Author: Kiana Davis,Â Cohort 8, Barnard College
Everyone at LEDA has a story. We all come from different backgrounds, with varying family situations, and our unique struggles. Many of us have had to mature early or shoulder adult responsibilities for as long as we can remember. We have taken extra jobs to help our families make ends meet, helped them acquire jobs or resources, acted as translators, been the caregivers for sick family members or elders, been parents to our younger siblings, suffered hardships, trauma, and so much more. No matter what your personal responsibilities to your family have been, it becomes harder to “be there” when you move away to college. Those problems don’t disappear just because you are away. Essentially, you lead a double life. One where you have to be both the person that you are becoming and the person that is where you’re from.
Suddenly, you’re working on-campus jobs to send money home to your family while also supporting yourself financially; checking in on your family over the phone, and trying to act as a mediator from hundreds of miles away. Moreover, your time belongs less to you than ever before. Between classes and other responsibilities at school, it’s hard to find the time to do things outside of your immediate environment or to even process what is going on at home. It is a difficult transition. Being in college makes supporting loved ones 10 times harder.
Many of us, I think, had to leave something important behind to go to school. The decision to leave people and responsibilities for college included sacrifice. The guilt that I still feel for leaving my family to manage on their own still weighs on me even in my senior year in college. Things may have changed for me, but my family issues have remained much the same.
Some of the scholars that I worked with last summer were emotional about the people and situations they left behind to come to LEDA for seven weeks. Even though they knew they needed and wanted to be at LEDA, they still experienced feelings such as guilt, inadequacy, and frustration. For me, in many ways, going off to college felt selfish. I have people at home who need me, and as I try to repair one situation, it seems that five more pop up in its place. Sometimes I’m so consumed with worry and stress about my family, that concentrating on books and papers seems trivial. These are the times that I have to stop and ask myself “Why are you here? Why are you doing this?” I am chasing my dreams and putting in this work for myself, my family and for the people that I will benefit in the future.
Itâ€™s important to remember that whatever you are doing to support your family, it is enough. Take the time to think about all of your responsibilities, to them, to yourself, to friends, to school. Be patient, kind and forgiving for the things that you cannot do right now. Â As my mentor once said to me, you have to help yourself first before you can help anyone else. Abbygail Brewster (Cohort 9) said in her speech at the annual LEDA reception, â€œThe reality is that whenever youâ€™re on an airplane, they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.â€ Education and self-care are your oxygen mask. Put it on. Wear it without feeling the guilt. Know that giving an oxygen mask to your loved one first, limits how much you can help them or anyone else in the future. Extend the compassion that you give to others to yourself. Try to decipher which situations you can change and which ones you cannot. Accept the things you canâ€™t and make realistic plans for the things that you can. Once you do this, you can help others more effectively.
More than you realize, you are helping people in your home and your community simply by doing what youâ€™re doing. By improving your life, you are giving your loved one’s security and hope because they know you will be taken care of in the future. People see you, and you are creating change, even when it feels like you arenâ€™t. This week has been a particularly challenging one for me regarding family matters. There are a lot of things happening at home that I cannot fix, and my mind has been with them and not with me here at school. I was talking with my roommate and friend, Rumana (Cohort 8), who reminded me that what I’m dealing with is heavy. It’s not “normal,” as in that most college students are not trying to balance such issues with their other responsibilities. What is important is that you are still moving. You are still accomplishing things daily, big and small, and that is powerful. Also, reach out to your school for counseling or stress management (many universities have free programs). Look to your LEDA family for support. Know that the best way to help your people is by helping yourself first.
I wonâ€™t pretend that I have the answers on how to master these challenges. I think it would be great if any scholars, those still in high school, those currently in college and those in the working world, want to comment with tips, advice or any form of support for navigating the responsibilities to our loved ones as well as to ourselves.