Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

What millennial mothers really want is an end to confusion

Eman Alhussein writes about millennials in the Gulf, with a special emphasis on millennial mothers in the region
Millennial mothers in the Gulf realise how starkly different they are from their own mothers. Silvia Razgova / The National
Millennial mothers in the Gulf realise how starkly different they are from their own mothers. Silvia Razgova / The National

The millennial generation are those born between 1981 and 1997. They are increasingly becoming the largest generation, especially in the Gulf.

Millennials in the Gulf are similar to others around the world: they are tech-savvy, creative, consumerist and social. Their behaviour is scrutinised, not only here, but also internationally. Yet Gulf millennials have a different struggle, especially the issues facing millennial mothers.

The rapid urbanisation process that started in the 1970s and peaked in the 1980s had a massive impact on Gulf societies. The oil boom transformed our parents’ lives completely. Many of those who had grown up in mud houses managed to spend the rest of their lives in the comfort of modern homes.

The millennial generation was born in the midst of social, cultural and economic changes in the Gulf. As we were growing up, our cities were expanding.

Yet we were always reminded of the hardship of life not so long ago. We often heard how access to water sometimes required a trip outside the city in soaring heat. We were also aware of some horror stories about famine and disease, of death and abandonment.

Subsequently, our mothers’ lives were transformed. The uncertainties that the openness brought with it must have affected them deeply. The constant fear of the unknown that they were presented with made them withdraw.

Many mothers developed their way of dealing with this massive jump. Some of them retreated to their own worlds, some liked to spend their time abroad and others found comfort in small things that still gave them pleasure.

Millennial mothers in the Gulf realise how starkly different they are from their own mothers.

In times past, women were expected to get married, have children and be housewives. Their parenting style was often spontaneous. Many resorted to strict disciplinary actions, others were quite open about the sorrows motherhood brought with it.

Our mothers were supposed to carry on their roles from the pre-oil era into the post-oil era, but under better circumstances. We, in return, are expected to challenge these roles, whether passively or actively, willingly or unwillingly.

When we broke the norms, we presented ourselves with a new set of obstacles.

Our mothers did not approve of the different directions we took, we faced social rejection from conservatives and some of us were treated with varied levels of resentment from our male colleagues who did not think that we belonged alongside them in the workplace.

Yet millennial women in the Gulf are increasingly visible in the workforce. Many of them are entrepreneurs, innovators and social media figures. They managed to open the door for the women of the next generation to occupy similar roles, but with less struggle.

However, there is one issue that millennial mothers in the Gulf are increasingly worried about. Some of them often wonder how they will bring up their own children.

Their mothers endured exasperating hardship regarding many aspects of their lives, but that did not include worrying about how to raise their own children. They raised us the way they were raised. They passed down to us their collective memory, with all its social and cultural beliefs and misconceptions.

We grew up trying to make sense of what we were taught in a changing world. Many of us had to constantly contest these norms and practices. We had to be part of many confrontations that led to the normalisation of the role of women in the modern Gulf. Now that we have managed to open the door of opportunities for us and the next generation, we often wonder how much of our collective memory should pass down to our own children.

Our task is challenging because we need to reconsider what can be passed down and what cannot. We are expected to raise the next generation to become global citizens. They might not be interested in the cultural baggage we carry with us. Yet it might be important for the next generation to be aware of the hardships their grandparents endured. This will surely make them appreciate the opportunities that were not even easily available to their own parents.

On the other hand, we need to constantly reconsider and re-evaluate our collective memory. We need to be aware of what we were taught back then that does not reflect who we are today. We still abide by some social and cultural practices and beliefs today for the sake of our parents. Yet tomorrow’s children will not understand the double standards under which we had to endure. We need to eliminate confusion and excavate from our collective memory the special moments and knowledge that we, millennial mothers, still find dear to our hearts.

Eman Alhussein is a researcher on Middle East affairs

Updated: February 28, 2017 04:00 AM