Ep#53 How To Deal With Asian Parents (ft. Katharine Chan)

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Kathrine Chan
Connect with Katharine: https://www.instagram.com/sumonsleeve/

In this episode, I talk to author Katharine Chan about her recent book, “How To Deal With Asian Parents.” I related to her stories about her parents. Through the generational trauma, cultural gaps, and language barriers, it’s difficult for Asian parents and their children to properly communicate and really address the deeper emotions behind their words. This eventually takes a toll on the children’s wellbeing. If you struggle to develop a relationship with your Asian parents or want to be mindful about becoming a parent, this book and episode is for you. 

Some Quotes From Kathrine

Heart on Sleeve 

“I’ve been a heart on my sleeve kind of person my whole life. I show my emotions on my face. I’m the worst poker player in the world. I would just show my cards.”

Talking about my emotions has always been a struggle growing up with Asian parents. Feelings weren’t really discussed around the dinner table. If they were, it was always indirect or about someone else’s feelings but not our own. 

It wasn’t really something that I thought about until I became a mom almost four years ago. I started reflecting on my childhood, and life stages. You kind of start getting a little more Meta, that I guess. 

I was like, you know what, I have all these things in my head that I grew up with and now that I’m in my parents’ situation, how am I going to preserve things? What are some things I want to keep? What are some things I want to improve on?

So I started writing and looking for other people who had a similar story. Other Canadian or Chinese, Canadian Mom bloggers. Who were talking about preserving the culture but also struggling to embrace some things they grew up with. 

I couldn’t really find anything so I just started writing. It’s been almost three years. I’ve written three books. Talking about Asian parents and writing one on brutally honest dating. Just dating in general because that’s something that I never really talked to my parents about. Also about marriage and how to have a happy and healthy relationship with your spouse. That’s what I’ve been working on. Mostly books, but also talking to other people and connecting through the Podcast.

How To Deal With Asian Parents

“As a parent, I know for myself that most parents ultimately have good intentions for their children. Despite all the negativity around what they’re saying, they see the meaning behind the emotions you feel. They just want what’s best for you from their perspective or mental understanding.” 

There isn’t really a cookie-cutter method, or here’s what you should do to improve your relationship. It requires a lot of self-reflection and self-improvement because our parents aren’t really going to change.  It’s the expectation that people will just change for you. That will never happen. 

A lot of that thinking is your own beliefs to create those coping mechanisms, to find situations, to tolerate your parents and be able to be patient and move forward from whatever you’re struggling with? 

They really want to change their parents and say that’s their parents’ fault. They’re at fault  for the relationship saying…. 

“I can’t be blamed, I’m the victim here. They created so much damage on me they need to be the ones that are held responsible.”

 I can totally if someone is in that l kind of blaming mindset. It’s a natural step of the process to believe that everything happens to you, or you’re not in control of where you want to go due to unfair circumstances. What I would say to anyone thinking this way is no, you gotta flip it the right way around and change your mindset. A relationship has two parties, and it’s a two-way street with conversation. 

You can try to talk with them and say all the mistakes they made that caused you pain, or left you unprepared. If they don’t respond, or are not willing to change what can you do? Or they might express criticism against you. Telling you how to live your life or that everything you do is wrong and they know what is best. What can you do to help the situation?

I think the key is taking the power and control of your life back into your own hands. Rather than thinking Your parents are responsible for all your problems. That’s a life skill that you should practice, anyway. It’s like a post I recently saw on social media. Someone wrote a  quote on a wall saying,  “I just want to complain and complain, and not do anything to make it better.” 

 I mean fair enough, Asian parents can be a struggle. Whether it’s criticism, verbal abuse, lack of emotional validation, or constantly trying to give you advice without listening, because they think they know what’s best for you. 

I’m not generalizing all parents, but as a parent I know for myself that most parents ultimately have good intentions for their children. Despite all the negativity around what they’re saying, they see the meaning behind the emotions you feel. They just want what’s best for you from their perspective or mental understanding. 

They might think, Why don’t you just become a doctor? That’s the best thing. They might say this because they just want you to be safe, or able to provide for yourself, and make a living based on the context of what they went through. I think the best way to heal our relationship is by putting ourselves in their position. It really helps minimize the stress when you experience a yelling match, or when you feel just horrible around them. Empathy really helps in this situation, because it allows you to see where they’re coming from and not take it so personally. 

Blending Values What To Leave What To Keep

“There are things I really value from my childhood that I want to preserve like family values, having dinner together, leaning on one another during hard times, and food.” 

An enormous part of many Asian cultures is the tradition of cooking and eating together. That’s ingrained in who I am. It’s also reinvigorated my love for food and cooking.

Extracurricular activities are so stereotypical in Asian families. Asian Kids don’t just go to school, they’re also like a crazy flute, or violin player or some kind of sports expert. I think that’s actually important because that’s something that I want to preserve. I want to allow my kids to try different activities, but in the Canadian or American values of letting your kid try things without being Tiger mom about it. 

Encourage them to practice piano every day, but stop to ask them “what do you like about it? Why do you love piano? Are you enjoying your lessons?” Kind of pushing enough to let them develop grit but pulling back enough so you’re not overbearing and controlling, or forcing them to do something they don’t like to do? 

 Cost and Benefits of Being Humble  

 “I think being humble is really about understanding everyone’s strengths and appreciating that. That being said, there’s value in taking praise in your accomplishments.”  

I remember when I started to promote myself and my book. It was hard for me because growing up I was taught that any compliments you get, you’re supposed to say,  “No, I’m not that great.” You have to downplay your success. You almost have to “humble brag.” If you want to talk about your success, or if you’re confident and boisterous. Then you will be perceived as this arrogant bitch.

In the workplace in Western cultures you are often expected to talk yourself up and be confident. Really owning your success on projects and taking credit for everything in order to compete. It’s hard, especially if you’ve been conditioned to say, No, no, no, it was everyone’s team effort. No, I’m not that great. 

My mom is a good example of this. I have a wonderful mother. She did a really good job given her circumstances. She’s one of the most emotionally intelligent people I know. Despite her high levels of emotional intelligence, when people would compliment her and say, “Oh, you’re such a good mom. Your daughters are doing so well. And they love you and blah, blah.”  She was like, “No, no, no, they’re Just doing well because of them.”

Growing up with that condition. It’s like, every time someone says, “Oh, you’re doing a great job, you’ve written a book!”, and I’m just like, “No, no, no. It’s not that big of a deal.” 

It’s hard because then you bring that to your workforce. And maybe you’re leading a project and you’re talking about it, and people are asking you like, “Oh, so how did it go? What made you successful?” You almost want to hunker down and say like, Oh, no, it’s not me.”

 Don’t get me wrong there’s definitely benefits to the Eastern philosophy of being more humble that can benefit Western Culture. Like giving credit to other people and seeing projects as a team effort. Recognizing how all the cogs in the system or in the wheel contributed to the success. I think that’s very important.

 I think being humble is really about understanding everyone’s strengths and appreciating that. I think our Eastern societies are more aligned with this way of thinking. That being said, there’s value in taking praise in your accomplishments. Sometimes we need to do that. There are also times when we also need to recognize everyone’s efforts as a part of that success. 

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