Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eastern Parenting

My friend H bought his condo recently and was sharing the experience with M who is close to closing the deal on hers. They are both single and have naturally decided to live in the most happening part of town - a far cry from the sterile and gentrified suburbs where I am stuck because of my need for a good elementary school for J.

I listened wistfully as they talked about their easy access to museums, theaters, cultural events, ethnic food and grocery stores among a host of other things. I talked about how as parents we have to sometimes give up on what we want for ourselves in the best interest of our children. H made an interesting comment in response to that. He said "I think its important for parents to live the life they want to live without perpetually putting their children first. We Asians always manage to make our children feel like we made great sacrifices for them and that they owe us. That's simply not fair".

H is Chinese and has lived in the States since he was about ten years old. He intends not to make a martyr out of himself to further the cause of his kids when he does become a father. He got me thinking about what he had said. As a parent one does have to strike a comfortable balance between being selfish and selfless. It is probably true that Asians are culturally conditioned to be emulate the example of their forefathers and be as selfless as they possibly can be. Often the bar is exceptionally high and they struggle to make it and feel guilty when they don't make the grade.

Not all of us may not tell our children that they need to grovel in gratitude for all that we have given up for them, but the expectation is often implied and to H's point children understand that implication and feel deeply burdened by it. Instead, if we as parents lived the life that made us happy, they could be absolved of the need to repay us for our many sacrifices and austerities. They would be far more likely to pursue their individual right to happiness without guilt. We would be doing them a favor by setting them free.

Maybe that's the reason a lot Asian kids grow up to be either painfully conformist or just go off the deep end. It is the kids with parents like H who are comfortable straddling their selfish and selfless instincts end up getting the best of both worlds - a place where the deference to hierarchy and the will of the community of the East meets the spirit of enterprise and the respect for individualism of the West. While I realize it is a great place for anyone to find themselves , I am not sure how to reach there myself or if I have the ability to do so.

1 comment:

neha said...


i think chinese are very lovable parents.