Luma Simms is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center; her essays, articles, and book reviews have appeared in a variety of publications including National Affairs, Law and Liberty, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, First Things, Public Discourse, the Institute for Family Studies, and others.

The Difference Between Austere and Harsh Parenting

The first thing I noticed about American boys and girls when we emigrated from Iraq through Greece, is how much freedom they had. We were shocked to see that girls in the fourth grade shaved their legs and wore make-up. Boys and girls held hands. Elementary school crushes, although a natural part of growing up, were never acted upon back in Greece and Iraq. Here, they were given full vent—and so the cycle of uniting and breaking up began very early. Children from an early age learned that relationships don't last. One week you like one guy and he's your boyfriend, but two weeks later you find someone else. This cycle continued through junior high, high school, and beyond.

The refrain, endlessly repeated by my parents, “This is not our way,” became a clanging cymbal in my ears. I didn't care about “our way.” I cared about fitting in with these American kids. My mother's response to the question, “Can I wear makeup and shave my legs?” was something to the effect of: “Are you out of your mind?! Little girls aren't supposed to act like grown women!”

It wasn't long after that when I started using the school bathroom for leg shaving and sloppy makeup application. I washed off the makeup before my parents came home from work. The shaved legs, however, were a predicament; I needed to hide them at home but show them off at school. I'm still not sure how I turned into such a little deceiver. The naïve Luma of Iraq and Greece was gone. It wasn't long after coming to America that I learned to be two different Lumas: the good Iraqi girl at home, and the American girl at school. In truth, I was neither. I didn't know who I was.

Not until I became a mother myself did I realize that my own mother and father were not the only parents one would label as “strict” or “austere.” I also learned that not every child of austere parenting became a rebellious kid.

Read the rest of the article at the Institute for Family Studies

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