I spent the weekend in San Jose with my family, and it was an unexpectedly tumultuous emotional experience. Yesterday morning we went out for dim sum, as we nearly always do on Sundays. During the meal, my parents wanted to order more food than we kids thought was necessary, and we resisted; this is normal. When we left the restaurant, my dad spoke to me about this in words that were, if not exactly usual, still quite characteristic. But I responded in a totally uncharacteristic way. I started crying, in spite of multiple efforts to stem the tears, and ended up holed up in the car while everyone else visited Gong-Gong. There, cloistered in the Mini Cooper with the rain running down the windows, I ranted to Erik, blew my nose with very rough paper towels, and refused to explain myself to the parents when they came to talk. My behavior must have appeared crazy: on a perfectly ordinary day, Lisa lost it and had a breakdown in the Cupertino Village parking lot. When I told my best friend about it the next day (today), she commiserated and then added, “As your friend, I’m a little concerned that you responded in this way!” I know. I was concerned too — and also extremely angry, frustrated, and hurt, but nobody except Erik knew why.
It’s my experience that whenever a sane person responds to a seemingly normal occurrence in a way that seems utterly crazy, it means there’s something going on that hasn’t been addressed. Blowing up at my parents, watching them tiptoe around me for the rest of the afternoon, talking to Erik about it, talking to Jackie, and writing about it for two hours in this morning’s pages has reinforced that yes, there’s more to this situation than meets the eye. I won’t get into what I was apparently mad about, because it’s nothing very extraordinary, just the usual generational disagreement over the usual hot buttons. But I was furious and upset in a way that can’t be dismissed as resulting from the same ol’ friction. My reaction wasn’t the way one reacts to a new outrage, it was the reaction of someone who’s been suffering something for a long time and has finally had enough. My anger didn’t come out of left field, as it must have seemed to everyone else; there’s frustration and stress here that has been building up for years, and which I haven’t really acknowledged because I didn’t know it was there.
My emotions in this situation, as is always true when it comes to family, are very complicated and multi-layered. I’m never mad at my parents because they did x, I’m mad at them because of all the times they’ve done it, and all the times they’ve done similar things, and that time when I was this-years-old and they wouldn’t let me do such-and-such, and so forth, and the way they do the same things to my sisters. Any beef with a parent is never just about that one thing, and I’m sure it’s the same for parents’ gripes about their kids too. So we all know that there’s a whole history of stuff here that isn’t going to get excavated right this second… and maybe we’ll talk about that another time, and maybe we won’t.
After thinking it through this afternoon, I’ve decided the heart of my frustration is a feeling that I am not being supported by my family. And though the reasons for that involve our shared history, the lack of support itself is all my doing. I’ve walled myself into that space, because I do not talk to my parents about my life — at least not the parts of my life that are most all-consuming in my day-to-day existence. I’ll talk to them about food, about exercise, about our cats (just Lyapa now), about what Erik is doing, about my friends — but I will not talk to them about my work or my goals. In fact, although I’m very open about these things on my blog, I rarely mention them in person, except among other artists. And as far as my parents are concerned, my work is not on the conversational table. Period.
There are several reasons for this. First, and most superficial, my work is just complicated to talk about. As I’ve said before on this blog, the questions “what do you do?” and “how’s work?” are not questions I can answer easily, and sometimes I just don’t want to get into it — it’s as simple as that. I’m a writer and artist; I spend a lot of my time looking for the perfect words or gestures to express complex situations, emotions, and concepts, and figuring out just the right way to frame ideas and images. So when I’m “off work,” sometimes I don’t feel like groping for words or explanations — I’ve been doing it all day! It’s natural if I choose to stay silent in my “off” time.
Second, my work is nonlinear and sometimes doesn’t make sense even to me. So, very often, I actually do not have an answer to “how is your work going?” Unless you do this kind of work yourself, and are familiar with creative cycles, downtime, artist dates, and the constant presence of an unceasing and brutal inner critic, it is very hard for me to explain to you what my daily life is like — without also explaining all these “companions,” and the damage they do to my confidence and productivity. Most people are accustomed to think of productivity as linear, and it makes them (reasonably enough) wonder about my habits. So I don’t talk about them: there is enough self-doubt in my life without my needing to hear your reservations too.
Which leads me to the third point. The last and most vital reason that I don’t talk about my work is that talking about it so often requires teaching. Many people (like you regular readers of this blog!) are very lovely and understanding about how creative work works, and it’s a pleasure to discuss my process with you. Other people are ignorant about it and will strenuously express their doubts about the whole thing, making remarks like, “But isn’t it unrealistic to think you’ll ever make money from this?” or “Creative cycles and artist dates all sound like a lot of self-indulgence to me. You just don’t want to get a real job.” And I think a lot of people fall in between, where they’re not necessarily critical, but they just don’t really know how it all works. Either way — critical or neutral — I don’t have enough energy to school you about it, every time you ask. Sometimes, if I’m feeling extroverted and patient and you seem genuinely interested, I will explain it a little. But it’s exhausting to do this all the time, and since people forget things (naturally), it’s even more tiring to do it again and again for the same person. It sounds cold that my best answer to “how’s work going?” is “read my blog,” but truly — I only have so much time and energy in the day, and sometimes it is just TOO HARD to explain it all. So I don’t. I’m very sure this is normal for artists (hence the whole “artistic temperament” thing), and in other professions too. In fact, I remember being in grad school and feeling an extraordinary sense of relief at being able to discuss my life with fellow grad students, because it was impossible for me to talk about it to anyone else.
These three reasons are why I don’t talk about my work with regular people, but when it comes to my parents, there’s an additional point: they are my parents. As such, their opinions have more influence over me than everybody else’s — which isn’t something I can help, though I wish I could. My parents probably don’t know this, but if they tell me something negative, like “you’re fat” or “you’re lazy,” it can devastate me for days. Their disapproval still holds a lot of weight with me. As an adult, I fight this. I want to be my own person, and so I hate myself for caring what they think — and I try to protect myself. And partly I do this by not giving them information (ammo) about my life, by not telling them about my work, so that these parts of my life that are so vulnerable and so important to me (my aspirations, my projects) do not come under assault by the people most likely to hurt me with well-meaning criticisms.
People think I have a good relationship with my parents, and this is true. But a lot of the smoothness and ease of that relationship comes from my forceful (and largely unseen) efforts to hide those parts of my life that I don’t wish to discuss with them. If I were more upfront with them, there’d be a lot more tension, I’m sure — but as it is, the tension is all on me. (Is this what it’s like to be in the closet with loving parents?) Erik always tells me I should share my work with my parents, and I do a little bit, but it must not be enough because my mom still thinks I’m “not doing anything” (so I should get pregnant!) and my dad recently said “Lisa doesn’t know what she wants to do with herself.” I always tell Erik, “Why should I have to explain? I resent that I have to tell them everything.” I think if my mom had her way I’d still be living in her house! But I’m walking a constant tightrope between sharing (getting together with them, talking) and concealing (brushing off questions about my day-to-day activities), and it looks like the tension has finally caught up with me. Like I said earlier, there’s a lot going on here besides just this, but when I find myself wanting to scream at my dad outside Joy Luck Place, well, we’ve got a problem.
Perhaps I could sit my parents down and have “the talk” with them about what I do; we could even set up guidelines for how they can ask me about it in ways that come across supportive, not aggressive. But there’d still be an elephant going unnoticed in the corner: control. My parents feel like they are being loving and caring when they do or say certain things, but to me it feels like they’re controlling. I’ve been told that when I have kids I’ll understand why parents never stop worrying, but I am trying to build a life for myself, I am trying to find a voice, and it is difficult when every time I do anything, my mom’s voice pops up in my head to express her opinions. As I told Erik when he suggested I be more open with my parents: “My mom is already in my head. She knows all my friends, she can find me on flickr and Etsy and my site and my blog. I don’t want her in every other part of my life too.” It is not easy to listen for that small quiet voice inside that tells me what’s 100% me. My parents’ influence can feel like a threat, because I’m afraid that if I listen to their voices, mine will disappear.
Maybe what it comes down to is that historically, in my relationship with my parents, I have felt neither completely emotionally supported nor — more important? — heard, during challenging times. I was always told what to do, and I did it. I was never allowed to believe that I could find a living in a creative profession. When my body changed and grew, I was made to feel fat. My mom read parenting books, but when I told her she should just ask me what I thought, she refused. When I expressed doubts about grad school, my parents panicked and tried to change my mind. When I announced my engagement to Erik, my mom took me to task for not following protocol I had never realized she prized. My parents aren’t bad people, mind — this is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to parents and kids. My parents have done their best to protect me from harm and suffering. They have supported me in the best ways they know how. But their view has always been, “we know best,” and even, “we know you better than you know yourself.” (My mom used to say this to me when I was growing up.) That’s why for several years now, I’ve shut them off from knowing what I’m doing with my life and what’s most important to me. I’d like them to support me and hear what I’m saying, and acknowledge that I’m old enough now to know what’s best for me, but our history together indicates that this might not happen. My dreams are important enough that I don’t want to take chances with them. So, when I’m with my parents, I pretend that part of my life doesn’t exist. That’s why I got so mad yesterday. I’ve funneled our relationship into a form where I can support my family emotionally, but they can’t give me the support I want from them. Now that I see how this strains me, I wonder how much longer I can keep it up.
Oh honey! I feel you. So much of my relationship with my parents, especially my mom, has been struggling to accept that she will never understand me, and to learn to be okay with that. And still figure out how to love her all the same. It’s an ongoing process.
Thank you so much, Kimber! It must be the same for so many loving mothers and daughters out there.
very interesting! although i don’t believe it’s an artist’s temperament. I feel the same way as you many times, and not with just my parents. I believe it stems from something much more basic. All the things you’ve described, not letting them in, having difficulty explaining your work – yes… but also i think there are social and cultural influences at work as well.
For instance, in chinese culture [especially for the eldest], you’re not supposed to question your parents, your role is to make them proud, be a dutiful daughter, and not make waves. You also may have a pleasing nature, you want to be dutiful and make them happy. You don’t like making people upset. It could be either of these, or a mixture of both! They lead to similar results in my opinion. When problems arise, you think it’s not important enough to tell them, it’s something that you should just let roll off your back “these are my parents! they’re always this way! I shouldn’t be so sensitive…” and deep inside you record that unusual feeling. Enough times where you try to dismiss it, subconsciously you’ve been trying to figure out what that unusual feeling is. OH it’s anger/frustration/sadness/hurt. At least from a cultural standpoint, these types of negative emotions are supposed to be repressed. They aren’t encouraged to be shown. You learn to repress because it’s what keeps all the relationships intact. Either you repress them, or you don’t have a structure/strategy to express them to your parents – because you don’t know how or you think it’s futile (they won’t listen, somehow they’ll be controlling you). They also portray the way you’ve been taught to deal with negative reaction – they leave you alone and don’t talk about it. asians are not known to talk about emotion, ever – forget about negative emotions, definitely not from someone of lower rank [child] to higher rank [parent].
And i’m not saying you are like this with everything or everyone. you might be perfectly expressive to Erik, but not to your parents, because you are following different social rules and expectations. You have a structure in place to let out your emotions to your friends or your husband. But the relationship between parent and child might not.
I think it’s interesting, in your earlier post you talked about others, and how you don’t feel chinese in the same way as everyone else. but i feel like as an asian american, with parents that probably don’t fit the mold as an austere asian parent, we forget the quiet influence that chinese culture infuses into how we interpret events, how we think about family relationships, the small values that we treasure.
Debbie, I love your comment and it really made me think. I don’t know how much of my feelings toward my parents are because of our Asian/Chineseness, but you’re probably right, the influence is there and it’s probably stronger and quieter than I perceive. At any rate, you’re absolutely spot-on about me feeling like I have to play a role, and that was something I never thought about until you pointed it out. I do feel like I have to be a good daughter, and especially a good eldest daughter. I haven’t had to think about this too much because so much of the role fits naturally with the way I am, but I hadn’t realized the extent to which I’ve internalized the role as a requirement. It also has to do with guilt: your parents (and especially mother) sacrificed so much for you, how dare you disagree with them or go against their wishes? I have had moments, this week, of feeling physically sick because of my awareness that I’m hurting my mother. I don’t think I would feel that acutely bad about it unless I had a strong feeling I was betraying something or someone.
I can relate to so many of the things you are describing. I have been working on a novel for a year now and I haven’t shared it with my family or even my husband. Whenever my mother asks I just say it’s all ok and change the subject. Funny thing is that now that I’m a mom there is no one in this world that is more perfect and lovable to me than my son and I’m sure at some point he’ll feel about me the same way I feel about my mom. It is just part of life.
Helena! Hah, I am intimately acquainted with the “say it’s all ok and change the subject” way of responding to questions. It’s like an outfit I wear all the time — I can tell you how the shoulders hang and what length dryer cycle to put it on and everything. 😉
My mom tells me often that she supports me no matter what I do, and that she believes in me. Then she also says things like “writing is a hobby, not a job.” I’m sure she’s trying to work out her own feelings there too (and as Debbie pointed out, conflicting cultural values), but it’s hard not to get frustrated at the contradictory messages. But I agree with you: it’s part of life and relationships!
When you say you haven’t shared your novel with your family or husband, do you mean you haven’t told them what it’s about or showed them parts of it, or do you mean they don’t even know it exists?
It’s crazy how these emotions can creep up on us out of nowhere. It seems like you get to the meat of the matter when you say you’ve never felt like they’ve heard you. It’s almost like you’re struggling between being OK with them never hearing you, and wanting them to desperately hear you when maybe, culturally, they’ll never be able to.
But your last comment sorta scares me. I hope you don’t have to keep on keeping it up. Maybe somehow you can just be Lisa, and if your parents dig, they dig, and if they don’t you can go through that transition, which might be painful, but necessary for you to have an integrated life. I agree with Erik, keeping them out of it only wells up inside you. Keeping them uninformed about your creative work lets them say the kinds of things to you that irk you (Get pregnant, get a clue). But if you’re as confident with them as you are with me about what you do, they’ll eventually get used to your confidence, your security in your own direction. By hiding that, you are giving them the control, you are continuing to occupy a position of weakness because they are getting you to hide your brilliance. No one should do that. No one should call you fat, or lazy, or demean you in any way. Speak from your heart, and though painful, your relationship with your parents will correct itself. Speak so they DO hear you. It doesn’t have to be loudly, but as long as you’re silent, they’ll never learn how to hear you.
And now i realize, by saying “learn how to hear you” that might edge up against your fatigue at explaining to people what you do. It doesn’t have to be a mission to get them to hear you. By just speaking from your center, from your heart, they’ll figure it out for themselves, and if they don’t, at least you know that you didn’t let them make you keep hiding yourself.
“It’s crazy how these emotions can creep up on us out of nowhere”: It is crazy! I had no idea I had so much repressed outrage, although in recent weeks people have commented on the strength of my supposedly flippant “oh, my mom thinks this…” remarks. So I guess it was coming, if anyone was watching for it… but I certainly wasn’t.
I love what you are saying about being myself and not letting anyone else control how I present myself, or how I live fully in the world. I didn’t know until Debbie’s comment (above) that I was playing into a “good daughter” role, but after thinking about that some more, and thinking about your comment, I realize I’ve been complicit in that — that I’ve also chosen that role, though unconsciously, and in so doing, I’ve given my parents a lot of power to influence me. I remember before I got married, I was lamenting to my UCLA cohort how I could only find low-cut dresses for the reception, and they said, “So? Doesn’t your family know you’re a woman?!” And I said, “No, they don’t!” — and that’s as far as I went.
I think you’re right; I need to find a way to live/be that doesn’t require me to conceal/downplay parts of myself, but doesn’t make me hurt my parents in ways that I don’t wish to. That’s partly what’s been so difficult this week: recognizing that there’s a new way for me to be, and not being familiar with that.
Thank you lots, Jenn.
Wow Lisa! I had no idea about any of this. What we see on the surface can be so different sometimes from what struggles you actually face. There are a few things we completely understand each other on – I really dislike two things since becoming a profesional artist:
1. Explaining to people that yes, I make a living doing this; contrary to popular belief, the word “starving” doesn’t always precede “artist;
and THE OPPOSITE:
2. “oh…visual design? that’s not art. that’s the cop-out version because you couldn’t make it as a fine artist. I respected you more when you were a REAL artist.”
Yes, cue flames coming out of my ears 🙂
More importantly, your relationship with your parents is something I never would have dreamed of, being an outsider looking in. Firstly, thank you for sharing such a personal thing and allowing us to get a look at your innermost thoughts. I actually feel a bit more normal now – I always thought that my friction with my parents was something wrong with me, but I’m starting to see that maybe it’s not just ME, but also how we’ve grown to be very different people despite being parents and daughter. Maybe that’ll help me tackle a better relationship slowly.
Wei-Ling!!! Thank you ever so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. You’ve known me and my parents longer and more intimately than anyone else I’m friends with. I don’t blame you for your surprise at reading my entry. I was surprised by these feelings myself. I’d always put them down to the superficial itchy level (“beh, I wish my parents would take me seriously”) rather than the deep-seated raging level (the flames coming out of ears! and oh man I hear you on your #2), so yeah, I didn’t see this coming either. The weird thing is that I still do feel like I have a good relationship with my parents, it’s just that there’s also this crazy frustration going on at the same time… if that’s even possible and not just denial on my part. ;b
I guess what I mean is that the good relationship isn’t some kind of totally fake façade. I’ve been trying to tell my mom that too, since she read this post and has probably been shocked and confused as a result. It’s not like I spent all these years pretending to be happy when I wasn’t. I didn’t know I wasn’t happy, until all of a sudden my dad pushed a button and I was like “RAAAAAAA I NOT HAPPY!!!!!!!” And everyone kind of stepped back like, “O… kay…” ;b
Yeah… still figuring this out. ;b
ahhh i don’t think i even need to explain how everything you described also describes my life 100% (espesh since i’ve sent you many a lengthy email detailing my similar situation). same ol’… same ol’. parent/child tension, well-meant misunderstanding… i could basically take your post and swap out a few details and it would be my life 😛
as you know, i HATE the question “but what do you DO?” espesh since the majority of my acquaintances are engineers/scientists nicely ensconced in their safe, stable jobs/schools who mostly don’t understand the concept of a life that doesn’t follow their traditional route (college->grad school or college->engineering job). it’s been almost 3 years now since i’ve had the easy “safe” answer to the question “what do you do” that used to make my parents/family/acquaintances sigh with relief (“oh good, she’s studying to be an engineer!”). and since then i feel so EXHAUSTED and irritated whenever i hear any form of that question come up. i constantly feel like i’m explaining myself and justifying my existence to other people (part of which also stems from the self-doubt you mentioned: i don’t need others to question my life path when i’m unsure of myself as is!). and like you said, most of the time they don’t seem to really “get” it even after i’ve spent all the time and effort to try and explain myself. so over the years i’ve perfected the art of deflection when it comes to questions about myself, my career, and what i do. except for the rare few (of which you are one!) who i trust with my insecurities and fumblings on the topic of “what i want to do,” i’m a total pro at maneuvering conversations and interactions to never do more than skim the surface of “what i do.”
i’ve told you all this before of course, but i just wanted to reiterate to remind you that you are not alone! *hugs*
Tamara, thank you for the love and support and hugs! 🙂 Yah. Parents. Augh. I do know from our emails how similar our situations are!! Kind of makes me wish our moms were still taking their walks together… though would that make it better or worse? I don’t know. ;b
Your engineer –> ? path is exactly like my grad school –> “doing nothing” path. ;b Exhaustion and irritation at questions, the art of deflection, yes, yes, YES.
Lisa, I have been down this path, too, and reading your post reminded me of many times when I had the same thoughts, questions, and emotions. Two immediate responses pushed there way to the fore:
(1) You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone ever.
(2) Armor protecting your creativity can be a good choice/strategy.
We should talk sometime – it’s generational, I know, but I listen better with my ears than with my eyes.
Your courage and creativity are inspirations to me all the time. Sorry I haven’t told you before.
Karen, thank you so much for commenting and the support! Don’t apologize for not saying anything before — I’ve always felt plenty of encouragement from your direction, and I’m grateful for it. 🙂 I also really appreciate your two suggestions, especially #1. I know that but it’s always always good to hear it again.
Well, ladies, I’m going to offer a different perspective on this conversation. I was 21 when I got married, and my husband was 23. I look back on those two young people forging a new life together and think, “OMG, we were just babies! What was I doing?” — Fast forward many years. We have two grown sons, both in their 40’s. Just recently I was having a casual converation with our oldest son, and I looked at him, and like an epiphany, it hit me, “He is a man! I don’t need to worry about him anymore.” Don’t you think it strange that he was 43 before I realized this? You don’t stop being a parent just because your child has left home for college. I wish it was that easy. All those years of nurturning and protecting and encouraging don’t suddenly cease. And, yes, we still feel like we should be able to give our advice. We have so much life experience to share. We can’t fathom why our children aren’t begging us for our pearls of wisdom:) Fortunately, I was able to bite my tongue most of the time and not offer opinions unsought. And, as you might imagine, my opinions were not asked for very often. And guess what? I didn’t ask my parents for advice either. But I’m sure they were itching to set me straight many times, seeing that I was such a babe in the woods. This generational thing has been going on forever. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone could take a step back, take a deep breath, and forgive.
Lisa, I’ve been pondering this since yesterday. Since the need to communicate with your parents weighs so heavy on you, and it is such an emotional issue for you, why don’t you write them a letter. You can explain your life choices and work in as much detail as you are comfortable with, and also your feelings about not being heard. Do it in a loving and non-confrontational way. When you are satisfied that you have covered all that is in your heart, put the letter aside for a few days. Reread it, and if you still feel the same, go ahead and mail it….or better still, hand it to them as you are leaving after your next visit. Words, as you know, have weight and power. You do not want to hurt anyone, you just want to be heard. Once you have opened some channels here, it may be easier to have a discussion at some point. You don’t need to justify yourself. Just remember that your parents love you and your sisters very much. They may be clueless, but they are not intentionally unkind…….However, another option is to move farther away, and visit less often:)
I thought about things for a long time after my post too, and after reading the comments and emails. As it turns out, my mom read my post too (she knows about my blog, but doesn’t always read it), and sent me a nice email expressing her support and her respect for my wishes to talk about things, or not talk about them, on my own schedule. I appreciate that because after this crazy emotional week I do not want to dive in deeper just yet!
I didn’t exactly write my parents a letter, but I did write some stuff down, and while unable to sleep a couple of nights ago, I had a long imaginary conversation with them that helped me get some of my anger out. (It was a cathartic experience, too. I imagined all the things I wanted to say to them, and saw their reactions, and cried a lot.) I’m feeling much tenderer about it now and not so defensive as I was. It also helps that these blog comments got me to see things I hadn’t thought about, so I was able to think about my relationship with my parents in ways I hadn’t thought about before.
Thank you as always. 🙂
Sherry, it’s great to hear your perspective (and wow, married at 21!). I do very much wish I had the kind of relationship with my parents where I could ask them for advice, or even for neutral input! But I usually don’t, because I have felt so strongly that they see me as a kid or as a teenager, that I feel like I have to defend my abilities and independence as fiercely as possible. I’ve felt like if I ask them for advice, or let them do something for me, then I’m somehow letting down my defenses and before I know it, I’ll be tucked into bed and spoon-fed. Part of it is that I (and my middle sister) still live close to my parents and see them frequently, and my youngest sister is 19 and they’re supporting her through college, so the old parent-child relationship continues in many ways. In a way we are all stuck in limbo: my sisters and I feel like “the kids” still, but our parents also haven’t moved on to independent empty-nest lives.
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Lovely friends and readers, thank you so much for your wonderful comments on this post (and your emails too). It’s been so comforting to have all your varied experiences and perspectives, all coming from places of love and support! My mom also read the post and sent me an email expressing support and respect. I didn’t want her to find out about my feelings in that way, but it’s certainly easier and allows us both some distance to think. I don’t think a phone conversation would have worked, and I still don’t think I want to talk to my parents about this in person yet. It might be a little awkward this weekend because I am going to see my parents twice (once at their house, and the second time for a big extended-family gathering), but we’ll see how it goes.
It’s been so helpful to think about some of the things you’ve said. I had never realized how much I felt bound to a “good daughter” role, which is kind of surprising (or is it?) given that I’ve been guided into this role since toddlerhood. (We could have a whole other post on how my parents and relatives used to ask me, “Who is a guaiguai xiaohai?” It translates as “good little kid” and as the story goes, the question was enough to make me stop any naughtiness and become instantly obedient.) It’s really reassuring to hear you all telling me that I can be who I am without reconciling myself to my parents’ expectations (or anyone’s expectations), even though it’s going to be an interesting process to figure out how not to inhabit the good-daughter role, when I’ve been doing it unconsciously for so long. Most likely it’ll happen as Jenn says, and I’ll just be more openly myself (all of myself) and not worry so much about downplaying the parts of me that don’t fit my parents’ expectations. I must admit I do feel a little more whole now. Kind of confused and at sea, but more whole, and that’s nice.
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Ahoy Lisa~ 🙂
We’ll have to chat over tea sometime when the weather is a bit nicer perhaps? I’ve been in a similar situation with my parents when I was just starting college and picked Art over Biology (I wanted to do a double but decided not to). Long story short, in the end, after being published in a few books and showing my mom my illustrations, crafts, and jewelry, she accepted my artistic side and is quite fond of it. My craftiness kind of inspired her again to crochet and knit. My dad acknowledges I have talent but wants me to do more with my life (to work and have some kids) which I’m totally happy with while I do art on the side. I’m not ready to create full time and finally realized this not too long ago. I’m happy being artsy and creative, but I’m happy doing many other things as well. It’s not easy sharing something personal, like art, with Chinese parents. But just know they just want the best for you. It’s a complicated discussion, best over tea :).
Hey Jinny 🙂 (Ahoy! 😀 ) Tea would be great and yes… when the weather calms down! Actually ahoy is perfect because today’s wind and rain has been a little like being in the bay. ;b That’s really nice that your mom has been able to get inspiration from your crafts. I actually get tons of my artistic and crafty side from my mom, and I wish she would take more time to do these things herself. She does knit (as I think you know) and knits really well, but she can also draw beautifully and with a very distinct style and character. Come to think of it, I should tell her that. But I think she might look down on art as a less worthy occupation than “more practical” pursuits — for herself as well as for me, which is probably partly why she puts down my love for art. She thinks it’s risky and she’s just trying to protect me, even though I don’t want to be protected. I don’t really know what my dad wants for us kids, and that’s fine for now. I have enough to cope with as it is. ;b
Thank you for chiming in here. 🙂 Let’s get together when we can find time!
Lisa: I get a lot of the same from my parents (plus, I live with them…) It really can be devastating to hear things about how they perceive you—and they don’t realize it. Hang in there; I’m trying to.
Next time you’re around San Jose, definitely let me know. I miss you and miss talking to you.
Xixi!! Oh my goodness, I can’t imagine living with my parents… at least not without the willing buffer that Erik is! I’m sending you energy and courage and strength in yourself. I would love to see you in SJ sometime. I’m going to send you a message about what day we’ll be there next. 🙂
Thank you for voicing some of these emotions.
You write so that others can know they are not alone or crazy i.e. yours truly
Thank you for reading, lovely. 🙂 Writing is my therapy, for sure! Yes… and I read so I know I’m not alone and crazy. 🙂 Words are so awesome like that.
You managed to capture quite a host of difficult emotions in this post. I can FEEL the blow-up and the frustration that you experience as you figure out how to best deal with your parents, their responses (or lack thereof), and perspective on what I interpret as a beautiful “artistic” life. Parents say that they raise children to be independent, but when children become adults, and actually do just that, they still feel the need to weigh in – or not- in manners that are less than constructive, and hardly loving or supportive. They still insist on being critical even in their silence. Sometimes that silence, or careful construction of little, deliberately chosen words can undo us, making us feel invalidated by those most important to us! I think this is when it becomes most difficult to be a parent and daughter. Rest assured that your characterization of this dynamic is more common than I’d like to admit, and that it’s through this very forum of expression that you find community, take comfort, and ultimately, begin to experience healing!
Thank you so much for reading, SomerEmpress! I’m glad the post came across as true and present for you. I know my parents recognize my sisters’ and my adulthood and independence… intellectually. But on a practical level, it’s hard for them to adjust to the transition. It’s very comforting to know this happens with lots of parents and children, and yes, yes, yes, to “it’s through this very forum of expression that you find community, take comfort, and ultimately, begin to experience healing!”
They know how to get under your skin like no one else. I’ve been there, believe me. My mother made an offhand comment to a stranger at a dinner last year that I was counting my calories and it ENRAGED me because I consider that information to be personal. Her response was that she won’t say it again, but doesn’t understand why I’m so sensitive and only your family will tell you the truth and I should just be OK with it blah blah blah.
In retrospect it was not such a big deal for her to have made that comment, but I think it made me consciously or subconsciously remember her rather brutally pushing me on these issues when I was younger. Sometime in my teens (I think it was), a visitor at our house congratulated her on having such a lovely daughter, and she promptly responded that I was way too fat. Chaaarming.
Unfortunately I think that as the Chinese daughters we are we just have to swallow these things–unthinking critiques of our weight, or choice of profession, or reproductive decisions. And make plans for NOT doing the same to our children. It’s not easy but from my perspective, there aren’t any other options, considering that they are very set in their ways.
There is a very big cultural divide here. The boundaries are very different for Chinese families and American ones. I would hazard to say that most American parents would hesitate to call their children fat and lazy to their face, and expect them to improve on said fatness and laziness, but a lot of Chinese parents wouldn’t (ah, Tiger moms of the world!). Being brought up in an American cultural milieu perhaps we expect too much, or rather expect something that isn’t going to happen.
I hope this wasn’t a depressing response but I know. exactly. where. you. stand. At the end of the day, we have to live our own lives. Be strong, amiga. 🙂
Bright!! Thank you for the love and for reading. Oh my goodness, your story about your mom makes my skin prickle, it’s so close to exchanges I’ve had with my mom over the years. I’m grateful at least that I think my parents don’t say negative things about us to other people — only to us. ;b
The thing that’s so interesting about my parents and cultural differences (and I definitely want to fit this into my family history book) is that my mom was, herself, raised very much between two worlds. She was born in Texas to Chinese immigrant parents who spoke English at home; her own mother had been raised in Chinese boarding schools run by Western missionaries. Follow that in ensuing years with a move back to China and another move back to the States, and it’s a very intriguing cultural stew indeed. I have a theory that she derives a lot of stress from the friction between her desire to raise us “right” (which I believe she did, even when I’m mad at her), and her lack of solid cultural blueprint for how to do so in either Chinese or American ways.
wow. this is a really brave and honest post. I am sure that it feels like a relief to voice your inner thoughts and deep feelings.
Thank you so much, Willona. It has definitely set some things straight in my mind and heart, and it’s been so incredibly comforting to be read by all of you. When my deepest gripe is that I’m not being heard, it’s such a gift to be able to come here and bare my words, and have them resonate with others. 🙂
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