When I became a mom, I started doing a ton of self-reflection (one of the reasons I started a blog) because I struggled with what I wanted to preserve as an Asian parent and what I thought needed to go. I spend a lot of time imagining situations my daughter could find herself in and the kind of support that I would offer her as a parent when she faced them.
That’s when all these buried memories about my own parents start to surface.
I find myself wondering what my parents would do — and then plan to do the complete opposite or deal with a situation in exactly the same way. (For some things, I’ll just have to wait and see how I react.) However, there are three parenting practices I experienced in childhood that I am certain I will not carry forward.
1. Discouraging crying
When I was a kid, every time I fell, bumped my head, got upset or cried, my parents, would say the words, “無事” which in Cantonese means, “it’s nothing” or “everything is OK.”
Then they would tell me not to cry.
During my childhood, crying was seen as this negative behaviour that needed to be nipped in the bud before it got worse, especially in public places.
It’s like if you feel like crying, go to your room, do it alone and not in front of people. Crying was perceived as a private response and so my parents often discouraged it as to avoid making others feel uncomfortable.
Whenever I felt that lump in my throat, I’d swallow it down with “pride.”
When I was in Grade 6, my Gong Gong (mom’s dad) passed away. My mom mourned her loss privately. Every night when I went to bed, I’d hear her close her bathroom door, sob uncontrollably, blow her nose, flush the toilet and then go to bed.
In the morning, she’d put on a stoic face for us even though her eyes were weary and her ruddy nose was puffy from sleepless nights.
For many years, I thought that tears were associated with weakness and shame; whenever I felt that lump in my throat, I’d swallow it down with “pride.”
It’s been a long journey to embrace crying as a natural and healthy human reaction to emotion. Crying is cathartic and a necessary physiological function. My brain knows that, but my heart struggles. To this day I still have a difficult time crying in front of others.
To break through this fear of mine and demonstrate my courage and vulnerability, here’s a picture of me crying during my wedding.
So whenever my daughter cries, instead of minimizing it, I validate her feelings and acknowledge the pain she is feeling.
Instead of saying “無事,” I say “有事” (“there is something the matter”). Because there is something that matters to her at that moment even if it’s because she put the wrong shoe on.
2. Comparing children
From physical appearance, to academics, to extracurriculars, my parents would talk about how their kids were either excelling or struggling in each of these areas while comparing them to the next kid who was doing better or worse.
The children stayed silent while absorbing this treatment and grew up with a level of self-esteem completely dependent on how they compare with their peers.
“That girl is prettier/thinner/lighter than me; therefore, I am useless.”
“That guy makes more money/got promoted earlier/owns a nicer car than me; therefore, I am a loser.”
To foster self-confidence and self-motivation, I will not compare my child with another child. She is an individual and the only person she needs to compete with is herself.
3. Hitting as a form of discipline
There are several memes and even a YouTube video devoted to “Asian parents’ weapons of choice.” These can include:
- A rubber slipper
- A feather duster
- A rolled-up newspaper
- A hanger
- A belt
- A cane
- An umbrella
- A mace
- A crossbow
- A bazooka
OK, I made up the last three. Memes are supposed to be funny and entertaining, but corporal punishment can be a sad truth for some kids with strict Asian parents. NextShark talks about it here.
As a young child, I remember my mom and dad would hide “the beating stick” in the upstairs closet. And whenever my sisters and I misbehaved, my parents would threaten to use it. In the heat of the moment, my mom would either slap my hand or use her slipper to smack my bum.
It stopped around the time I started grade school. A family friend of ours was called to the school because the teacher had suspected them of hitting their child, and the school threatened to call social services. This story scared my parents into stopping, but also it gave them a moment to self-reflect.
It empowered my mom to start reading parenting articles in the Chinese newspaper and how this form of punishment is detrimental to a child’s mental and psychological well-being. One of the many reasons I love my mom. She’s a life learner.
My parents resorted to corporal punishment because that’s how they were disciplined when they were kids. It’s a cyclical behaviour, and it’s up to me to end it for the next generation.
I will not use any sort of physical violence towards my child. To me, this is just plain wrong. There are endless ways to discipline a child without laying a finger on them.
As I became a parent myself, I’ve realized that my parents did the best they could with the knowledge and abilities that they had. I think it’s important to appreciate the experiences we had growing up, whether they are negative or positive, and use them to learn and grow as individuals.
Previously Published on Huffington Post