Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic caused a shut down, my parents have been doing weekly Sunday Service at home with my sister and me. Although I’m not religious anymore, I felt like I would be a bad daughter if I didn’t participate in this because it would be seen as a blatant disrespect of their faith. When I told this to my friend, he said he would refuse to be part of the worship service and say, “I respect your religion, but you have to respect that I am not religious.” He suggested that his parents wouldn’t think he’s a bad son for not joining them and wouldn’t feel guilty about his decision. From that conversation, I had a huge epiphany:
Coming from immigrant parents, we grew up in wildly different cultures which led to holding a different set of morals, beliefs, and values. There’s a huge sense of guilt for not being obedient because my parents fed me, sheltered me, loved me, and opened so many opportunities for me. They’ve done so much for me, but I don’t conform to their way of life, which makes me feel like a bad daughter for being so defiant. Even writing this post makes me feel like an ungrateful brat because I know my parents have been so good to me compared to most other parents I’ve heard about. But I want to write this for those who feel guilty about their strained parental relationships. Fundamentally, we all experience this strain due to a dichotomy of philosophies.
In high school, my sister’s friends would tell her she’s the good one in the group, but she kept thinking, “You don’t know how many sinful things I’ve committed! If only you knew that I go out past 9pm without my mom’s consent, kiss guys even though I’m not supposed to be lustful, and go to parties. I’m a bad daughter, I’m a bad person!” The thing is, they did know all those things and still thought she was a good person because none of that conflicted with their ideals of virtue. But, it did conflict with our mom’s. She grew up in a conservative household and was responsible for many household duties since she was the only daughter out of four children. Moreover, because her mom fell ill, my mom was stripped away of her childhood and had to be the motherly figure. All my mom ever knew was duty to her family and God. She sacrificed her education (which she has always mourned about to this day) for her family and got through tough times by placing her hope in the Word of God. My mom imposed restrictive rules that helped her survive life onto us. Because of this, my sister was in a constant state of conflict for doing typical high school activities.
Before leaving the faith, I was a devout Christian and my sister would always say I was the “golden child.” My parents and I got along well and I would be constantly reaffirmed on how good of a daughter I am. However, once I began to develop my own beliefs and way of living, there grew a long list of how I upset my parents:
- I don’t attend church with them
- I like to wear unusual outfits
- I live a vegan lifestyle, meaning I don’t eat their traditional cooking
- I don’t work for my dad when he asked me to
- I go out late at night without telling my parents where I’m going
- And many more things (that are worse than what I mentioned above)….
I started to hide things from them as our values grew more disparate. I felt resentment towards them for all the disapproval. I’m ashamed for being a disappointment. I’m most likely projecting my personal disapproval onto my parents, but I am certain they have some level of dissatisfaction with me. I’ve heard variations of, “We liked the old you better. What happened to you?” so many times that it’s the only thing I’ll remember if I ever get amnesia. Even acts that I can easily do for others are difficult to do for my parents because I feel uneasy with them. And not doing those simple acts on top of all the other character traits they don’t approve of make me feel even worse of a daughter.
Although my parents and I wouldn’t have matched on a filial version of Tinder, I wouldn’t switch them out for another pair of parents. They are good people and raised us well, but sometimes I think of hypothetical scenarios. I wonder how people would turn out if they were to be fully accepted for who they are, especially by their parents. They could have instigated a global climate change movement (Greta Thunberg), changed how an entire industry operates (Amazon), or became a global icon (Kim Kardashian). Of course, there are people who have achieved great things despite lacking support from their parents e.g Eminem. But I’m sure Eminem would tell you it’s much harder- both physically and emotionally- without their encouragement. Perhaps if I had parents who were liberal environmentalists that appreciated experimental art and free thinking, I would feel like a good daughter doing great things.
I began to think more about differing expectations and values when I was on a family vacation in Hawaii. We stopped by a coffee farm where we met a college student who took a semester off to work on the farm in exchange for housing (nothing to do with her major, she just thought it sounded fun.) I asked how her parents felt about this, and she said, “It’s such a unique experience, how could my parents not support me in this decision?” My dad and I looked at each other and knew exactly what we were both thinking, “What?!” This woman thought it was a no brainer that her parents full-heartedly accepted her choice to take time off from getting her degree to work – not for money, but for the “experience and beauty”. That honestly flabbergasted me because that decision would be intolerable to most of the parents in my community. And I wouldn’t blame any parent for approving or disapproving her choice. It can be a life altering experience for her that bring her happiness. But also, many families don’t have the luxury to take time off or take the risk of doing what they love. Some parents genuinely cannot understand their children because they do not have the knowledge, tools, or capacity to do so.
Most aren’t fortunate enough to share similar perspectives as their parents. For instance, a girl told me, “The worst thing [her] brother can do to [her] parents is come out as gay.” So for that family, being a homosexual would automatically make you a bad child. That’s because their church told them that it is a wicked sin and would burn in hell for eternity. In college, a classmate told me that she is a closeted Republican because her parents are staunch Democrats. While my classmate believed abortion was the same as killing an innocent baby, her parents believed taking away abortion rights was taking away women’s rights. In junior high, my friend’s mom gifted him a computer for getting straight B’s whereas my other friend’s mom cried when he didn’t make it on the honor roll.
What is seen as a success or failure, immoral or virtuous, and good or bad changes from person to person. You might have just grown up in an environment in which who you are is considered a disappointment, but in another environment, you would be fully accepted and embraced. And this applies to many other relationships: significant others, co-workers, siblings, friends, therapists, in-laws, etc.
I think more people should adopt my brother’s approach. My parents nagged him like no other when he was growing up, but he was able to shrug it off and not internalize those feelings of disappointment. Innately, he manifests this piece of wisdom: How certain people judge you should not define how you judge yourself. Who you are and what you do might disappoint your family, but that doesn’t mean you are a disappointment. That’s determined after you create your own set of personal principles and priorities.