March 18th, 2004


On Strained Parent/Child Relationships

weather: sunny
outside: 9°C
mood: philosophical
I have a really good writing prompt today. Thank you, fimbrethil =)

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My mother and I don't get along as Mother and Daughter. We're okay as general family or quasi-friends. And in small doses. I had to almost ignore her completely for a number of years before we started talking again.

And in our case, it wasn't a vicious cycle. My Mom never spoke ill of my maternal Grandmother; everything out of her mouth about Grandma Lee was all reverence and respect for the sage words of a simple, uneducated woman, one wife of many to a prominent businessman who was rarely home.

It hurt me every Mother's Day that I didn't get along with my Mom. It stung worse than at any other time of the year.

At the heart of it, my Mom has an enormous capacity for caring about people. She was an elementary and junior middle school teacher for over 10 years in China where the class sizes are sometimes well over 60 students each.

Not only did my mother keep discipline in a class of 60+; not only did she know every single student, personally, every single year; their strengths, weaknesses, talents, fears, hopes and dreams; but my mother knew all her students' PARENTS personally. Every major city we visit when we go to China always include visits to several families who knew her because she taught them or their children or both(!) in school. Mom has brought her teaching methods to Chinese schools here in Vancouver and is one of the most respected teachers.

But I, OTOH, am ferociously independent. And I was, even as a child. I was the only child for 12 years until my baby brother was born. It just plain didn't work when she heaped all her attention on me. It crowded me way too much and she never could accept that. She never did understand that more was not better. She felt that she was being resented for the high crime of "caring about me" which caused her a lot of anguish too.

I've come to realize that even though this society plays up the Mother-Daughter relationship (mostly to the commercial end), it doesn't make either of us failures for not getting along. We are two human beings. We are two very worthwhile human beings in our own right. Sometimes, it just happens that two human beings will have personalities that don't mesh well, family or not.

If I had to describe the relationship right now between my mother and me on the whole, I'd describe it as a "stable family" relationship. That sounds very cold and technical in English, but if you understand the Chinese concept, it's stronger than the word "love" can ever connote.

It could be just me or it could be a Chinese/Asian thing, but "love" is not a word that I would use to describe how I feel towards a family member that is not my husband (and even for my husband, just "love" alone is not enough either). The word "love" is not strong enough and it's also not accurate enough. There are different terms for the "love" between parents and children in Chinese. And many of them are uni-directional, ie. one term applies to a parent's love for the child, but the same term would not apply to the child's love for the parent.

Maybe this is why many Asians who were brought up in the West have trouble with how parents "express love" to their children. Many Asian parents don't say "I love you" to their children. Many Asian parents don't hug their children. Many Asian parents don't hug their spouses. But that doesn't mean there is an absence of love in the family.

In any case, I hope everyone finds balance and harmony with their parents, in whatever form, as well.