My parents have been together a long time, almost 40 years. I’ve seen them go through a lo— never mind. I haven’t seen them go through much. Why? Because I was raised in a typical Asian household. What I mean by that is it was hard to talk to them because I couldn’t talk back, i.e., question their authority and/or parenting skills, which made it hard for me to talk to them at all. I felt a lot of resentment and bitterness because I considered myself a good kid despite living in an environment of abuse, betrayal, little emotional support…and murder. That’s right..murder. I had two rabbits, John and Marsha, who had four little rabbits. I came back and they just happened to “run away.” I was crushed. A few years later, I spent the Fourth of July with my aunt and uncle, but before I left I told my parents that my cockatiel needed more bird food. When I came back it was dead. I don’t know how I survived my childhood living with serial murderers.
I don’t want this blog to be a bitchfest about what awful parents I had. They weren’t perfect, but they, like most people, are better grandparents than they were parents. That alone can ease a lot of hurt and release grudges that people my age with children may have. And I know that I could have had it much worse. Today, I count my blessings and have come to peace their shortcomings as parents and mine as a daughter.
My upbringing and family life were big reasons I didn’t think I’d be a great wife or mother. All my mom taught me was to go to school, school, school. Keep my room clean, and go to school. It was a very simple relationship, mine and my mother’s. She spoke highly of me when I was still there and from what I can tell, after I left. But after having kids of my own, I wanted to be more than what she was. I wanted to be a better mother than she was, and I wanted to be a better wife than she was.
From early on in our budding parenthood, I knew that Ryan and I weren’t raising our kid in a conventional way. We were so protective of our daughter and it resulted from the three of us being close. We didn’t live near any relatives, so she went with us everywhere. Our date nights were at Chuck E. Cheese and our best investments was a video tape rewinder for our movie collection (thank goodness for Blockbuster VHS movie sales). We were tight on money, but damn, we were happy.
She loved to hold our hands, snuggle, and we goofed around. She would play the Rugrats video game on the Playstation as I did homework next to her. When she stopped drawing three stick figures of her family, it was quickly replaced with love notes all over the house, in my purse, on the refrigerator addressing me and Ryan as her “best friends.” She didn’t understand why her friends at school were talking shit about their parents or why they get pissed off when their parents friend them on Facebook. These were such foreign concepts to her.
Our relationship with her and how we raised her was vastly different than how he and I were raised. We were judged for not putting her in daycare, for not having playing dates, for not forcing her to sleep in her own room as she got out of diapers, for letting her stay up late with us, just to name a few. But what she was “lacking” from those experiences, was replaced by the bonding we did by always being together. And as she got older, Ryan and I decided to be open parents with her, and subsequently, her younger siblings.
1) Open conversations. Like with any relationship you have, it’s always advised that honesty is the best policy. We don’t try to disgust her or embarrass her. But if my parent radar goes off, my immediate response is to let her know that I was a girl once too (and later, a teenage girl). I found that she was easier to talk to when she knew that we I’d gone through the same thing.
2) Drinking and other grown-up activities. For the first 15 years of our marriage we never drank. But when we did, it was always on a Friday and it was always in our home. This meant our kids would be home. I was hesitant at first because we emphasized “no drinking” for so long. I remember seeing my dad’s arm slung over my mom’s shoulder after a night of drinking in the backyard, giggling but at the same time feeling awkward. We didn’t want our kids feeling that same awkwardness with us, so we let them know that we don’t drink outside of home, which means we never drink and drive. Ideally, parents would try to shield these types of habits, but when it’s not possible, honesty is a perfect second best.
3) Honesty. Being called out for hypocrisy is embarrassing. Rather than tell our kids, “Don’t ever drink, smoke, or do drugs,” we tell them, “Yea, we tried it and wasn’t as great as people made out to be.” Clearly my goal is not to be parent of the year, but I think kids appreciate it more if we are honest and know that we make mistakes.
4) Being friends. Having girls makes it easier for me to relate to them. They’re always asking to borrow my clothes, hair accessories, and feminine products. She wants me to cut her hair? Dye it? I’m there for her. They show me songs to add to my playlist and viral videos to laugh at. They’re definitely my friends in that I listen to how their day went at school and I give them impartial advice.
5) Apologies. If I’m wrong, I apologize. Simple as that. And I expect the same from them.
6) Our primary role. I love the relationship we have with our kids. They tell us they love us when they leave the house, they tell me to have a great day at work, and they feel bad if they get don’t hug us back. “I know you’re mad at me, babygirl, but I’m going to give you a hug anyway. You don’t have to hug me back, but I want you to know I love you no matter what.” Works every time.
7) Open door policy. If our kids come to us and say, “Can I talk to you guys?” we drop everything or at least plan for a talk after dinner. We discuss everything as thoroughly as possible and leave nothing unanswered. We end each conversation by reinforcing that we have an open door policy and they always come first.
These seven things were NEVER discussed with me. I grew up being told that my parents had the final say, and if they were wrong, then time would probably make me forget it. Wrong. It’s not how relationships work – not with your employees/employers, not with your friends, not with your family, and certainly not with your children. Not only do I learn to do something by example, I also learn NOT to do something by example. Part of having a good relationship with our children is having a good relationship with Ryan and making sure that we’re on the same page in how we raise them. I didn’t know it, but I’ve become the parent that I wanted and the parent I want to be. My Relationship With My Parents My