own, but in the same city.’

Only, that’s not quite what I did.

Yes, I moved to a house a couple of streets away so it was just close enough so that she wouldn’t feel too lonely. Was I right in doing that? No.

Then, I would go to my mum’s for dinner 5 nights a week. Was that enough? Never!

So I sacrificed seeing friends so I could spend time with my family. Did I gain acceptance? Nope.

Surely she could see I was trying to make her happy, right? Wrong again.

The worst part was that the circle of misery was going round and round – seeing her disappointed was making me unhappy, so the more I did, the worse it became.

It was decision time again.  This time I did make my move to London.  And it was magical.

I’d love to say that this was the catharsis that transformed our relationship, Hollywood movie style.

It wasn’t.

Over the years, I’ve accepted my position as the eternal-disappointment.  This is perhaps one of the most trying, emotional, destructive, difficult, time-consuming relationship, ever.  But it has evolved, and taught me a few things along the way….

When it’s all over, they are still family.

That blood that you share?  It’s there forever.  They are your family; the one’s you didn’t choose, but the ones that raised you. They fed you, they clothed you, and were there when you didn’t even know you existed.

This doesn’t mean you must now sacrifice everything for them, but it does mean respecting the fact that you have a history.  This may be the only thing that keeps you together, but if you were going to leave them, you would have done so by now, right?

What will other people think?

Yes, dearest, what WILL those people think?  Do you care?  Do your parents care?  The two perspectives are very different.

Know that when your parents ask what the neighbours will think of you, they are simply projecting their issues onto you.  THEY are scared of what the Iyer’s down the road will think of you.  They want the Khan’s next door to respect you because what you do reflects upon on them.

But it is not your problem.  It’s their problem.  Let them deal with their problem. 

Look forward like you’re looking back

Consider your life in 20, 30 or 40 years. How will it play out if you follow one path over another? Will you be happy because you did everything in your will to please your parents?

Didn’t think so.

And the irony is that when you get there and tell them you are unhappy, they will agree and question why you listened to them in the first place. 

And if you DO decide to succumb to the pressure and do what they want you to do, then accept the fact that you will spend the rest of your life living vicariously through TV shows.

Just make sure it’s worth it.

If you want them to be different, start with yourself

Do you want them to show that they love you?  Love them first.

Do you want them to show an interest in your life?  Show an interest in their life first.

As difficult as it sounds, give them what you want from them.  Don’t do so because you want them to reciprocate.  Do so because it’s what we do for the people we love.  And if you DO want them to reciprocate, try communicating it to them.

That’s right.


Talk to them, in a language they understand (!) and explain exactly what it is you want.

The honesty will be worth it.

Over to you — what’s the most difficult relationship in your life? How do you cope?

*Razwana Wahid leads a movement for anyone who, professionally and personally, has felt jaded, exhausted and dull; for anyone who’s forgotten what it feels like to come ALIVE, do work you LOVE. She blogs at www.yourworkisyourlife.com

Photo credit John Barnabas Leith

Great Expectations & High Pressure: How You Can Survive Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Middle Eastern Cultures (And Parents)

Great Expectations & High Pressure: How You Can Survive Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Middle Eastern Cultures (And Parents)

Yup, I'm getting married. And yes, I'm on an elephant.

Yup, I'm getting married. And yes, I'm dancing on an elephant.

This is not your typical post. There’s no talk of self-realization, church-hopping, or spiritual wisdom here.

I’m simply writing this for those of you who read my posts on Culture Mutt last year and have written to me with questions about how to survive living in high-pressure cultures, dominant parents, inquisitive communities and families.

Cultures where your existence is compared to everyone else you know, including your genius brother, American Idol-talented sister, chess champion cousin, Harvard-going family friend, deceased Supreme Court grandfather, highly educated and wealthy very-distant relative who founded Google, surgeon neighbor, and television personalities (Sanjay Gupta, Fareed Zakaria, etc)

                                             Your circumstances.

As a kid of a Tiger Mother or neurotic parents of any highly traditional, high-pressure culture, you know what family and social pressure feels like.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary school, high school, college, graduate school or a working professional. If you’re Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Persian of from any Asian country, you know that your life and decisions are not solely your own.

You’re commanded errr… encouraged to attend a particular college, pursue a specific profession which gives you titles such as M.D. or M.B.B.S., creatively introduced to your future spouse, given hints as to where you should live, what job to get, how many children to have, etc etc.

Of course, you’re never really ‘told’. Simply, asked, questioned, hinted at, barraged with a line of questions a murder suspect would get during an interrogation.

“Why don’t you go to medical school?”

“Oh…the Patel kids are both going to Yale next year. Where did you decide?”
“You can go to India to study medicine, no?”

“Why did you get a B+ in history? Do you know how much we’re paying for your education?”

“He’s a nice guy from a good family. You’re not that young, you know”

“Who writes? You can become a doctor, then you’ll write up patient charts during the week and novels during the weekends”

“So, looks like we’re cursed by the God’s and our fate’s sealed. You’re not marrying and giving us 2 grandkids!”

What do you do if you don’t want to play by the rules of your culture or family?

If you’re muddled about what you should be doing with your life, feeling pressured by your parents and culture to be a professional (and by that, I mean doctor, dentist or engineer) and feel dreadful about not living up to everyone’s expectations and demands, read on:

Survive your family and your culture – 9 tips to get control of your life.

1) Forgive your family and yourself. 

As hard as it may be to do, forgiveness is necessary for your mental health and sanity. You must be able to forgive your parents who are pressuring you and trying to control your life. More than likely, this is their unusual way of showing you their care and concern. And love.

When you forgive your parents or family, you show yourself that they have very little impact on you. You refuse to allow their overbearing and dominant ways to hurt you further. 

Forgive them, then forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for having to disagree with and not pleasing them.  Forgive yourself for choosing to live your own life. Forgive yourself so you can move on with your life, instead of being trapped by your family and culture.

2) Refuse to follow the lead of your parents and compare yourself to others.

Know that others have their own difficulties, challenges, and life-dilemmas.

Your friends getting married after law school and touring Europe may look like they have a perfect life on the outside. But you never know what’s going on with them. That very successful and got-it-together couple may be absolutely miserable internally, seeing 3 therapists or could be alcoholics – you never know.

3) Seek clarity in your life and take action.

You don’t have to have a clue as to what you’re doing with your life but you should try to seek clarity by talking to your inner circle of friends and through self-reflection.

Look at what you enjoy doing, look at your strengths, your skills and move in that direction. No matter who you are, you have certain skills, talents and strengths. Focus on those and keep moving towards mastering those parts of your life.

Stop doing those activities, professions and jobs you can’t stand.

Look for an exit.

Just take a little bit of action a day on what interests you, what inspires you and what makes you feel alive.

If you have no idea, just start. As Alexis Grant says, purpose usually finds you, not the other way around. And it finds you only after you’ve gotten started.

Start doing your hobby, your craft, your art. If you start and lose interest, then that’s not your passion. If you’re not willing to do this for 2 hours a night after a day of school or work, then it’s probably not your passion.

4) Take money, prestige and what people think out of the equation.

Be honest with yourself as far as what you enjoy doing. If you do that and do that only, you’ll find immeasurable success in the long run.

If you love teaching, like a friend of mine did, success will knock on your door. My friend’s parents tried to talk him out of a teaching career but he fought for his dream. And yes, he became the youngest state ‘teacher of the year’ a couple years back.

Unlike what your community or parents tell you, you WILL succeed in what you enjoy doing and what brings you happiness.

5) Seek confidence building activities, daily inspiration and affirmations.

All those things sound zany but they work. You hear a lot of negativity from your parents and culture.

You have to replace it with positive self-talk. There’s online videos, meditations, affirmations, books, more. Do these activities daily to keep all the negative buzz away form you. And affirm your brilliance.

Don’t let them break you down with comparisons, criticism and insults.

6) Stomach your day job until you can actively pursue your interest, passion, art.

If you can’t make your passion into a full time job or career, then spend all your free time doing it.

If you can’t give up your law practice or medical career, then write at night, take classes in the evenings, run on the weekends, shoot photos when you’re on vacation.

Have a vision of your future. Create a vision board to make your vision a reality.

7) Use negative energy, the doubters and the haters to take action.

Use their doubt, disapproval and judgmental behavior of others to move you into action. Allow the negativity to help you become even more focused and determined about doing what you want to do.

Let the negativity motivate you to achieve more.

Allow the doubters to help you achieve your goals.

8) Actively hunt for people who will believe in you.

Spend more time with them.

You already know what to do with the negative people in your life.

9) Seek happiness daily.

Be diligent about seeking happiness. Be like a firefly seeking the light of happiness.

You don’t have to do what everyone else wants you to do but you do need to do something.

Find what makes you happy and keep doing more of that. Find happiness in the mundane and boring tasks of life. Find happiness in the job you hate. Find happiness in the profession you never wanted to pursue in the first place. There must be some aspect of your job or career that makes you happy. Focus on that.

If meeting people who compare you and humiliate makes you unhappy as it well should, avoid them. If reading makes you happy, schedule that in. If family affairs are no fun, find excuses to get out of them.

Fight for your happiness like you’re fighting in a war. Be disciplined about seeking and living in happiness daily. When you’re happy, you’ll do better work and find success.

When you’re happy, it will rub off on those around you. They soon will be happy too.

Keep seeking happiness and vigorously fight against anyone trying to steal it from you.

Protect your dreams and happiness like you’re guarding the priceless Mona Lisa.

Did your community or family insist you live your life a certain way, marry a certain person, work a certain profession? Let me know how you deal with your family or community in the comments below.

How to Find Spirituality Where You Are (without ditching your job, moving to an ashram or living the life of a monastic)

How to Find Spirituality Where You Are (without ditching your job, moving to an ashram or living the life of a monastic)

Is it too late to go back to Brooklyn?

Is it too late to go back to my regular life in Brooklyn?

If you’re a spiritual-seeker hunting for the truth, you might feel like you’re regularly letting yourself down.

You don’t have enough hours in the day to play chauffeur to the kids, be a fabulous manager at work, and super-volunteer in your church and community.

You may feel like your spiritual pursuits go to the wayside. You’d like to live a more spiritual and religious life but you’re just not able to do it ALL.

Wouldn’t it be nice to give it all up, move to a local mountain-side commune and spend the rest of your life seeking self-realization?

Should you disappear into the forests once and for all until you’ve become an enlightened human?


Learn to find spirituality in the world you live in.

You don’t have to pack up the suitcases, sell the house, abandon your family and hit the closest mountain resort to live the monastic lifestyle with a religious community.

You can be just where you are and continue to seek the spiritual life.

Learn to live in the ‘real’ (ok, “illusionary”) world.

You will learn many spiritual lessons in the world you live in today.

You want to move to the ashram, mountains or cave to find enlightenment. But you’re not going to find it there. Well, you might find it there but you’re not going to get to realization if you can’t conquer living in the places you do now.

You’re not going to get traffic jams, lawsuits, suspicious neighbors, antagonistic supervisors, penny-pinching landlords and rebellious children in the ashram!

You’re not going to get offended, heart-broken, crushed, pained, lied to, saddened, depressed in a mountain setting.

No money worries, loved ones dying, divorce, bankruptcy, failure, when you’re solely in deep spiritual pursuits.

Balance your spiritual life with your material life.

Your life gives you plenty of opportunities to practice spirituality: it allows you to confront people and circumstances who will hijack your peace and test your patience.

Not wanting to punch the motorcyclist who just cut you off on the freeway is a divine practice.

Choosing to forgive the man who just duped you of your life’s savings is a spiritual exercise.

Your life allows you to tame your ego, perfect your character and make choices about how you accept your life’s circumstances.

You will also have time for inner spiritual growth, mindfulness and prayer.

You can bring in spiritual practices into your life if you simply prioritize the importance of them.

Start small spiritual habits and be consistent with them.

A little spirituality every day.

Become a better person every day. Build your character every day. Find the spiritual answers to your life’s problems and circumstances.

Take the high road. Take the spiritual road. Give. Forgive. Love.

Be mindful. Peaceful. Thoughtful. Generous. Soul-Centered.

Use every situation and encounter to practice love. 

Build up small spiritual practices daily that recognizes the divine. Practices which allows you to reflect on your mind and see through the illusions of the material world.

Stop the “I don’t have time excuse”

You may want to move to the ashram or commune of your dreams because you’ll have all the time in the world there to pursue your spiritual desires.

Pursue those desires right from where you are.

Make time for the things that matter in your life.

If you’d like to seek God, wake up earlier to reflect upon Him.

If you’d like clarity, be mindful throughout the day and spend a few minutes each day watching your thoughts drift through your mind.


Find the time. Make the time. Schedule the time.

Refuse to live by the “all or nothing” strategy some realized beings have taken.

You DO NOT have to go all in. You DO NOT have to spend every minute and every hour in prayer and meditation. You don’t have to do that remotely, in silence or by yourself.

You can chose the middle path. You can straddle the world you live in with the spiritual world.

You can be in the world. You don’t have to be of the world.

You don’t have to choose between the normal life of suburbia and family against the spiritual world of realized beings.

You can seek your best self and find your highest source of inspiration in daily life and everyday moments.

Forgive yourself for imperfections and keep trying every day.

If you’re human, you’ll have a bad day. You’ll fall off the fire-truck when putting out a fire.

You’ll blow half your salary on the roulette table.

Commit perjury, adultery, forgery, thievery and find yourself with all kind of other quandaries.

You might not have time today for silence, meditation, prayer, divinity.

Intentionally hurt someone else.

Refused to forgive a parent who’s wounded you.

Ignored your friends who desperately seek your help.

Refused to let go of your ego so you can salvage the friendship.

When you fall off the path to self-knowledge and enlightenment, keep going. Start over. Start again.

Do not move to the woods, mountains or your favorite religious order in search for the truth.   

Friends, if you ever tell me you’re moving to the woods to spend the rest of your life trying to reach enlightenment, I’m going to do three things. First, get a hold of my ex-wife, a psychiatrist, to give you a special rate on weekly therapy. Second, contact the local police department to try to stop your planned-escape and finally, spend the rest of my time trying to track you down and bringing you back to your regular life.

Don’t take the easy way out.

Refuse to disengage completely from people, circumstances and the pressures of the world around you.

Listen, you’re hearing this straight from someone who would be first in line to join a monastery, new religious order or cult. If there’s a promise of free meals and self-realization, I’d get in line like your zealous holiday shopper, setting up a tent overnight to purchase my flat screen tv.

I’m not going to join the order. The brotherhood. The nunhood. Or any ‘hood’ with anyone wearing robes, saffron sheets or sunbathing in the nude.

I’m going to stay and fight. Fight, you say. Fight what?

Fight to come to terms with your human self. To become a better version of you.

Fight your anger, ego, desires, imperfections and all of your human qualities. Fight to become a better person.

You can’t fight in isolation without other humans, without worldly problems and without being challenged. In my opinion, that’s the easy way out.

Let’s confront our nemesis, face our ego, work on our shortfalls. Let’s work on loving our Creator more every day while we’re fighting the battles of our daily lives.

Ever thought about living the life of monastic? (Oh, you haven’t. 🙂 )

To pick up my book, Is God Listening, about God, spirituality and resiliency, click here

Photo credit radhanads

Should You Quit if Your Religion Don’t Fit? (How to find a suitable religion)

Should You Quit if Your Religion Don’t Fit? (How to find a suitable religion)

Lord, please shut down that man's blog.

Lord, shut down this blog. Then, please save this man's soul.

4 a.m.’s in the prayer room.

I’d be trying to stay awake while folded up in an uncomfortable lotus-style seating position  next to my devoted grandparents.

The smell of camphor and incense sticks either put me in a dreamy daze or might have made me high. I haven’t quite determined which – did the camphor and incense sticks set up the atmosphere necessary for hallucinations or spiritual awakenings?

As my grandparents arranged fresh garden flowers upon the statutes of Siva, Ganesh and the Goddess Lakshmi, I found myself in and out of consciousness. When they noticed, I’d pep up and chant a verse or two of their morning devotionals with them. When their eyes were closed in prayer, I would be in a deep slumber.

From the earliest days of childhood through growing up in Northern California, with daily home prayers and pujas, regular visits to temples that were no closer than a 6-hour drive away by car and two Sunday school classes (nope, not just on Sunday’s either) I grew up in a strong Hindu family with a strong faith.

You grow up with your family’s religion.

Similar to your favorite foods and political views, you most likely practice the religion of your family.

Your eating preferences, life-style, health habits, and ‘eccentric’ personality were probably all shaped by your immediate family or loved one.

Now, if you grew up soaking in the Talmud and spent all your after-school hours playing chess at the synagogue, you’re most like a practicing Jew.

If you grew up with rosary-chanting grandparents, daily Mass attendance and spent a good portion of the year sacrificing hard liquor, horse betting or Cappuccinos , you’re most likely a practicing Catholic today. Or at least,  go to Mass on Christmas eve 🙂 and call in your prayers when Notre Dame  takes on the Wolverines every year on the football field.

What if the religion you grew up with doesn’t fit you?

We grow up with the faith and religious traditions of our families but they may not necessarily be yours.

Once you start confronting your faith and resolving if it’s a right fit for you, like those high school jeans you still try to fit into but have clearly outgrown, you wonder if the religion of your parents is the one for you.

Does the God and tradition of your faith resonate with you? Are you going to find enlightenment here? Do the scriptures seem palatable to you?

Experiment your way to your faith.

While your parents and family may think this practice I’m about to suggest is bizarre or blasphemous and I’m anticipating bans of this blog by most major world religions – why not give other traditions and religious practices a fair shake?

1) Visit other houses of worship. If you’re not familiar with church-hopping, I highly recommend you give it a try. Not just a church, but maybe a temple, synagogue or gudwara. And of course this is only for those of you not practicing your faith, may not believe in or have lingering questions about your faith.

2) Take other friends with you who can explain their faiths and traditions to you. I started going to church with friends who were familiar with the traditions and the practices. That’s the main reason I didn’t take money out of the tithing plates or ask for a second glass of wine at Mass. You need to attend the new place of worship with someone who can lead the way.

3) Use opportunities you meet with leaders and practicing members of other faiths to question (cross-examine) them. If you see folks wearing robes of other religious traditions, like Buddhist monks or Jain priests, do not, I repeat do not, call Homeland Security. Instead, befriend them and ask about their faith, practice and beliefs. You can determine once and for all, if they’re in la la land or they’re sitting on ancient truths and wisdom you should look into yourself.

4) Start practicing and attending their regular worships. If you find a faith that interests you, start going regularly and try to find out if this is some kind of secret cult or your quickest path to salvation. If they ask you to stand upside your head, empty your wallets and money and hand out bottles of Ciroc Vodka, you’re likely in the wrong place.

5) Read their books and scriptures. No better way to get the lowdown on a religion than see what their prophets, devotees, or spiritual leaders had to say. If the book puts you to sleep, put the religion down and move ten feet back. If the good book transforms your life, you may have the found a religion that fits.

If you’re looking for salvation or just peace of mind and devotion, don’t give up. If the faith you grew up with doesn’t resonate with you, be open to learning about other faiths and beliefs.

Hindu philosophy says get with the God that makes you holler. Not exactly in those words but you get what I’m saying.

Christianity says let the holy spirit win over your soul. Again not exact words, but who’s keeping track here?

You may feel like you’re back-stabbing your family and abandoning your faith but are you really? Aren’t you finding the practice that suits you better? Unearthing the short-cut to the G.O.D?

While your parents may include scotch and liquerish chocolates in their regular diet, don’t you have your preferences in regards to wine, men and dairy-free organic chocolates?

Our mind often seeks what is familiar to us, my friend Tim Brownson regularly points out and even wrote a book about it, but your faith doesn’t have to operate by familiarity – it’s a choice.

Find the God, scripture and traditions which suit you.


Jesus is making a big play for my heart and soul. The scripture, the poetic Psalms and His life sacrifice have brought me to the pews of the Church.


While I wait for the holy spirit to instruct me further, I ask you friends – are you ready for a conversion?

Ok, fine, are you willing to give another religion a shot? Are you happy in your faith? Was it because of your parents and traditions or did your faith grow out of your own choosing?

Let me know in the comments below.

How to be as Happy as the Dalai Lama (6 rules for happiness)

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” the Dalai Lama

Do you think about happiness much?

Like why you’re unhappy all the time? Or why your life is as happy as bottomless Mimosas, advertisement-free television and 3-day weekends?

Or are you like most people out there, having experienced brief periods of bliss, but generally searching for that elusive concept called happiness?

If you’re searching for happiness like a banker searching for sunny tax-shelter islands or the Bachelorette searching for the man of her dreams, then you’ve got to watch this video above.

As you watch this video, you’ll ask yourself a number of questions.

Vishnu, what do you know about happiness?

Very little, my friends. That’s why I followed Gretchen Ruben’s advice to imitate a spiritual master and picked up this book by the Dalai Lama called, The Art of Happiness. I dug into the nitty-gritty details and pulled out the pearls of wisdom the Dalai Lama shares on the subject of happiness.

Yes, you can spend 7 hours reading this book or 7 minutes listening to me tell you what I learned from the Dalai Lama’s handbook on happiness.

What I learned from this book, Eckhart Tolle’s book, and my friend, Galen Pearl’s book on happiness, is that happiness is really an inside job. We can change our mindset and take practical actions to strive towards more happiness in our lives. I share at least 6 of the Dalai Lama’s strategies in this post.

Why in God’s name are you in front of a Christmas tree?

I was going for the Santa Claus look then realized that I had neither the costume, the beard or the hat.

Actually, this video was made during the Christmas holidays — what better backdrop for your viewing pleasure than this decorated Christmas tree?

What’s up with the lighting and why does this video look like some low-budget movie production?

Simply, cause that’s what it is my friends. Me, my flip cam, the bad lighting, the Dalai Lama and you. I’m no professional and this is one of my first videos. Until I get the lighting down or hire Oprah’s cameraman, bear with me.

Watch this video, then please share your thoughts with me in the comments below. I want to hear from you – yes, you! Tell me, what makes you happy? What are your rules for happiness?