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What Young Arabs Hide from their Parents

The struggles of growing up with double-lives

If you’ve grown up with Arab parents, I’m sure some of you will agree that no matter how old we are, we are still sometimes bound by the rules of 7aram or 3eib.

There is no getting out of them, and there is no claiming that we’re adults. The reality is, some parts of our private lives have to be hidden from our parents and more often than not, life could end up becoming a schizophrenic adventure.

To get a better understanding of the realities of growing up Arab, MILLE caught up with six young Arabs from across the region to find out what they hide from their parents, and how they feel about it.

Maya, 26, Lebanese
“I lied to my dad about what I was studying at university. He thought I was studying international law or something that would pave the way to a diplomatic career, but I was actually studying anthropology. Seems like a silly thing to lie about but I lied because on a bigger scale I was afraid this would reveal how different a person I am to that who he wished I was— that it’d be the gateway for him to realise that I would grow up to be all things he disapproves of, because I inherently felt like that that’s where my dreams and ambitions were leading to. There’s a huge gap between me and my dad’s worldview and the way we navigate through life. It’s hard for me to accept that he does not value what I value, because it feels like by extension he will never value me for who I am. I’d rather deal with that myself, keep a front, than have him face it too. Or maybe I just think it’d be more painful to actively hear his disapproving remarks than keep a front. Even to this day I find myself jealous of the kids whose parents applaud their artistic and intellectual achievements.”

Wissam, 21, Kuwaiti
“I think that growing up in Arab country, it’s impossible to have an absolute identity, we can’t be the same person every time and with everybody. There is the person we are in our safe spaces and then the person we show to our family and in particular to our parents. Most Arabs have a very clear image of what parents expect from them. Personally, I have tried to stick to this image for long, and today I have managed to distance myself from it, but I still hide the side of me that doesn’t fit the idea of the “prodigy”. Even if I do my best to be independent and responsible, I still have a very infantilising relationship with my parents; they don’t know I smoke, I don’t openly speak about alcohol, and even if they drink, I wouldn’t have a glass with them. It’s the same in terms of sexuality; it’s a subject I can’t approach. As soon as I’m at home, I become an asexual human being. In Europe, there is a pressure around the “coming out” and this obligation to always having to express all the facets of our identity. Western societies focus much more on the individual, whereas values surrounding the family are still very important to us. And if avoiding conflicts mean hiding stuff, a lot are ready to do this sacrifice. I think Arabs are much more changeable and accept the plurality of their identities; because maybe being an Arab is all about having a plural identity. I try not to lie to myself, but not everybody is supposed to know everything, as long as we don’t pretend to be who we are not.”

Nada, 23, Syrian
I don’t tell my parents about intimate details of a relationship. I would tell my mother about a guy, but will never say I’ve kissed him or anything else. I have open-minded parents, but these things are personal. But I don’t really mind to be honest, I feel like it’s respectful, some things are not meant to be shared. I don’t think my parents need to picture it. The way I see it is that societies should not change my parents. I’d rather let them be happy in denial. But having said that, I wish I could ask my mother for certain advice, I would have probably made less mistakes in my life.”

Mohamed, 24, Saudi
“I hide my suicidal thoughts. I hide my depression. My relationship with them isn’t healthy and it makes me sad, but I think there is no way they could understand me.”

Myriam, 21, Tunisian
“When I was a teenager, I used to lie all the time about where I was going and who I was hanging out with. I grew up in Europe, and my parents didn’t want me hanging out in the streets. I had a very strict curfew and less freedom compared to my European friends. That involved putting myself in really dangerous situations; I would climb mountains barefoot just to get home on time. I remember running my ass off alone at night, but now when I look back I believe I was a real hustler.”

Karim, 18, Moroccan
“I tried to indirectly test my father, and I quickly realised it was going to be impossible to have a discussion. That’s why I keep  my private life to myself, as I fear to be rejected. I don’t feel like I’m really myself when I’m with them. There are always secrets and it really makes me feel uncomfortable.”

Lana, 19, Jordanian
“I have a beautiful relationship with my parents, I usually don’t hide anything from them. But since I started modelling I had to lie about it. They wouldn’t understand what modelling is, thankfully I only pose in Amman now but my dream is to go to Paris. I fear the moment I will have to tell them that I lied to them and explain that modelling is a legit job.”

Photography by Sarah Ben Romdane

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