In this twin season of Chinese New Year and Valentine’s, how does the older generation of Filipino-Chinese (in their mid-40s or older) express (or not express) love to the younger ones?
My student Ben (not his real name), 21 years old and a management engineering major, had studied in an exclusive private school for boys. Now in college, Ben got second honors this semester, but his mother had higher standards.
“I did not have a happy childhood,” Ben says. “During summer vacation, my friends were playing basketball, but I was taking classes in Math, English, piano. When I made mistakes in tests, I got spanked. Now I got second honors, but my mother got mad, said I was lazy and wasting money.”
“If your mother were not so strict, you might not have achieved what you did.” I sympathize with Ben, but I have to give another perspective.
“I never wanted honors. I just wanted to have a normal life.”
“That’s because you have honors now. Fighting for honors is probably more the norm than the exception for Chinoys.”
“My parents don’t love me,” Ben cries. “My father is too busy working to care. My mother is a housewife who goes to school a lot and gossips with other parents about grades. She gets mad when my friends or cousins get higher grades. She was never an honor student, but she uses me only for bragging rights.”
“I am not defending your parents,” I say. “But many Chinoys, especially those raised in traditional families, do not express love the way Americans do. They seldom hug their kids. They rarely say, ‘I love you, son’ out loud. They were raised that way.”
Grades equal love
“You grew up watching Western sitcoms where children talk back freely to their parents and are portrayed as smart kids who outwit clueless adults. Movies end with parents apologizing to kids and saying how much they love them. Real life often does not work that way. In reality, the collective experiences and wisdom of adults are still highly valuable. Kids need to listen to their parents.”
“I tune out my mother. I hear her voice in my nightmares. Is this how she shows love?”
“Unfortunately, yes. I don’t think she’s right. She’s putting undue pressure on you. But for many Chinese in ancient times, the only way out of poverty was to do well in the civil service exams. Education literally was a lifeline, unlike in the US, where until recently, going to college was a choice, and many people could earn a good living without a diploma. In the Philippines, we pay lip-service to education, but the way up is still often more of whom rather than what you know.
“Your mom is living her life through you, and it is unfair that she is using you for bragging rights. There is now a backlash in the US against tiger-helicopter parents, which describe a lot of Filipino-Chinese (and American-Chinese and increasingly, many Filipino-Spanish and Filipino) parents today, particularly after Amy Chua, who is Chinoy, wrote ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.’ But the pressure for their kids to be No. 1 is ever-present, ergo the tutors, enrichment lessons, educational apps. Ironically, the way Chinoy parents show love is to ask their kids, ‘What grade did you get?’”
No to family business
“My father told me that after graduation, I have to work in the family business. I can work outside for two years and then take an MBA abroad. I haven’t told them yet, but I will never return. Facing my father’s criticism and my mother’s nagging, I would rather die.”
“You love your parents,” I say. “Talk to your parents now. Tell your mother that you are doing your best, that while you want to please them, it stresses you more if she criticizes your efforts. Tell your father you don’t want to enter the business because you fear constant criticisms. Work out a compromise where you will not directly report to your father, but to a professional outsider who can guide you. I assure you your parents love you, and it is your duty to make the first move. Treat them with respect and understanding.”
Ben was crying. “They won’t understand. Sometimes I just wish to end it all.”
“You are depressed, get help,” I say. “Show your parents this column. They love you. They give you everything. You love them. When you become a parent yourself, you will understand the pressures they are facing. But this vicious cycle would end with you. Promise me to love your children unconditionally. Do not spoil them, but guide them to do well. But never equate love with achievement.”
Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (e-mail: email@example.com). E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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