6 Struggles Of Growing Up In A Huge, Loving Greek Family

by Irene Koutsidis
IFC Films

I think there’s something to be said for growing up in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

You have a culture that’s been created by centuries of men and women who came here looking for new and better lives.

They say once you’re an American, you’re an American no matter how long you have or haven’t been here.

I’m here to speak for the people who haven’t been here that long, the people whose families only arrived here within the last 50 years.

I’m a very proud Greek-American.

Growing up in Queens, NY (the most diverse lot of land in the whole country), it never hit me that I was one of the minorities whose families haven’t been here forever.

That is, until recently.

My high school was as diverse as I am, and my town was made up of people just like me.

I’m the first person in my family to go to an out-of-state college and pursue a liberal arts degree.

What sounds like a pretty average life to most Americans was me rebelling and breaking all the rules of the person I was expected to be.

Sorry fam, but I’m not becoming a doctor, lawyer or teacher.

Children raised by immigrants and first-generation American parents have it very differently.

In many ways, it can feel a little confusing growing up in a world where hot dogs are considered cultural dishes, and tailgates aren’t just driving too close to the car in front of you.

We’re the ones in limbo.

Here are the reasons why:

1. Our family is not just our family; it is an extension of ourselves.

In a country where you’re encouraged to be independent and break free, I’m as close to my family as it gets.

When I think about it, that's probably why I desperately needed to go away to school.

Some people barely know their grandparents, and their cousins are simply people whose faces are recognized through holiday cards sent every year.

For me and many people who grew up in this immigrant lifestyle, our cousins were our first friends, and many days, we joke we are each other’s only friends.

We aren’t getting holiday cards from each other because we’re being featured on the same one.

When I make a decision in my life, I’m forced to think about the bigger picture and how it is going to affect everyone in my immediate family.

And by immediate family, I don’t mean my mom, dad, sister and brother.

I mean my mom, dad, sister, mother, grandparents, aunts and uncles and their kids. (Oh, and my late grandfather had more than just a few dying wishes for me.)

It sounds exhausting, and that's because it is.

However, it’s made me a person who knows the value of the love and support of a family, and I know too many people who would kill for that.

Because there is so much on the line and everyone has invested in me (emotionally and financially), I'm a harder worker than most of the people I've met.

I’m not resentful of this fact; I’m thankful for it.

2. Sundays are not for homework.

Good try, though!

Sundays are meant for a family linner (lunch and dinner).

Throughout my childhood, my parents scolded me if I kept my homework for Sunday because guess what?

I would be on my own, and they weren’t helping.

I could bring it to my grandparents' house where we were headed by about 3 pm, but that was rude and actually quite a loss for me because I missed out on six courses and a variety of desserts and coffee.

And of course, my BFFs (cousins) would be there.

So basically, this meant that sometimes I had to sacrifice the freedom of a Saturday afternoon at the mall with my cool American friends.

I knew it would be completely out of the question to spend the next day inside my house doing homework.

3. Your American friends’ families are intrigued with you, and you're culture shocked by them.

I'm always a fam-fave.

I like to think it came from my ability to handle new people and situations with ease.

Since my family is so massively connected, I had no choice but to be inquisitive and outgoing.

I loved to talk to my friends' parents about their families, ask about their lives and even bring my own cultural dishes to their gatherings, which left them drooling.

Every conversation at my friends' family gatherings always started with, “So you’re Greek, right? Wow, can you speak it?”

Yes, I can.

I would have been disowned by my culture and made fun of if I didn’t.

In fact, I walked into kindergarten not knowing a word of English.

My American friends’ families were a piece of cake because of how much less intense they were than mine.

It was really awkward, however, the first time I went to a friend’s house, and dinner was a normal conversation that you’d find on an episode of "7th Heaven."

It never revolved around what a lady from the church community did with another man.

A cultural home is like being back in the old village: Everyone knows everything.

4. You're really involved in your church and other groups.

I craved nothing more as a child than to be the kid who got picked up by my best friend's mom and was able to play after school.

Instead, I was picked up by my grandfather or forced to take the bus home where I had to attend Greek school, religion, Greek dance or go to basketball practice… for my Greek church league.

Luckily, I met my best friend through this, and her family was as off-the-boat as mine.

So, I guess we did have playdates (even if they were completely Greek).

5. Moving out is a betrayal, not a rite of passage.

And if you do move out, it’s into the apartment that’s downstairs from your family or into the house five minutes down the street.

Oh, and moving out most definitely means you’re married.

Your family wants you close, and that’s the bottom line.

You can’t just ruin this perfect dynamic of being constantly emerged in each others' lives to the point where you can’t breath.

No, not today.

Going away to college?

Maybe, if you cross your fingers and pray from the day you realize what college is.

I’m lucky my dad gave into the idea, even though I still get pestered about why I chose to go to school in Delaware and not “somewhere in the city” or “on the island.”

6. We're always told to have a plan.

I’m pretty sure my family expects me to graduate, get a job, become financially stable, find a nice boy, marry him and start a family all by age 29.

I would never dare bring someone home unless he could answer a million questions about his future and where he’s headed in life to my family.

My current boyfriend met my parents before he took me to my high school prom, and my mother scolded me every time I went to his house to hang out before we were officially dating.

She nearly had a heart attack when I slept over at his place for the first time.

“Mom, it’s 2012,” I would say.

To my fam, there is zero point of dating anyone seriously if you don’t consider marriage to be the end goal.

In a way they’re right, and in a way they’re crazy, loving immigrants who just want the best for us.

At the end of the day, I always keep one certain thought tucked into the back of my mind for safekeeping: They made the furthest and boldest move of their lives by giving us ours.