#46: How to get your family to let you be yourself

Plus, "picky women", the UK census, and more...

Hi, I’m Alya Mooro and you’re reading The Greater Conversation, a weekly newsletter honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Alternately, there’ll be some thoughts from me, or a guest piece, along with recommendations of articles, books*, podcasts and etc worth consuming. If you’ve just subscribed, welcome! If this issue was forwarded to you, add your email to join the list.

The most common question I’ve been asked in the year and a bit since The Greater Freedom’s release, is how to get your family to let you be yourself. It’s a difficult question, and not one I feel qualified to give the answer to.

In Middle Eastern culture, what is often very tribal and collectivist, family is everything and, as women in particular, we are forever considered a reflection of our upbringing and our entire family lineage.  Forever. Well into our 20s, 30s and sometimes even beyond. That means that who we are is often shaped by who our families want – and expect – us to be, and that straying from that publicly and unabashedly is often very difficult, sometimes even seemingly impossible.

At the ripe age of 31, I can finally say that I am wholly myself with my family. That they love and support that person. But there are several variables that have allowed that to be the case, first and foremost who they are as people, the journey and the healing my family have gone through, as a family and individually, as well as my perseverance – since I was pretty much a baby – in carving out my own path, often rubbing my (bad – and good!) choices in everyone’s face. I’m not sure any of those things can be discounted or credited more than the other.

The reason I find it difficult to give advice on this is because everyone’s circumstances are different. From being shamed, shunned, ostracised or, at worst, killed, there can be very real consequences to going against your family and their expectations and wishes for you. How, then, can I give advice on how to go about navigating this?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’m no closer to coming to a conclusion. One thing I have increasingly realised though is that – in most circumstances, I would hope and assume, anyway – these expectations, and the pressures to fit them, come from a place of love. From a sense of tradition and stability and the assumption that those norms and ways of being are what are required in order to live a good and happy life. As Zeba Talkhani writes in her book My Past is a Foreign Country, “I had learned that people did not mean to sabotage my happiness, they only meant to uphold their values.”

Interestingly, in my experience anyway and in conversations with others, it seems like much of these pressures and expectations come from the women in our families, and often from our mothers in particular. “That is the beauty of the patriarchy, I suppose,” writes Zeba, “the ones being policed are the ones policing.”

It’s been a sustaining realisation that our mothers only want to protect us by teaching us how, as women, we need to be in order to survive in the world. That they are unable to imagine a different reality, a different narrative or a different definition of womanhood is, in truth, pretty heartbreaking. But that is the case, really, when it comes to them, as well as everyone else: they only mean to uphold their values, the ones they’ve been taught will protect them.

Is there a way to incite conversations and push the boundaries in a way that will lead to change and facilitate growth and individuality? In a way that will present our own values and how they are the ones we need met in order for us to live a good and happy life?

For me, that’s the most preferable option, if it’s one that’s available. Beyond or in spite of that, everyone needs to make the decision that is best and healthiest and most tenable for them. And there’s no answer I or anyone else can give that will be able to predict or provide that.   


TGC alternates weekly between a guest piece and my own shares. If you identify as a Middle Eastern woman and would like to contribute a guest piece, please email me. You can share anonymously too if you prefer.

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This newsletter is sponsored by The Doe, a digital publication which shares unfiltered, anonymous stories in an effort to encourage conversation and engagement with new ideas. This month’s theme is Athletics and the narrative I want to share today is: Kick Abusive Coaches Out of the Halls of Fame.

Never have we ever had so many conversations about abuses of power, nor about the importance of reckoning with the ugly facts of the past. This is a good addition to the conversation, in the form of a piece by a former figure skater who writes about just how common abusive coaches are, and why their abuse means that they don’t deserve to be recognised for their wins.

Read the narrative on The Doe

  • Book: I’ve just started reading comedian Andi Osho’s recently released debut novel Asking for a Friend and I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s about three best friends who decide to usurp the dating game and dating apps and ask people out in real life – for each other.

  • Newsletter: Meghan Palmer on remembering and forgetting this year. "It is important, I think, that we reflect on the depths of the lightness and darkness this year has revealed, both in our societal structure and in ourselves. That we meditate on it. It is important that we do not soon forget the things we’ve seen."

  • Podcast: Alongside her new book Insatiable, journalist and author Daisy Buchanan has released a podcast called Daisy is Insatiable. I listened to the first episode with guest Dolly Alderton and I loved it *so* much. They chatted about sex and power, sex and exploration, and understanding your sexual self.

  • "Even when women are only seeking to date their male equivalent — educated, funny, attractive, in therapy, with a stable income, as the vast majority of women I know are, for example — they’re told to be realistic." The always brilliant Yomi Adegoke on "picky women" and the pitfalls of dating as a successful young woman.

  • A great read on how new novel Acts of Desperation (which I'm dying to read!) made Sadhbh O'Sullivan understand her straight friends.

  • I miss dancing, desperately. Related: I will never take photos for granted again.

  • Why are these young women having to ‘justify’ their COVID vaccine?

  • If you're from the UK, there's just a few more days to complete the census. Layla Maghribi writes for The National on why the UK's Arabic speaking population should take part.

I so enjoyed chatting with Afikra on a live zoom the other week (month, year?). The recording has been shared on their podcast and on their YouTube page, too. We chatted about The Greater Freedom, this newsletter, representation, authenticity and anonymity, and more.

Listen to the conversation here

A quote from a book you should read:

“…we must learn to do what we haven’t done, what we have been trained not to do: to say out loud the things we want.” - Salma El-Wardany, It’s Not About the Burqa.

Thanks for subscribing! I'm Alya, the person behind this newsletter. I am a freelance journalist and the bestselling author of The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. You can follow me on Instagram here, and Twitter here.
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