There may come a time when you tell your parents the big fat confession of all the half-truths, white lies (or how about the blatant lies) you mustered up when you were living under their roof. The lies that you told, the 'coming clean,' if you will, may surface when it is your turn to become a parent. I am sure you could do this if you were in an All-American household with parents like Ward and June Cleaver as your folks.
Now, let's say you're first generation Asian American, and your parents are far from the Cleavers, the Huxtables or the Walshes. They are real Asian. Like the word 'refugee' came up A LOT during your upbringing. You are so Asian that you would never truly fess up to EVERYTHING that you hated about your upbringing on this post, but you may just come clean a bit.
In a few short months, I will become a first-time parent. I am 31 weeks pregnant and reflecting on how I want to raise my future son often these days. I just joined the Married Club this past August, and now I'm venturing into the Mommy Club. Suffice it to say my husband and I are not even used to being married, let alone being parents so fast. We are taking notes from those around us.
Over the fourth of July weekend, my husband and I visited friends who are parents of a 1-day-old newborn, another set of parents of 6-week-old baby and a third couple who has a 1-1/2-year-old toddler. We also spent time with our 20 nieces and nephews. Yes, twenty of them.
After every encounter, he and I would deliberate any takeaway parenting lessons we witnessed. Observing others allowed us to see the scope of what every new or veteran parent did.
I am writing this article today for a number of reasons:
1) To hold me accountable for what I am about to express to the universe
2) For my future son to know that we "knew" what was going on even though he didn't think we "knew"
3) So that I can refer to this article when he is 6, 16 and 36 years old and see if what I'm declaring now is jibberish, hormonal, or way off the mark.
What I learned over that weekend was that my very Asian parents -- dare I say it -- didn't do as much harm as I thought they did. I had preconceived notions that my parents were the last people I wanted to emulate. I now see that as I'm entering into this new chapter, they actually did a lot of things right. I'll take the best parenting tactics from my friends and the best from the Asian ways and hopefully, raise a fine young man. I'll be sure to keep you posted.
Here are my conclusions:
1) I understand why my mom hated Arthur Fonzarelli
Growing up in the 1980's, there were a lot of great shows out there. My parents were OK letting us watch the "Cosby Show" or "Family Ties," but my mom really hated "Happy Days." She would always shake her head when the Fonz came on screen.
I never understood this.
Back then, "The Fonz," was well, kind of like the bad boy and player on TV. Relative to what was on those days, he was edgy. Perhaps her shielding our virginal eyes was her way from protecting us from seeing anything other than puritan-like characters from "Little House on the Prairie." It was her way of shielding us, and endearing, if I think about it now, since she barely spoke enough English to really understand him. All she saw was this slick guy who snapped his finger and ladies flocking towards him like sheep. In today's time, I can extrapolate these feelings like when my tween nieces are on Facebook or Instagram. I would agree that sheltering your kids is not a bad thing.
2) Speaking a second language is a blessing, not torture
I am proud to be able to speak my native language, and hope to be maniacal in teaching our son Vietnamese as well.
Growing up, I hated, I mean loathed, speaking Vietnamese. I hated that my parents didn't speak English. I would have to translate so much of what was going on (with eyes rolling) in their daily interactions with non-Vietnamese speaking folks for them to understand anything. I remember having to tell them about the tooth fairy because not only did they not know the language, they didn't know the American culture. And oddly, as the youngest of seven children and the most "Americanized," I desperately want our son to connect back to his roots by speaking Vietnamese with his grandparents and to know his culture. I applaud any parent who attempt to bring a second language into the household.
3. Learning a musical instrument is good for the soul. Its not a cruel way of keeping you away from your friends playing outside.
Let's face it: Every Asian kid plays the piano. My parents started me at age 6 and I played until I went to college. Today, I am grateful for being able to sit down and bust out a song I hear on the radio. I appreciate the discipline that came with years of learning piano theory, even though I don't play much today. When I do play, its such a great and relaxing outlet and escape. I would much prefer that our child sits with an instrument than an electronic gadget that so many kids occupy their time with. Will I be successful at this? We shall see.
4. I should have never thought, I hate you for wanting me to have a good career!
My mom was adamant about all the daughters having a career that would allow them to stand on their own feet, financially speaking. As much as I hate to admit it, she has so far been right about the value of a steady career. In my parents' eyes, the career choices I wanted were not financially stable enough, and they pushed (a.k.a., forced) me to go into medicine. I became an obedient pharmacist, hating it the entire way. Mainly, I hated it because I never felt it was my "choice," but I listened and found sanity living away from home. No more curfew? I'll take it.
On the days that I feel very free-spirited, artistic and feel like a 'creative,' I am more than happy to share that I am a professional photographer. I am in fact more proud of that work in the arts, then filling up prescriptions of Viagra.
However, when we found out we were pregnant just two weeks after leasing my photography studio this year (and THIS CLOSE to embarking on my "dream" photography mission this December), something in me shifted. I found myself wanting safety and craving stability. I believe that when you become a parent, you re-prioritize life -- and this has happened. Not to say that I won't live out my creative dreams, but I am truly thankful that my backup plan, as much as I kicked and screamed along the way, is there for me. The one alteration I would make for how we raise our son, would to truly give him a chance to see if his "alternative" or more financially unstable job would be given a try first, before he needs to reconsider a steady career in something else. I never got that chance, and its only in my late 30's that I have taken a risk on my own.
5. Any time the family can all get together, its a good thing. Don't skip out.
There's so much value in breaking bread with your family. When I was growing up with six older siblings, we had assigned seating at the dinner table. There were nine of us, so we literally had one of those round tables with a Lazy Susan in the middle like you see at Chinese restaurants. All seven siblings sat at the same seat with our same rice bowl night after night at dinner. We used to have to beg to go eat in front of the TV to catch "Family Ties" or "The Love Boat," and only seldom would we be granted permission to "escape" the family dinner. Looking back, those dinners were some of my fondest memories. I (insert foot) plan on sitting with my child and not chasing him with a spoon or having him glued to the TV. I want to have family discussions just ilke my parents wanted for us.
6. You were right, that guy WAS bad news.
Up until my husband, my parents didn't like any boy I ever brought home. I should have known that when my parents, siblings, friends and relatives (by majority vote) didn't have an over-the-top joyous feeling about the person I was dating, that perhaps he wasn't a good egg. I was deaf to what they were saying and such a rebel. This lesson is a tough one to admit. I thought it was a conspiracy for my parents to not want me to be happy. How silly is that? Only now can I see it when I finally brought a quality guy home that they were elated for me. It wasn't a conspiracy; it was a level of protection of a parent to protect their kin from getting hurt. Those other guys, yes, in the end, they did do their share of causing hurt.
I hope our future son, can realize this more than I did as at times I isolated myself from my family.
The last thing I would want our son to have, is something I didn't have with my parents, which is a brutally honest relationship. I can't tell if its an Asian thing, or just a parent and child dynamic. I want my son to tell us the truth. I'll be the first to tell you that I lied through much of my life about so many things with my parents. My whereabouts, my grades, my hobbies. No, I wasn't at the "library" on Friday and Saturday nights. For instance, my parents had no idea finals only last a week in America. I used the "I have to study for finals" card for at least a month to be able to stay out late and skip out on family dinners. I had my clubbing gear clothes under my sweats and usually, my boyfriend (that they most likely never knew about) was with me always. I may not have always shown the most current report card when they asked. I defaulted in credit cards when they didn't know I had them to start with. I snuck out of the house and didn't really let them in to know the real me.
I think that kids will eventually lie to their parents anyway, and my hope is that our son just does this far less than what I did. Being a first generation Asian American, I know that my parents where doing the best that they could, and that in our country, things would have been so conservative, so there was a clash on how they were raising us here. The reality became letting them "think" I was obedient, but not sharing my struggles with their parenting styles and just not being authentic with who I was.
I am sure my son will lie to us to some degree. I hope that instead of resenting our parenting tactics, together, we can actually find a way for all of it to make sense. I am not sure if lying to my own parents was an Asian thing or because I didn't want to disappoint them, since they sacrificed so much to immigrate to this country -- for freedom, no less. Either way, I do wish I had reached out to my parents when I needed help during the hard times instead of pretending everything was OK. Over the holiday weekend, I saw plenty of open relationships between parent and child, and I hope to emulate the open ears and open hearts I witnessed.
Perhaps once he arrives, I can reflect on all of this more. By then, I'll have this article to look back on. As they say, no one teaches you how to parent, you just learn along the way. My hope is that he won't realize we weren't so bad earlier in life, versus when its his time for him to bring me a grandchild!