Breaking Barriers

Wednesday night, I got to celebrate my younger brother’s 20th birthday with all four of my siblings. The event was beautiful because it was the first time my siblings and I had come together to just hang out as adults.

Being one of four siblings is interesting firstly because we are considered a big family by Western standards. Most people I know only have one or two siblings. Not only that, but the age ranges between us are pretty huge. My older brother will be turning 33 in June, meaning there’s a thirteen-year age gap between the oldest and youngest sibling in my family. I think my parents planned it this way on purpose so we couldn’t conspire against them, but that’s another story.

For us, this meant that we were all at different points in life for much of our adolescence and early adulthood. To put it in perspective, when we attended my eldest brother’s college graduation, my younger brother was still in elementary school. This range of ages caused our family to have very dynamic relationships between siblings. My youngest brother and I are only about three years apart, so we’ve always been very close. I’ve had phases of closeness and distance between my older sister, who is six years older than me. When she entered her tween years, she could not stand me, as is expected of a 16-year-old with a very nosy and destructive ten-year-old sister. My eldest brother and I have not always been able to talk about our lives in detail, a product of age and family structure, but we’ve always had a mutual closeness that similarly resembles the relationship between my elder sister and my younger brother. As my youngest brother has finally entered his college years, we’ve been able to see each other as adults as each sibling goes through relationships, similar struggles, and of course, being able to finally drink together.

My parents were conservative Muslims, meaning we had a lot of unrealistic ideals to follow throughout our lives. Many Muslim-Americans face the same issues as they enter the dating world and adulthood, as there is a strict “no dating, no drinking, no partying” rule that we are ingrained with from a young age. This caused us to keep a lot of secrets from each other. As the age ranges caused a discord in and of itself, we also adopted similar levels of secret-keeping from each other as well. My father passed away in 2011, which caused another dramatic shift in our relationships. I believe our relationships could have gone one of two ways following my father’s death – extreme closeness or complete displacement. The first few years were difficult, with my older brother having to give up on his life plans in order to financially support our family. This built lots of frustration and confusion between our relationships, as we didn’t know whether to still see our brother as a brother or more of a parental figure.

Our relationships changed a lot after I entered my third and fourth year of college, because my boyfriend and I were starting to get serious and the idea of introducing him to my family was starting to become a necessity as our life plans started to merge. After years of keeping relationships from each other and hiding the more intimate details of our lives from each other, I had to go home and tell my family that not only was I dating someone with a different religion and culture, but that we were planning on living together. There was lots of friction, as we had to make the decision to either cling to our old rules and habits or start our relationships from scratch and open up to each other. It was arguably one of the hardest moments of my life and there was definitely lots of crying and arguments, but it ended up being a much more positive experience than I could have ever expected. I received tons of support from my family, and it set a new precedent within our family to start being open about our lives and live our truths, no matter how much we wanted to hide them or keep them secret. Luckily, we’ve grown stronger and tighter as a family unit since then, and I cannot imagine the past year of my life being as amazing as it was without the unconditional love and support that I’ve received from my family.

I think my biggest takeaway after this experience was of the sheer importance of honesty. Telling the truth can be downright ugly sometimes – it can cause disappointment, hurt the people you love the most, and it can feel like every cell in your body is telling you that you’re doing the wrong thing when you finally spit the words out. But honesty and authenticity are all we can use to learn who we can depend on in life, and to learn from our mistakes rather than covering up our flaws. My truths healed my relationships with my family and allowed me to open up to them about the real problems in my life and receive the warm, loving support that everyone needs. It helps to have a parent and older siblings who have already been through it all, to hear advice spoken in retrospect rather than trying to figure it all out alone.

Happy Birthday, Rehaan. This was definitely a night to remember.

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