First-Generation Adult Children of Immigrants

A father and adult son excitedly play video games together.

One in seven residents of Illinois is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.

If your parent(s) immigrated here from another country, but you were born in the United States, you are considered a first-generation (first-gen) adult child of immigrants. 

Navigating Cultural and Generational Gaps between First-Gen Parents and their Adult Children

You are not alone.

  • Over one-third of all U.S. college students are first generation
  • More than one in six workers in Illinois is an immigrant 
  • Approximately one in four of U.S. born children live with a parent who immigrated
  • Approximately one-third of all business owners in the Metro Chicago area are immigrants

Establishing your own identity while honoring your heritage can be an emotional struggle. Often, being a first-generation adult involves intense and complicated emotions about yourself and your family, culture, and preferences. That layered experience requires time, space, and support in order to honor who you are and who you have become and also to practice self-acceptance.

You are not alone and you are enough. Contact us to learn how therapy can help you navigate the unique challenges faced by first-generation adult children of immigrants.

Common Psychological and Social Challenges Faced by First-Gen Adults

Being a first-generation adult child of an immigrant can include feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety. You may experience any of the following:

  • Confusion about who you are, what you need, what culture you belong to, and your beliefs
  • Feeling conflicted about making decisions that benefit you as an individual
  • Guilt over distancing yourself from your family, moving out, and/or not wanting to continue financial contributions or obligations your parent(s) may have of you
  • Believing you’re not good enough and feeling guilty for celebrating your own success
  • A lack of connection to a group or community
  • Missing a sense of belonging or feeling like an outsider
  • Feeling misunderstood, unsure, embarrassed, or ashamed for being who you are
  • Confusion about how to navigate different cultures, languages, and traditions while maintaining a sense of acceptance with friends and family

Or, as a first-generation adult child of an immigrant, you may have had to navigate experiences such as:

  • Growing up with a deep sense of fear and anxiety of abandonment depending on your parent’s documentation status
  • Continual pressure and expectations to grow up too fast and needing to coordinate adult things too quickly
  • Feeling responsible for translating and attending school conferences for younger siblings
  • Needing to financially contribute to the family household bills as an adult and/or teen
  • Exposure to stressful things at a young age, such as: accompanying parents to doctor visits in order to translate, making medical decisions for the family, or handling parent’s banking and bill paying due to language barriers
  • Missing out on fun child and teen experiences because you were expected to care for younger siblings due to your parent’s work schedule

If you can relate to the experiences and feelings above, working with a clinical therapist can help you explore feelings of isolation and abandonment while empowering you to manage and deflect potential marginalization you may experience due to your family’s status. 

Further Reading & Resources

First-Generation Adults and Mental Health Therapy

Therapy offers a private, safe, and accepting space where you can learn about, connect to, and accept yourself. Processing stressful and painful experiences from your childhood can help you develop internal resources and hope for the future.

A mom and adult daughter sit on the couch, enjoying coffee together while chatting.

A therapist can help you:

  • Decrease feelings of “impostor syndrome,” confusion, anxiety, guilt or shame 
  • Detach from parentification and inter-generational dilemmas and conflicts you’ve experienced
  • Learn to embrace the flaws and benefits of each culture you belong to 
  • Increase your self-acceptance and identify your own personal values 
  • Decrease feelings of anxiety and guilt related to navigating divergent cultural values
  • Process the internal conflict of needing support from family while also wanting to do what feels right for you 
  • Learn to build and maintain boundaries within your family system 
  • Develop a better sense of yourself while learning strategies to navigate your multi-cultural heritage

Meet our Therapists

At Health and Healing Therapy, we have therapists who specialize in working with first-generation adult children of immigrants and who understand the unique challenges and stressors they experience. We are here to support you as you embrace your culture, language, and traditions while accepting yourself and being proud of who you are.

A quiet office with two round teal chairs.

You are not alone and you are enough.

We would welcome the opportunity to support you in managing life so you can reach your fullest potential and thrive.