CONTENT WARNING: Brief Mentions of Depression and Mental Health
When I was little, my parents were routinely away from home for work. My brother was abroad in boarding school, and most of my time was spent at home with my nanny, Yulis. We were privately educated, lived in spacious homes, and were provided with pretty much anything we wanted. My parents talked about their willingness to fund the family’s comfortable lifestyle as an obligation. At the dinner table, they frequently talked about “wanting the best for us” which was why they “worked hard to put us through an international school.” Mum casually buying my brother the latest video game console, or the latest designer kid clothes was just part of regular family living expenses.
Giving us a high standard of living and material items was my parents’ method of showing that they cared. Back then, I didn’t think too much about Mum and Dad working hard to provide for all of this. In Hong Kong, all my friends at school were decked out in the latest designer gear, it was normal and expected. My classmates had Gucci backpacks in Grade 4, and Burberry bucket hats were the norm. My parents were travelling so much that I had a closer bond to Yulis, who became my primary caregiver.
After migrating to Australia with my family when I was 11, I spent my formative years surrounded by peers who had a strong emotional connection with their families. I was surprised and jealous that they could talk to their parents about their fears, hopes and feelings. At this point, Yulis was no longer my nanny, and the majority of my conversation with my parents revolved around my grades and what we were having for dinner.
This was when I began to resent my parents for ‘not caring about me.’ They continued to pay for an ex- pensive education, splash out on lavish presents and fulfill every material desire I wanted, but the relation- ship felt increasingly transactional. The lack of open conversation between my parents and I contributed to a widening emotional gap between us. When I suffered from bouts of depression in high school, the gap seemed even wider. I did not want to discuss my mental health with them, nor did I want them to talk to me. I was angry at my parents for a while for not being emotionally present. All of my friends feel comfortable talking to their parents about sex, struggles and successes, meanwhile I’m left to internalise all of that on my own.
At one point I was convinced that my parents did not love me, and during my resistant teenage years, I was convinced that they didn’t care about me.
After I moved to college, I learned that not everyone receives a high level of financial support from their family. Suddenly, I began to question, well why are my parents so generous with their money? I work a part- time job and earn enough money to support myself, yet they still insist on giving me an ‘allowance’.
I began to interrogate their psyche and traced my parents’ behaviour to their upbringing. My parents are generous with their money because, when they were growing up, having money was like a security blanket. My grandparents were poor farmers in 1950s
China, who could barely provide three meals a day for their five children. When Grandad rewarded Dad with one boiled sweet after a day of doing hard labour in the rice fields, my dad would be utterly overjoyed as a child. When Dad won a scholarship to go to university, he did not have the $18 RMB ($3 AUD) to catch the train from Guangdong Province to Beijing. My grand- mother had to sell all the food in the house to scrape together his train fare.
That was the greatest demonstration of love he could ever imagine from his parents.
This was why Dad worked so hard to earn money. He wanted to break the cycle of poverty for us and saw spending copious amounts of money as a genuine demonstration of his love.
Making that connection opened up a new way of thinking for me. It was the first time I considered how they were giving love, rather than just how I was feel- ing. Spending my formative years in Australia whilst having Asian parents challenged my understanding of how love is expressed. I realised that I was judging my Asian parents on a ‘white’ parent metric and that it was incredibly unfair that they were subjected to a standard they were unfamiliar with. Parents from different cultural backgrounds each have their unique method of expressing love. Just like how different countries speak different languages, the language of parental love also differs. Asking my Chinese parents to demonstrate their love like Western parents do is unreasonable and inauthentic.
After recognising the source of their love language, I began to understand their behaviour and appreciate their love for what it is. I let go of my misconception that my parents didn’t love me. My parents adore me, it’s just that they show it with gifts, rather than with words, because that is how their parents showed their care. My grandparents were too poverty-stricken to care about building emotional connections when having food on the table was already a struggle.
Because of this revelation, I no longer feel bitterness towards my parents, and I am actively working on be- coming the daughter I want to be. I don’t want to be an ungrateful daughter who resents her parents just because they don’t speak the same love language. I want to be the daughter who appreciates all the sacrifices her parents have made for her and can interpret their way of saying ‘I love you’. I accept that it’s going to take time before my parents and I can have open conversations, at least now I am certain that they love me.