The Best Way To Tell Your Immigrant Parents That You’re Quitting

Freedom is calling, but first: a cross-cultural and -generational conversation.

by Juhee Lee
Worried how to tell your parents you quit? Here, experts offer tips for first- and second-gen Americ...

After many sleep-deprived months declaring to your friends that you’re really going to quit, you’re really going to quit. You’ve drafted up a letter of resignation, strategized how to use your PTO bank, and started the job hunt. But now, you face the hardest conversation of all, the one in which you simultaneously play the roles of interpreter, cultural liaison, researcher, and first- or second-generation child: helping your parents understand why.

In 2021, the Society for Human Resource Management conducted a survey to better understand who was most vulnerable to workplace burnout and found that working BIPOC Americans reported symptoms of depression at a higher rate (36%) than their white counterparts (26%). One factor contributing to burnout in BIPOC people is the emotional tax they face at work, which Catalyst defines as “the combination of feeling different from peers at work because of gender, race, and/or ethnicity; being on guard to experiences of bias; and the associated effects on health, well-being, and ability to thrive at work.”

To career and burnout expert Rachel Montañez, immigrants and people of color may be more susceptible to burnout due to this emotional tax, which can negatively impact their sense of confidence. “They’re more likely to work longer hours and not to speak up about needing extra resources and being overworked,” says Montañez, who coaches employees at Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies. To first- and second-generation Americans, this may be the example of “hard work” they’ve seen modeled by their parents. But while their parents may have been in survival mode to maintain food, clothing, and shelter, their kids are fighting to protect their mental health.

“We’re in our own survival mode,” says Stephanie Pozuelos, a behavioral health counselor at Providence Portland Medical Center. As a first-generation Guatemalan American, she was the first in her family to receive higher education. “You have to walk alone, and in many ways … that’s terrifying,” she adds.

Pozuelos notes immigrant parents may see the discussion of emotional wellness as a luxury they were not afforded, which can manifest into feelings of shame and guilt for their burned-out children. “You have to mother yourself in some of that, where you expect your parent to be that for you,” says Pozuelos. “But they didn’t even have the chance and privilege to do it for themselves.”

Experts offer tips for how to tell your immigrant parents you're quitting your job.

The first step is understanding that you and your parents may approach a conversation about workplace burnout from two different perspectives. Below, Montañez and Pozuelos offer strategies to prepare for the big talk.

Practice Radical Acceptance

For children of immigrant parents, the narrative of struggle and sacrifice is probably familiar. It is the precursor to your story of burnout but can feel insignificant when compared with your parents’ stories. Recognizing the difference between your life and theirs is a crucial stride toward radical acceptance, which Pozuelos defines as being “able to see their perspective and … have radical empathy.” It requires realizing the limitations of your perspective, she says, and as a result “you hold less resentments toward them and you can see your parents for who they are and not for who you want them to be. And there’s a lot of healing in that.”

Similarly, Montañez identifies how different generations view work. For many immigrant parents, it’s a means to provide shelter and food for their families, she says. But for many of their millennial children, who were raised by the mantra “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” a job promised a path toward personal fulfillment — at least in theory. Recognizing these differences and approaching them with radical acceptance can allow a more successful conversation.

Simplify And Explain

Job titles and the prestige they hold differ from country to country. What you view as a “highly regarded career” is likely different from your parents, and some immigrant families have difficulty with this conversation due to miscommunication over these differences. The crossed wires could be due to language barriers when it comes to understanding things like degrees, certifications, job descriptions, or the skills required. Try breaking it all down to the basics or describing the journeys of family friends in the field.

Worried about how to tell your immigrant parents you're quitting? Here, experts offer tips for first- and second-gen Americans.

“[In] some cultures, [the] perception of work is totally different,” says Montañez. “There may not be the same semantics or connotation.” In Pozuelos’ family, doctors or lawyers were regarded as financially stable careers and thereby successful. “The types of jobs that generate wealth are different now and have transformed,” Pozuelos adds, pointing to the growing demand for tech jobs.

To alleviate the misconceptions, Montañez recommends researching and sharing job offers, descriptions, and labor market information around your career move, as well as naming factors that were hindering your success in the past. Talk to your parents about why you were not able to be the best version of you in your previous work environment and why you think the career change will likely help you flourish, she says.

Dream Your Own Dream

For many immigrant parents, the elusive “American Dream” is the gold standard, a standard which is as difficult to achieve as it is to define. (In fact, many Americans today are changing the definition for themselves.) “You have to detach yourself from your parents’ dreams. They’re not your dreams,” says Pozuelos. She recommends differentiating your familial identity from your individual identity. “Our dreams aren’t meant for everybody to understand. They’re meant for us to make sense to [ourselves],” says Pozuelos, who stresses that while you can love your family and hold their opinions in high regard, you must view life and identity as separate entities. Expect misunderstanding to occur.

Start from a place of appreciation, even if your viewpoints may be at odds. “It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the parent, guardian, or person that you’re speaking to,” Montañez says. “Convey gratitude. Maybe [consider] talking about the characteristics and traits that person has instilled in you, that you value.”

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In Montañez’s experiences with clients, parents are more likely to accept decisions when their children stand firm and make small steps toward their happiness. “When people see you happy and doing well and making traction in your career, oftentimes, their perceptions [change],” she says.

Seek Out Positive Energy

It’s possible your conversation won’t go according to plan at first. If this happens, Montañez suggests countering their negative feedback with positive thinking of your own — at least internally. Remind yourself why you’re making this decision. “We’re not in charge of people’s reactions,” says Pozuelos. “We have to be in charge of our own emotions and reactions to what we’re going through.”

Both experts also stress the importance of having people to lean on outside of your family. Whether it’s a therapist, friends, or colleagues, surrounding yourself with individuals who support and understand your decision will make the process easier. Perhaps even more poignant in this process is that you find peace for yourself. “Get comfortable with solitude,” says Pozuelos. “Being in a [career that] you find happy, that often can be enough to fuel you and energize you to deal with everything else,” Montañez adds.


Rachel Montañez, career and burnout expert

Stephanie Pozuelos, CSWA, CADC, behavioral health counselor at Providence Portland Medical Center

Photo Credit: Maskot, 3DStock, Kolapatha Saengbanchong, EyeEm, Nick Dolding/Getty Images, Isaiah & Taylor, Guille Faingold, Sergey Filimonov/Stocksy