For those of us who are children of immigrants, or easily assimilated as immigrant children, there can be a feeling of disconnect between you and your family. It usually starts with a language barrier where we slowly find ourselves unable to communicate fully with our loved ones. Then the gap widens as you advance through school because the system is foreign to most of our parents*. The higher we go, the less likely our family is able to teach us or help us navigate the system. This is also often true for even those of us with parents who have professional degrees from other countries.
It can be emotionally draining to feel this type of disconnect from the people you care about the most. It can be frustrating when they don’t fully understand what you’ve achieved by making Law Review, or understand why you’re worried about the Bar exam, or can’t fully appreciate the work you put in to get your first job as an attorney. I’m not saying that there should be a parade every time you achieve a goal, but rather that there is a feeling of disappointed when you share good news and realize that the person you’re sharing this happy moment with doesn’t really understand. It can feel lonely.
For many of us, this feeling of disconnect started before law school, but it usually does start within the educational system: taking high school honor classes, filling out FAFSA, looking for scholarships, participating in extracurriculars, etc. Eventually, we get so used to the idea that our family just doesn’t “get” what we’re trying to do that by the time you start law school you’ve come to terms with finding guidance and information from other sources.
However, once you become an attorney the disconnect can seem even more stark. You may find yourself hardly ever mentioning your practice or suddenly you’re expected to take care of family problems that normally you wouldn’t have needed to handle.
You may also sense some defensiveness regarding your achievements from fear that you will eventually reject your family for greener, richer lawerly pastures. Or parents may diminish your career accomplishments so that siblings don’t feel less than or you may feel the ever-present need to be humilde that tells you to downplay what you’ve achieved. At the same time, you may find yourself feeling resentment from the lack of understanding and find yourself communicating less and less with family.
While I think these negative feelings are normal, unchecked, they can really eat at you and create a larger gap between you and those you love. So what can you do?
For me, I did feel the disconnect pretty early into my college years and it took time for me to accept that a part of me–a big part, my identity as an attorney, which I view as a calling and vocation–was something that family may not always understand. That’s the first step, I think, to acknowledge that those negative feelings and miscommunications have created gap so that whenever there is acknowledgement or support given–even if it’s not the kind you expected–you can accept and appreciate it.
The second step is to make an effort to explain and inform your family about your goals and achievements. Explain, communicate, and include them–this will help alleviate any fears of rejection that they may have and help strengthen your bond. Your work to include others will bridge the gap.
And that is the ultimate goal because we can acknowledge that our career and education may have placed us at a different station than those we care about, but we have the ability to create bonds that supersede those differences.
*It’s my position that this gap is often purposefully created, especially in the educational system, as a way to diminish the rights and influence parents of color/immigrant parents have over their children, but that’s a post for a different day.