My husband is a software engineer who specializes in smart phone application development. Our four-year-old son described his father’s job as “very challenging.” He said, “Dad is always fixing phones, lots of phones. His lab is loaded with phones.”
I am an independent journalist and a freelance writer. Our son described my job as “very easy.” He said, “Mom is always playing with her computer, chatting on the phone, and traveling by air.”
So this is how my son looks at writing to deadline, phone interviews, and business trips. How cute, yet how annoying! My husband and I joked about this, and I told him, “So our son thinks your job is challenging and mine is easy. That’s not fair. I don’t want to be looked down on—not by our own child!”
For the first time I saw myself through my child’s eyes. I was both surprise and amused to realize that I actually have a fear of being looked down on by my child. Then I thought about my mother, and what she was like in my eyes when I was four years old.
Back then, I was afraid of my mother. She was a so-called “tiger mom” who spanked me often. Most of the time, I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I was constantly scolded for my “bad attitude” when I was too young to even understand what an attitude is. I vividly remember how scary my mother was when she was beating me, but I barely remember what I did to anger her.
There are a few things that I remember, though. Here is one memory. My mother used to make fried rice noodles and throw in a lot of dried shrimp. The smell of the dried shrimp totally covered the flavor of the shiitake mushrooms and the sweetness of the cabbage.
I asked my mom, “Can you not put so much dried shrimp in the fried rice noodles?”
She effectively silenced me with an angry shout: “This amount of dried shrimp is necessary in fried rice noodles! Shut your month and eat up, or I’ll beat you up.”
When we visited my uncle, his wife made fried rice noodles, but without the dried shrimp. It was delicious. I ate two bowls and happily said to my mother, “Look, Auntie made fried rice noodles with no dried shrimp! It’s good! Let’s try this, too!”
When we got home that day, my mother grabbed a tennis racquet standing by the door and started to strike me with it. She was too upset to find the rattan that she usually used. The racquet strokes fell on me like raindrops; the pain was great. I started to cry, “Why are you hitting me?”
She shouted, “Because you have a bad attitude! Stop crying or I’ll beat you even more!”
For a long time, I didn’t know why I was punished. My mother was an irritable and horrible person in my eyes. I guessed she hated me, but I wasn’t sure. I dared not ask.
Later, when I was in middle school, a friend of mine lent me her CD of Blur’s. I brought it home, totally forgetting that we didn’t even have a CD player. I put the CD on my desk.
My mother saw it and asked me, “What’s this?”
I said, “It’s a CD I borrowed from a friend. But we don’t have a CD player at home, so never mind.”
My mother asked me what a CD was. I said, “A CD is a compact disc. You don’t know that?”
She suddenly raged, grabbed a clothes hanger and hit me in the face. I cried, “Why are you doing this?”
She shouted, “Because you have a bad attitude!”
I was fourteen years old. While I was being hit by that hanger, I started to hate my mother. I thought she was being unreasonable. I thought she was just randomly beating me up because she happened to be in a bad mood, or worse, for no reason at all. I vowed that I would never become somebody like her.
Then I grew up. I left my parents a long time ago, but I’m still searching for the answer to the tough question, “Why my mother physically abuse me?” I tried to look at her from a mature woman’s eyes, and not from a child’s eyes. I finally figured out that maybe, just maybe, I knew one of the reasons behind my mother’s abuse. She spent her whole adult life as a housewife, and was kept at home for the whole time. My father’s parents did not have a harmonious marriage. My grandmother once ran away from home, and as a result, my father was insecure about relationships. He limited my mother’s social and career life. My mother hated to be isolated from the outside world, but she was helpless. She was afraid of being despised, especially by her children. And when I showed the attitude that she considered scornful—for example, by criticizing her cooking or questioning her knowledge—she beat me to maintain her dignity.
When I was a child, I first feared and then hated my mother, but I didn’t despise her until I became a teenager. Now, when I think of her sense of inferiority, my heart almost aches. But I don’t want to be sympathetic. My mother had a big ego, and it would be painful for her to know that her daughter had sympathy for her.
When my own son described my job as “very easy,” I realized that I too did not want to be underestimated by my child. So I reminded myself about my own mother. She was eventually despised by her own daughter, not because she made bad fried rice noodles, not because she didn’t know what a CD was, and not because she was an isolated housewife, but because she had abused her child. Ironically, she abused her child exactly because she didn’t want the contempt.
I realized that children are not confused. They only despise parents when the parents despise themselves.
I asked my son, “Surely Dad is great! When you grow up, do you want to be an engineer just like him?”
He said, “No. I want to be a writer just like you. So that I can play with my computer, chat on the phone, and get on airplanes all the time.”
How did you see your parents when you were growing up? How would you like your children to see you?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by To-Wen Tseng. Photo credit: Mu-huan Chiang.
My husband’s grandfather recently passed away at the grand age of 94. Along with other members of the family residing overseas, we rushed home for the funeral. As we prepared with the packing and arrangements, my husband and I wondered how we should tell our daughter. Would the loss of a loved one would be too complex for my three year old to understand?
How would we explain this? What might she feel? How could we help her to deal with these feelings? Would she be confused and scared if she saw others expressing sadness over their loss? Previous parenting challenges diminished in the light of this gargantuan one; it seemed so daunting that we shelved the topic temporarily.
When she asked why we were packing, I said we were going back to Singapore. She asked innocently, “For a holiday?” After a long pause, I explained that Grand-Papa had gone to heaven and we needed to tell him goodbye. “He’s in heaven, like Nanny?” (Nanny is her great-grandmother who passed away the year before she was born.) After that, she carried on playing with her toys. While I was glad we had this conversation, had she really understood?
In Singapore, the wake is usually held before the funeral. The open coffin is displayed for friends and family to pay their respects and say their farewells. With the coffin on a raised platform, I was relieved that my daughter was not tall enough to see. However, sometime that afternoon her grandmother walked up to the coffin with my daughter in her arms. I suddenly realised that my daughter was looking at her Grand-Papa’s body and my heart leapt. But contrary to showing any fear or confusion, she just looked at his peaceful face and commented, “Grand-Papa is sleeping.”
On the day of the funeral, she amazed us with her good behaviour. I had been worried she’d want to walk around during the service, but she seemed to sense the gravity of what was happening and knew she had to sit quietly. She asked me a few questions but was quite content to sit on my lap or next to her grandmother. When it came time to say our farewells, I gave her a rose to lay on her Grand-Papa and whispered into her ear that she had to say goodbye. After looking around at her family, she turned back and said, “bye Grand-Papa.” It was such a sweet send-off to her great-grandfather of whom she has such loving memories and whom she had the privilege to know. I tried to hide my tears as I hugged her tightly.
As a parent, I worry about my daughter all the time. Each time we move to a different county, I worry about how she will adjust. I fret about her relationship with her family whom she sees maybe once a year. I agonize about how she’s eating and sleeping, and if she’s growing well. Most of all I worry about the world she lives in, for it can be such a scary and hostile place. And while I want to protect her from every single danger, I know that she has to face disappointment, sadness and most recently, loss.
In trying to protect her, I underestimated my child and how mature she can be. She might be very young, but she surprisingly taught me something in her own experience. She had shown no signs of being upset or afraid, even when looking at her resting great-grandfather. It wasn’t because she did not understand, because we recently had a conversation about Grand-Papa and Nanny being in heaven, and she exclaimed that it was unfair as she missed them very much. She really does understand that they are gone and she can’t see them anymore.
Even though she has not experienced loss to the same depths and understanding that we have, she has comprehended it in her own way. When she saw her great-grandfather, she had recognised his face, and remembered him playing games like “tweet tweet, where’s the birdy” and “meow, where’s the kitty cat.” She had remembered going to his house in Singapore and sitting on his lap while he talked to her in his ever-gentle voice. All she had seen in that face was love. And if that is her strongest or only memory of her Grand-Papa, she is truly blessed.
I can’t shield my child from everything, nor would I want to. I strongly believe that she has to go through pain, mistakes, struggles, and loss in order to fully appreciate people and what she has in her life. It will make her a stronger person, it will give her perspective and hopefully it will motivate her to bigger goals. She will eventually learn from experience that the world isn’t the utopia of her childhood, but I deeply hope that she will never fail to see love in the faces around her.
How do you help your children to understand and deal with difficult life experiences, like the loss of a loved one?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Karen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Photo credit to the author.
If you’re a parent, or a child, or anyone, you may have heard the phrase. “It takes a village” (to raise a child). After reading a post written by a fellow contributor, KC, I remained in thought about this village that’s needed to raise our children.
KC is currently a stay-home-mum to a precious toddler, so you know she has one of the most rewarding and challenging positions in the universe; one weighted with a lot of responsibility, as well. Thankfully she takes the time to write about some of what’s going on in her world as a mum, a woman, and as a person, because out of her writing I found something I want to discuss, too. Check her out at http://www.mummyintransit.com. She is a really good writer, and she’s funny too.
In reading KC’s post I thought about my own experience as a child in Italy, a teenager in Tanzania, and an adult and parent in the United States. What was my village like? Who did my mum include in forming my personality and my worldview?
Earlier this month I attended my son’s graduation ceremony. He looked so handsome in his bright red cap and gown, smiling proudly at all he has accomplished. He clutched his little blue diploma when they called his name, and I was overcome with emotions that felt out of place. Especially considering the fact that my son had just finished Kindergarten.
I’ve always been determined that my children will have every cultural advantage I had as a child, which means that they will know how to swim competitively, to read music, to play at least one instrument, and have an additional sport of their choice. It seemed a matter of course that they would also go to the Symphony (ballet, opera and theatre) and have cultivated a great love of reading from an early age.
But I’m starting to realize that I’m setting an unfair expectation. First of all, they do benefit from many of these things. My 8-year old daughter takes classical ballet twice a week, and has solfège (music theory) along with her piano lessons. My 7-year old son has soccer once a week, introduction to solfège and instrument discovery, which will help him choose what he will want to play in the future. My youngest son, who is only four, is taking multi-sports – his own particular activity that he takes very seriously as a participating member of the under-ten set in the family.
But Symphony and theatre? It’s too far, too expensive, too inconvenient. Swimming lessons? We can’t fit them into our already packed schedule. And reading? I’m not inspired to go to the library each week like I did as a child, because it means that they will be reading even more French, and they already get plenty of that in school. What about that love of literature they were supposed to have cultivated in English – in my native tongue? For heaven’s sake, they don’t even know they’re half-American, and keep asking when we’re going to go visit their grandparents in England again! (more…)