Seeing Love Rather than Offense: Dealing with Traditional Family

We often don’t see eye to eye, my parents and I.

When I grew up, there was no such thing as boundaries. Though my family isn’t as traditionally hierarchical as some, parental authority remained strong. They had license to come into my room at any time, offer unsolicited advice, and what’s mine was theirs.

I fought back against the intrusions on my freedom but always indirectly or out of their sight: procrastinating on homework until the wee hours of the morning, applying to colleges out of state, and retreating into the internet where I could socialize with whoever I wanted whenever I wanted.

As I grew up, I began to realize that I could say no directly. I moved out of their house even though my Asian parents could not understand why someone would leave home-cooked meals and freshly-washed laundry behind. I stopped agreeing automatically to requests that accompanied the phrase “it would be good for the family.” And I refused to hand them the spare key to my apartment, defying their expectations and sparking a backlash.

There was a lot of tension once I started to speak up.

A common phrase I heard was, “Would we harm you? We only want the best for you.” And that’s true, though our thoughts may differ on what the best looks like. So how to reconcile our differing visions of what is “best”? How could I acknowledge their care for me and stand by my own truth at the same time?

I’ve found peace in embracing the underlying goodwill, while simultaneously looking past the form of their actions.

It’s in recognizing that their queries about future grandchildren are more about their fears that I’ll end up lonely rather than seeing their repeated reminders as demands. It’s in seeing their inviting themselves to my activities as their desire to connect rather than an imposition on my time with friends. It’s in understanding that the insistence on yet another photo is my mom’s desire to capture the warmth of the moment forever rather than an attempt to make us late to our next destination.

I’m not saying that the form of their actions is always agreeable, but focusing on the underlying loving intention often softens my response enough to give me a second to respond thoughtfully rather than reflexively.

I don’t need to accept all of the unsolicited advice; I don’t need to let them join in every activity; and I don’t need to delay the entire schedule for endless photos. But I don’t need to categorically say no either. I can consider their advice about family, evaluating the option. I can suggest alternative activities for them to join in so that I can be with my friends, and then with my family. I can try to hold a smile and plan a more fluid schedule next time to accommodate the stops for photos.

I can choose to see the love behind the action.

And all of us are happier for it.