That perennial topic made The Critics section of the July 2 New Yorker. Elizabeth Kolbert questions the values we convey hovering over our children, removing obstacles for them, while overloading our lives with their stuff. Even I, with my child long out of the nest, have heard the horror stories of today’s parents showing up for college and job interviews. I’m not positive, but I can’t recall my parents, who made sacrifices to assure that all their children could have a college education, asked what happened at my college interview much less considered prepping me for it. And I fought growing up, idolized Peter Pan, and moved back home twice after age 21. Both times my parents wisely made it clear, after a month, that I was not welcome as a resident.

An Afghan friend left her childhood home, parents and three younger siblings and moved to Kabul in search of higher education. She’d acquired the skills of a mother and housekeeper, but yearned for academia. She has had to grow up in many ways being virtually on her own working and studying in preparation for college, but recently faced a new challenge.

She had removed her headscarf at a family wedding. Before her mother could hear of this from others, she called to tell her. Her mother’s angry reaction was more intense than she’d imagined. Remember your mother’s reaction when you told her you were living with him? Days later her teenage sister called to say how upset their mother was and how mom swore never to allow her younger daughter to leave home.

When our actions cause pain and strife for people we love, we have to make hard choices. My friend determined that there are some changes in her that her mother is not prepared to know, at least not now. She called back, expressed her sorrow and regret for her actions, and promised never to do that again. To swallow some youthful passion for the Truth to protect our mother and our sister, without losing our new identity, is a balancing act only the mature can manage.


Afghan female students attend a seminar in Kabul aimed at reforming Afghanistan's educational system. June 2012 Photo by Getty Images

It is one thing to accept and assume the responsibilities of adulthood in an isolated society in the Peruvian Amazon society researched by anthropologist Caroline Izquierdo, quite another in a society with rapidly changing roles. Perhaps no where in the world is that playing out more dramatically than for Afghan women making their way in a few short years from traditional roles to those open to them with a college degree.