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On Strained Parent/Child Relationships

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

*          *          *

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.


Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
mirai_sometimes
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:00 pm (UTC)
I really enjoy reading about your culture. It was always intrigued me. I have learned a lot from you. :)
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:11 pm (UTC)
*smile* Thank you =)
pjammer
Mar. 18th, 2004 07:59 pm (UTC)
I like reading about the cultural quirks of you asians too. So fascinating!
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 08:02 pm (UTC)
壞蛋!
fimbrethil
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC)
Cool that I prompted you to write something this important. It was useful to me too! Thanks.
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:16 pm (UTC)
=)
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, and BTW, I know that conventional wisdom is that the two of you "sit down and talk about it in a heart-to-heart, etc.", but my Mom and I didn't. That kind of thing is too awkward for me/her. We just don't _do_ heart-to-hearts and I find that I'm just generally not a big proponent of one big huge teary get-everything-out-in-the-open for some things.

It was a combination of circumstance and the natural occurance of events that we just gradually repaired the relationship into something stable. =)

Good luck *hugs*
coreprime
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:33 pm (UTC)
It's really only conventional wisdom in western societies, I suspect =P In chinese families, I think it's more common for both parties to just grow more accepting of the things the other does, and to start finding consensus in things.

I'm getting closer to my mum again, through just discussing my future/life/views with her. These are things I've never done before.
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I wasn't sure if it was also a European thing or an "old world culture" thing too.

I'm getting closer to my mum again, through just discussing my future/life/views with her. These are things I've never done before.

That's very heartwarming to hear =)
coreprime
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:20 pm (UTC)
My parents were quite strict, and I grew to resent their control over the years. After a while, I realised that I lost every argument without fail (though the losses were quite fair, on hindsight), and shut myself off from my parents, since in my perception reasoning with them took me nowhere.

I was the 'silent child' throughout my formative years and they probably knew less about what was going on in my head than anyone else. I knew they loved me but this could not compensate for my resentment. Later I chose to live away from home. Only in the last few years have I begun to dismantle the silence I have put between us.

It's true that most Asian parents don't express their love for their children, and vice versa. Frankly, I don't see any merits in this. When I was young, I had hoped to hear more about "love" than "why didn't you do this" from my parents. Now, I want nothing more than to dismantle the silly conservatism in my family that means birthdays don't get celebrated, praises are not expressed, and comforting words are not said.

I really appreciate the strong family bonds in chinese culture. It's probably why after being silent and away for so long, I don't even ever have to ask: we were family, we're family, we'll always be family. What I don't like is the lack of expression. Life's too short.. No one should have to only know that their family loves them. Hugs aren't expensive, there should be more of them.
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 12:39 pm (UTC)
What I don't like is the lack of expression.

Some people need/want the expression and I can certainly understand that. Studies show that when we touch someone we love, we secrete hormones, one of which is the now well-known oxytocin, that biochemically bond us to those we love. It's an important part of the bonding process for some. Some people simply don't need it as much, and get along just fine. They secrete the chemicals they need when they are in close proximity to loved ones. It's highly individual.

I guess I don't need that as much. I'm happy that I had a roof over my head, food every day, clothes to wear, a desk to do my homework at, extra tutorials from my parents on top of the measly crap they assign in school, Chinese school (though it was seen as a burden at the time), the encouragement to excel academically and the support for what I wanted to do in University, support for my HUSBAND when he was flailing with what to do with his future, etc. Even if it was at the expense of no birthdays, few praises, few comforting words.
rcantilles
Mar. 18th, 2004 07:52 pm (UTC)
So much of this entry, and this particular comment really strikes a chord with me as well. I am also very "needy" when it comes to positive reinforcement, and that is something I've come to never expect from my parents, especially from my mother.

It really is a bond more than a relationship. Only lately has it begun to bear any resemblence to a relationship (relationships require some sort of give and take and interaction.... previous to these past 2 years, it's been mostly my parents telling me what to do, and me following) and it's been a rocky one at best. I really hope that I can offer my children both the bond and the relationship, cause this existence is hard.
diannadinoble
Mar. 18th, 2004 01:10 pm (UTC)
"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."

Very well said. I'm trying very hard to learn the same thing.
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 01:13 pm (UTC)
And you're doing extraordinarily well *hugs* =)
(Deleted comment)
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 07:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, family relations come in all different types.
aliasa
Mar. 18th, 2004 02:21 pm (UTC)
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.

I think that's what my mother and I now have ... for us, i think it's a good place to be.

*hugs*

bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 04:25 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. *hugs back*
razorw
Mar. 18th, 2004 02:40 pm (UTC)
Sometimes you can have two great people together, and they not get along, but that doesn't take away how great they are. My parents and I have quite a distant relationship, but in the end, if I needed their help, or they need mine, I'd be there. Because that's when it counts.

--Ray
bride
Mar. 18th, 2004 04:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly =)
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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