Nathalie’s mother and grandmother want her to be happy. But their idea of happiness for her includes getting married and having kids—not at all what she wants for herself. But they bring it up all the time. And a writer dispels the myths around being single, and shares her advice for handling this particular type of family pressure.
Our expert this week is writer, speaker and creative professional Acamea Deadwiler. Learn more about her work here. If you loved this episode, be sure to listen to My Divorce, My Parents, And Me, and Telling Them I'm Moving In With Boyfriend.
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Hi, everybody. Thanks for coming back. Hey, new listeners. Today, I’m speaking with Nathalie. She was raised by her Dominican mother and grandmother who love her and want her to be happy, of course, except that they have real specific ideas about exactly what Nathalie should do to be happy. Basically, they pressure her to get married and have children. Let’s get into it. .
My name is Nathalie Nieves and I’m an assignment editor with CBS News. I was born in Queens, New York. My mother is from the Dominican Republic and my dad is Guyanese. In my house, I call my parents mamí, which is my mother, and mama, who’s my grandmother, and I consider both of them my parents, because they raised me. Growing up, there’s such an emphasis on two-parent households, and I remember hearing that a lot as a kid and I was like, “Oh, if that’s all you need, then I have two parents easily.” My grandmother came from the Dominican Republic when I was about four in order to take care of me and help raise me, because my mom was working I think two jobs at the time. She was trying to finish an associate’s degree. My grandmother’s been with us ever since.
As I’ve gotten older and kind of grown into my own adulthood, womanhood, whatever that means to me, it’s very different from what my mother had envisioned, and what she was taught, and she learned, and what she’s trying to pass down to me. In her checklist, what’s next for me is marriage, and kids, which is really funny, because lately all that they’ve been talking about, my mom and my grandmother, is that the world is ending, that these are biblical times, and I take the opportunity. I’m like, “Well, this is no time to be having children.” And they’re like, “Well, no, not necessarily. I think you can still have your kids.” And I’m like, “That doesn’t jive in my head.”
It’s not something that I’m focused on right now, and I think that it’s so interesting with certain parents, because growing up, the example she set was to prioritize work and education, and so I’m a product of that. And now she sees that and it’s like, “No, no, no. But you also have to do XYZ in order to…” In her vision, I think to be fulfilled, like a fulfilled and happy human being. Because at the end of the day, she just wants to see me happy. It’s just not what I want right now at all.
With my grandmother, for example, every New Year’s, every Christmas, every birthday, since the minute I turned 25 has been, “You know what I’m praying for. I’m praying for a husband and kids. This is what I want.” And at my 30th birthday it was like an outdoor gathering to respect COVID and social distancing guidelines, and everybody was giving little speeches, which is really sweet. I have a large, really super tight Dominican family, so everybody’s just like blessings, and et cetera, et cetera, and my grandma said, “Nathalie knows I want her to be married.”
So, it’s like I dread having her speak when it comes to me in public, because it’s that exact same wish over and over again. And part of me feels guilty, because I want to satisfy that for her, absolutely. She’s 80-something years old and I’d be so happy to do that, but I just can’t just because she wants me to. So, it’s just her reaffirming where she stands and me saying, “No, that’s not for me right now.” She has such a big, lovely, loving family, and I don’t know, I feel like there’s some concern there that I won’t have that for myself.
I haven’t sat my grandmother down and explained to her just the slower process I’ve taken to finding a mate, a partner, somebody to have children with and, “settle down,” because I just don’t… I can’t find the words. And I don’t want to disappoint her. I don’t want her to think that, “Oh my gosh, there’s something wrong with my granddaughter. She’s strange or weird for not wanting to do this right now or right away.” And I think we’ve had some versions of the conversation, but it always… So, it’s terrible, but she’ll say things like, “Te estás poniendo más vieja. You’re getting older. Las jovencitas vienen pa’ arriba. The younger ones are coming up now and becoming of age.”
So, it’s like it’s very stressful for me. Sometimes I feel like speaking to my grandmother is like being transported to the Dominican Republic in like 1945. It’s a whole different set of rules that I’m not familiar with. It’s a different set of customs that I didn’t grow up with, and limitations on just women’s rights, and freedoms, and what we could hope for ourselves, and I wonder, like what kind of life she would have chosen for herself in 2020. I actually think about that a lot, had she been born now.
How my grandmother and my mother’s experiences have shaped their wishes for me personally is something I also think about often, because my grandmother actually divorced my grandfather at 35, and my mom obviously… Well, she never really married, but she was with a partner for 25 years, but it hasn’t been a ton of successful relationships. Also, my grandmother’s mother, my great-grandmother and my great-grandfather also got divorced, so I think I have a history of strong women deciding whether to stay or to leave in a relationship that’s failing or not working for them. And I don’t see a partner as a necessity.
I know they’re repeating certain things that they were told when they were children or when they were around my age, but it’s interesting, because it doesn’t necessarily hold true with how they live their lives.
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For many of us first gens, Nathalie’s situation sounds pretty familiar. The expectations our families have are often based on cultural traditions, stereotypical gender roles, and their own choices. Choices they made back home or that they brought with them when they immigrated to the U.S. But what happens when their plans clash with our plans? To help us get through it, I did what I always do. I called in an expert.
My name is Acamea Deadwiler. I am the author of a critically-acclaimed book on women and dating, titled Single That: Dispelling The Top 10 Myths Of The Single Woman, and I’m currently residing in sunny Las Vegas.
When you hear Nathalie’s story, what do you hear?
Deadwiler: I hear a young woman who loves her family very much, who’s very close to her family, and I hear someone who wants to forge her own path, but is just getting a little frustrated with how that family that she loves so much seems to approach the situation, and she doesn’t want to hurt them or disappoint them, but she also wants to retain her autonomy. And you know, live her life on her own terms and her own timeline.
So, what are some of the themes and what are some of the tensions that you hear embedded in the story?
Deadwiler: Just the idea of not being able to get away from marriage and children as a woman. You know, she has all these other dreams and these goals that she’s focused on, and she sounds very content with her life as it is, but it’s this external noise. You know, the mother, and the grandmother, that continue to ask about this, that start to make her question her own decisions and think about this issue more than she would otherwise. And I think that’s a big thing. It’s not always us that feel this way or that carry insecurities about not being married or not having children. It’s sometimes projected onto us and oftentimes it’s inadvertently, especially if it’s coming from people who clearly love you, as her mother and grandmother sound as though they do.
So, why is it so difficult for people to accept that you can be single and happy?
Deadwiler: Right! I think it’s a number of things. I think it’s societal norms. You grow up, you get a good job, you marry, you have kids, you have a family. That has been the goal for so long and even though we’re breaking away from that a little bit, I believe that old traditions die hard. And then also gender roles, like historically, from the time that we are little girls we are taught to aspire to marriage. We’re taught to aspire to a prince charming and having someone come and save us, and sweep us off of our feet, and all those things can be great, but I think that’s what ingrains especially into women that marriage and children is something to aspire to, and I think especially the older generation has that mindset ingrained into them, because that’s traditionally how things have been.
So, I wanted to have you consider another dynamic, which is that her mom and her grandma in this case are both immigrants from other countries, and how do you think that generational gap impacts the perception or misperception of Nathalie’s happiness as a single person?
Deadwiler: I think it impacts it greatly. That generation was a lot more focused on marriage and children and family, and that was the role of a woman, and then especially being an immigrant family, not every culture is… Some cultures move at a different speed than others, so if it’s becoming less traditional let’s say in America or the United States, or more accepted, that doesn’t mean it’s that way where they’re from. And certainly, wasn’t that way when they came to America. And she’s kind of bucking that norm and bucking that idea they have in their head of what a woman is supposed to be when they get older, and they may be having a hard time accepting that just because traditionally, that’s not what they have been raised to believe.
So, what are some strategies that you think folks in Nathalie’s situation can employ to make the case that yeah, I’m perfectly happy and complete, and I really want you to accept that?
Deadwiler: Honestly, I think she should explain, and anyone in that position, explain how it makes you feel. You know, if this is wearing on you, if it’s diminishing your other accomplishments and things that you’re proud of in your life, people that love you will respect that. So, I think it’s important to say like, “Hey, it really makes me feel bad or brings me down when every time I’m around, we always have to talk about who I’m dating or when I’m getting married, or when I’m having children. You know, I’m doing a lot of other things in my life that I’m proud of and it would really make me happy and I’d really appreciate it if you would acknowledge those things, as well, and not make my relationship status the focal point of our conversations.”
And also, drive home the point that this isn’t about you. This is about me. This is my life. I have to be happy. I can’t go out and do things to please you, or because you want to see it. I have to do what makes me happy. And I think when you explain it that way, you get people to really look at their behavior and see that they are making this about them and not about you. They may be more receptive to, even if they still feel that way, to just toning it down a little bit as far as the way that they express it.
True, true. All right, last question. What are some absolute dos and some absolute don’ts when engaging with your loved ones, your family, your friends, on the issue of your happy singlehood?
Deadwiler: I think some absolute dos are to always speak from a place of love. Unless you know or you feel pretty confident that it isn’t coming from a place of love, if you think the pressure is kind of malicious and taunting, and you know they’re trying to put you down, that’s a different scenario. But if you know, as it sounds like with her mother and grandmother, if you know that they’re coming from a place of love and they just may not be expressing it appropriately, I think it’s important that you engage them with love. You know, you don’t want to come in and say, “Well, what do you know? You and your husband got divorced when you were 35.” Because that makes the person defensive and they’re not going to be receptive to what you have to say.
And if you want people to listen, your communication has to be effective above all things, so that what you’re saying can be received.
I think an absolute don’t is to not apologize for your single status. It’s nothing to apologize for. You don’t have to apologize for being single, or not having children, or not giving your mother grandchildren yet. There’s nothing to apologize for. This is your life. And I think if you do apologize, then you kind of… You validate that position that you are doing something wrong and that’s gonna make that person even more bold in applying that pressure, because now you’ve succumbed to the idea that this is taking longer than you hoped, and you’re sorry you’re hurting them, and all these other things. You make it about them, you validate their position when ultimately this is about you and your life.
I think it’s just important to be aware of the stereotypes that do exist when it comes to single women. You know, it’s not just her mother and her grandmother that feel this way. It’s a very large portion of society, so I think it’s just important to be mindful of that, and I think it’s important to always just know who you are and not allow those myths to be projected onto you and define you or speed up your time and make you marry someone or do something before you feel you’re ready.
Thank you so much for coming and sharing your wisdom with us today.
Deadwiler: Oh, thank you for having me. This was a great talk.
All right, let’s recap what we learned from Acamea. Be candid about your feelings. Letting other people know that their well-intentioned words and advice are really impacting you negatively will help to establish your own ground for your decisions and hopefully create some distance between you and that person, at least about this topic. Come from a place of love. When you reject unsolicited advice, or random comments about you being single, really resist the temptation to point out their flaws and their failed relationships. There’s no need to make people defensive, especially when you’re probably right. And remember, do not apologize. Apologizing for your choices, for being single, for not having or not wanting children, only validates their idea that you’re doing something wrong, that you’re incomplete, that you’re insufficient. Do not apologize to other people for the choices that you’re making in your life. This is about you, not them.
Thank you so much for listening, and for sharing us, and for rating us, and for writing to us, and for following us on social media. We love, love, love hearing from you. How to Talk to [Mamí and Papí] About Anything is an original production of Lantigua Williams & Co. Virginia Lora produced this episode. Michael Castañeda mixed it. Micaela Rodríguez is our founding producer and social media editor. Cedric Wilson is our lead producer. I’m the show’s creator and host, Juleyka Lantigua-Williams. On Twitter and Instagram, we’re @TalktoMamiPapi. Please subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts. Bye, everybody. Same place next week.
Lantigua-Williams, Juleyka, host. “When They Want a Wedding and Grandchildren, But You’re Not Ready.”
How to Talk to [Mamí & Papí] About Anything,
Lantigua Williams & Co., November 9, 2020. TalkToMamiPapi.com.