I remember the day clearly. I was in high school, sitting in the front seat of the car with my mom. We were about to go through a carwash when I asked, “Mom, what would you do if I dated a black guy?” She replied, “As long as he took good care of you, it doesn’t matter what he looks like.”
The question came from hearing my friends talk about their traditional Asian parents and comparing the punishments they’d endure for dating a non-Asian… everything from disownment to death. It was one of the moments that made me feel thankful for being 2nd generation.
I think about this exchange with my mom quite often. What if my parents had raised me more traditionally and reinforced this Asian elitism? How would it affect the way I see and interact with other human beings? I started wondering what behaviors and mindsets I did inherit from them.
My parents are good people. Both grew up poor and had brief histories of abuse, so it was truly magical when they met each other and fell in love. Their shared philosophies about how kids should be raised and generally how people should be treated are my biggest takeaways from them.
- Racial and socioeconomic differences – For the most part, my parents are incredibly compassionate towards humans who look and live differently from them. Hearing stories about my dad buying meals for the homeless and befriending people in other countries always modeled positive behavior for us.
- Humanitarian work – Despite being financially frugal, my parents embody the spirit of generosity. They’re always donating their time and money to improve the lives of others in their community and overseas. It’s where I picked my desire to volunteer in shelters and amplify my impact through leadership development.
- Career ambitions – I love that I took after my dad’s education and career goals while balancing the caretaking tendencies of my mom. For better or worse, I’m successful because of the hustle they continue to demonstrate. Though I’m always teetering on the verge of burnout, I’d choose drive over laziness any day.
It’s neat to reflect on common themes revealed through this thought exercise. While the above habits revolve around actions and decisions, therapy has revealed the dark side of being my parents’ daughter: toxic mindsets and interpersonal relationships.
- Snap judgments – Ever since I started dating in high school, my dad always told me that he can look at a person’s photo and tell me everything about their personality. It’s probably something that grew out of survival but rubbed off on me nevertheless. I admit I’m pretty immovable when it comes to my perception of others.
- Scarcity mindset – Something else my dad preached was to expect having a constantly-shrinking circle of close friends as we got older. Whether it was about people or money, there was always a mindset of scarcity, never abundance. I was taught to be stingy with trust and turn on survival mode at all times.
- Over-accommodation and people-pleasing – The first call I made after my divorce was to my brothers, kicking myself for being too much like our pacifist mom. We never saw our parents fight, and my mom never got mad. I told myself that if she could tolerate all the bullshit happening around her, I could “suck it up” too.
Of course, any trait can be taken to a toxic extreme and weaponized. That’s why most of the self-work I do in therapy is around building awareness of these behavioral blind spots and leveraging them in a way that helps identify and advocate for my needs.
I’m not intending to thank or blame my parents in any way. I recognize that our humanness is informed by our unique upbringing and experiences. The more we take ownership of our tendencies, the better we can make conscious choices that shape an identity we’re proud of.
Let’s face it. No one likes to admit they’re like their parents. Whether or not we see it, we make so many decisions because of or in spite of them, and there’s no shame in that. I find myself frustrated sometimes, knowing that their influence will manifest itself in weird ways for the rest of my life.
I don’t want kids, but I’m inspired by friends becoming parents and attempting to break so many cycles of generational trauma. We’re in an unprecedented era of therapy and self-work, and while humans will never be our idea of “perfect,” it makes me hopeful about the future of humanity.