How I Found Peace in My Relationship with My Parents, Part 2: A Pervasive, Widening Gap

This is part 2 of a series on parents and understanding our relationship with them.

  1. How I Found Peace in My Relationship with My Parents, Part 1: A Child’s Wish
  2. How I Found Peace in My Relationship with My Parents, Part 2: A Pervasive, Widening Gap
  3. How I Found Peace in My Relationship with My Parents, Part 3: Revelations and Happiness
  4. How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents: A Delicate Guide

Family Love

Resignation

For a long time, I resigned that I would never have the kind of parental-bond I was looking for – at least not in this lifetime. Perhaps I would get them via my future parent-in-laws (whoever they may be and if I ever get married), but not with my parents. I resigned that this was a wish that would only get fulfilled in another life, in another time.

I tried to rationalize it, by telling myself that the kind of family bonds I see on television were unreal. That they were idealized, and not representative of real life. I also told myself maybe they were more typical in the western culture, and not a norm over here in Asia.

But all these rationalizations would prove themselves to be acts of self-denial, especially when I looked outward to my friends’ relationships with their parents.

For example, my friends would talk normally with their parents. They were able to discuss upcoming life decisions together. They might not hug their parents and say “I love you” to them, but they were able to communicate with one another, compared to the dysfunctional way my parents and I communicated with each other.

My friends would have family lunch/dinners. There would be weekday/weekend afternoons/nights when they were unavailable to hang out in social gatherings, because they had to be home to eat with their parents (and siblings).

My friends had no problems engaging in conversations with their parents, be it over the phone or in person. And the conversations would be calm, civilized, and amicable, where no one would snap, shout or yell in anger; neither would anyone be rolling his/her eyes at anyone else.

Some of my friends would go on vacation trips with their parents, from weekend get-aways to neighboring countries, to week-long vacations in new countries. They would take photos together, as one happy family. Those happy moments together would be etched forever onto the photographs.

Some of my friends would sometimes take a hiatus from social meet-ups, because they wanted to spend more time with their parent(s) who have been away from home for a while.

An Incident

The time when reality sunk in the hardest for me was when I was in junior college.

It was during Meet the Parents Day, an annual school event where all students had to bring their parents to meet the teachers and teachers would share a progress update of how each student was doing to his/her parent.

On that day, my dad was with me in school to see my form teacher. After my teacher was done speaking to us, my dad and I made our way out of the campus – in silence, as would normally be the case when we’re with each other.

At this point, I saw a fellow schoolmate, chatting away happily with her father. Both of them were walking around the campus, hand in hand. As they were doing that, my schoolmate affectionately linked her arm into her dad’s and leaned onto his shoulder, in a father-daughter way.

A Happy Family

I only caught this for a few seconds from afar, but it etched a deep impression in me. When I saw this, I couldn’t help but feel taken aback. Suddenly, the realization that it was indeed possible to have a close relationship with one’s parent(s) hit me, hard – especially with it happening right there before me.

As if to jab salt into the wound, there my dad was, standing beside me. Both of us looked like 2 strangers standing in the same physical space, whereas my schoolmate and her dad were in front of us – in my opinion, the exemplification of the most perfect father-daughter relationship one could ever wish for.

The contrast was jarring. While I had thought all along that having the ideal parental relationship I seek was an impossibility, it was there in reality, unfolding before me.

I felt a wave of envy, followed by a sinking feeling of sadness inside me. For a moment there, I wished I was my schoolmate, and I had that relationship she had with her father. I wished things were different, and I had different parents. I wished I was in a different life. I wished I could start my life from scratch and restart my relationship with my parents. I wished I wasn’t me.

Hope and a Vigilant Effort

After I realized my idealized parent-child relationship does in fact exist in reality, and it is perhaps possible to create the relationship I want with my parents, I tried different things to improve our relationship.

I tried to be more patient with my parents.

I tried to spend more time with them.

I wrote a card, to my mom and dad each, to tell them how much I love them and how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me all my life.

I tried, at one point, to hug them.

I tried to initiate conversations with them, to ask them how they are doing, to know more about them, to understand them better.

I tried to arrange for family meals – be it lunch or dinners.

I tried to organize vacations, where all of us could get away as a family.

I constantly put in effort to nudge our relationship in a positive direction.

But each time, my actions would be met with resistance. For example, when I tried to hug my mom (a while back), she was taken aback, asked me what the h*** I was doing, and violently pushed me away, much to my shock.

When I tried to initiate conversations with them, it would be met with lackluster response. With simple questions like “How’s your day?” or “What are you doing now?”, my dad would respond with monosyllabic replies that didn’t allow the conversation to continue on. It was not because he was trying to be difficult, but because that is just the way he is – he’s not a talker. My mom would reply defensively, say that I was getting in her way/wasting her time, and the conversation would come to an abrupt end.

The times I tried to arrange family meals, be it lunch or dinner during weekdays/weekends, or even for special occasions like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, my mom would say dismiss it as a pointless idea.

And then whenever I suggested going on family vacations, my parents would vehemently reject the idea. They saw it as a waste of money, even if I offered to pay for everything. It wasn’t about “forcing” or “making” the idea happen either – they just genuinely, honestly, have no interest in traveling abroad at all.

Emptiness… A Gap that Could Never Be Bridged

Family Clogs

For a while, I couldn’t fathom how it was possible to have spent your whole life, literally, with someone, go through every single stage in life together (at least physically), and yet experience such immense difficulty in communicating with them.

For it seemed we had a gap between us that was unbridgeable.

For one, there was (still is) a language gap between us. My parents are well verse in Chinese and Hokkien (a Chinese dialect). Their preferred language of communication is Hokkien, followed by Chinese. However for me, I’m most comfortable with English. I can understand Hokkien, but I can’t speak it. I can speak in Chinese perfectly fine, but often times I switch back to English because it’s easier to express myself that way.

This, in itself, presented a fundamental barrier between us. Often times I would skip talking to them altogether because I didn’t know how to express my answers completely in Chinese. For example, till today my parents don’t know exactly what I studied in university, because I don’t know how to describe my course to them in Chinese. They don’t know what I did in my previous job in P&G, because I don’t know how to describe brand management in Chinese to them either. And neither do they know what I’m doing for my business today, because the concept of what I’m doing is lost when I try to describe it in Chinese. And believe me, I’ve tried to explain it before.

There also existed a generation gap. My parents are computer illiterate. They have no idea about the world of internet, blogging, social media, technology, computers, etc. On the other hand, internet and computers are integral parts of my life. My work is built around it; my life is built around it. Without the internet, my life will be completely different from how it is today. To try to describe what I do every day to them – it’s like talking about it to someone from a different world. The notion is lost on them.

There also existed a gap in our world views. A truly meaningful life to me is one where we’re our highest selves; where we pursue what we want to do, where we achieve our goals and dreams; where we self-realize. Personal growth is why I live and what I live for. But for my parents, their notions on what makes a fulfilling life is totally different. Routines are what they want to live in. They see no point in moving out of their current life zones. Goals and dreams are not in their day-to-day vocabulary. Personal growth means little to them.

Even though they’ve been in my life since I was born, and I’ve been in their lives for the past 26 years I’ve been alive, it felt that we could not be more distant than any 2 people in the world. That even though we have lived under the same roof every day for the past 26 years, it had done nothing to draw us closer together as parents and child.

This gap showed no signs of closing as well. As I embarked on my growth and pursued my goals every day, I would grow and become a more different person than I was the day before. My world would keep evolving into something different from what my parents know of.

It would seem that our parent-child relationship would never be the kind that I envision as a child. It was a missing gap in me that would never be filled, up until I suddenly came to a revelation about our relationship 1.5 months ago.

Continue on to part-3, where I share how I eventually came to find peace in my relationship with my parents: Revelations and Happiness.

Quick note: Thanks everyone for your comments on the series! While I appreciate the words of advice or concern, this situation has long been resolved (else I wouldn’t be writing about it here publicly – it is not in my interest to write about open-ended issues on PE).

I’m in a perfectly happy relationship with my parents today, and my intention for writing the series is to share my journey of how I came to achieve this so readers undergoing the same situation can achieve the same result too – not to get advice, not to get pity/sympathy, not as recreational reading material, and certainly not to elicit shock. More in part-3 of the series.

I’d also appreciate it if readers can read the story from a understanding and non-judging perspective. It felt as if some had read selective paragraphs of the story and started making their judgments on my past and my character, which was somewhat uncalled for.

I’m a human and I try to share as much of my life as possible on Personal Excellence if it helps all of us to grow – I certainly don’t appreciate it when what I share here becomes used as fodder for criticism, case study analysis and judgment. Such mean-spirited thoughts are not welcome here. Thank you!

This is part 2 of a series on parents and understanding our relationship with them.

  1. How I Found Peace in My Relationship with My Parents, Part 1: A Child’s Wish
  2. How I Found Peace in My Relationship with My Parents, Part 2: A Pervasive, Widening Gap
  3. How I Found Peace in My Relationship with My Parents, Part 3: Revelations and Happiness
  4. How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents: A Delicate Guide

Image ©: Family by Shutterstock; Clogs by merlijn

  • http://www.clintcora.com Clint Cora

    Yup, once again, I recognize so many similarities with your relationship with your parents as the one I had with mine. One thing that would be interesting is did you ever recall how either of your parents interacted with their own parents? Was it similar? I know in my case, it probably was.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Hey Clint! Great question. My grandparents died early, so I never got to see that. The bulk of the interactions I got to witness was between my grandmother (from my mother’s side) and my mom, because my grandmother often visited us when we were young. I think my grandma was very caring, and both of them had a cordial relationship where both were free to talk to one another. So definitely don’t see it coming from that side of the family. I think it’s probably more to do with the interpersonal dynamics between me and my parents vs. from how my grandparents raised my parents, though I can see how the latter can be the case for many people.

  • Julzie

    Hi Celes,

    Thanks for sharing your story and I am looking forward to reading part 3. I have went through times when I have had bad times relating to my parents and feeling hurt and frustrated. My parents went through a bad divorce also. I found my peace when I decided to have no expectations, I also use the experiences that hurt me as an incentive to be the best parent I can be, and not make the same mistakes as my parents.

    As you know I am just starting out on my journey as a mum, I am treasuring the time now with my baby, but also looking forward to our relationship developing so that I can encourage her to grow and experience life.

    I am sure that when your time comes to meet your husband and start your family that you will offers loving and supportive environment – this is what matters most, the type of parent that we choose to be.

    Much love,
    Julz xxxx :heart:

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Dearest Julz, thanks so much for your comment! I’m really excited about your journey as a mom – and I’ve absolutely no doubt that you’re going to provide the most beautiful home and be the best mom to your baby. I’m not sure if I’ll be having my own family in the future; but if I do one day, I’m absolutely inspired to create the best home for my kids too.

      • Julzie

        I’m sure you will some day if you want to. I met my husband when I was 32 and had spent all of my twenties thinking would I ever met the right person. Thankfully I did! :-) I think you would make an amazing mum too, and your childhood experiences can be turned into a positive as you can create that warm loving deep fun relationship you desired xxxx

  • http://avene.org Glenn

    Looking forward to reading the ending of this story Celes! :)

    Oh, and feel free to delete my comment from yesterday if you like. I had no idea how difficult it really was for you, and it appears you already tried most of my suggestions.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Thanks Glenn, no worries! I appreciate and welcome your comments, so feel free to share them freely. :)

  • James

    This sounds similar to my relationship to my dad.

    It’s not this bad, but my relationship with my dad (and my dad’s relationship with my kids) is far from what I want it to be. Add in a step mother with all sorts of issues and it’s tough.

    For instance, we haven’t gotten together to celebrate any of the birthdays that my three kids have had with my dad, step mother, and half-brother.

    He never even called or sent cards for their birthdays.

    And when I try and set things up, my dad tries to pawn off things on my step mother and I don’t want to deal with her after a Father’s Day misunderstanding.

    At least I have a good relationship with my mom and my kids have a good relationship with their other 3 grandparents.

    And don’t get me started on my relationship with the three grandparents that were alive during my life…….

  • http://lifeprobono.com/ Adam

    Your mother pushed you away when you tried to hug her? Wow, I bet that really stunted your emotional growth in future relationships. It is strange, my mother would simply melt in joy if I hugged her, yet I have never been able to bring myself to do it. (except on birthdays and in times of despair.) But even then it is forced on my part and always seems and feels awkward. Two different sides of the spectrum between me and you. I get your pain – and it sounds like this story ends with daisies and lots of happiness. <—–Always a good thing!

    Best of luck to you, and greetings from California!

    -Adam

  • Ericka

    I can relate to your story quite a bit but from a different angle that some people may think is different initially but is inevitably the same situation. I has a rough childhood, which entailed my mother leaving at random peoples’ house to be abused in all types of ways, and although my mom has tried to reach out to me as an adult to have a decent relationship, because she pretends that she has forgotten the horrible things that happened to me as a child, I have not been able to forgive her for messing up this Brady Bunch existence that I feel children are entitled to… But recently I had an epiphany…

    In fact every day is a new existence and I choose how I will create new relationships or allow bad situations to fester… Although the evil forces sent evil things/situations to my life in order to destroy my soul in my lack of forgiveness for my mom, I can be triumphant and decide that forgiveness is a natural reflection of His Glory and that to do it would be to walk with Christ. So now although we still dont talk that much, I can truly move on from what I wished for my childhood and get to a place with my adulthood where I can forgive and value my mother for what/who she is and not for who/what I want her to be.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Celes,

    I can identify very well with your story. The wish of a happy and carefree family is something I miss always.

    I would love to read your remaining parts of the story !

  • Min

    I got what your point is; not no ending story but story via personal growth perspective.
    I got to know what character of your blog is better!

    I came to curiousity whether or not situation in lack of happy relation with parents
    Is often in asia culture due to virtue of silence. Need more research!

  • Parikshit Sharma

    Dear Cels,

    Thanks for being the mentor and that too by bring your self up in eh line of fire. I really appreciate the approach you have adopted of making yourself the guinea pig and showing how Alice went through her journey in her wonderland. guess we are a bunch of very impatient followers who are so involved and care for you that we want to give you free advice as we want to see you happy at the end of the day. Every one at the end of the day meant happiness for you. God bless you and thank you once again for leading us on this path.

    Regards

    • Parikshit Sharma

      pardon my oversight ….appologise for the spelling error Celes.

  • Chris

    Thanks for sharing your true personal story of examples that we all have really disappointments in life.

    I know from my own experience that life is not fare and I have also been very jealous of my friends happy and harmony family conditions and their easy life situation.

    Felt petty of myself that I have to work so hard in so many levels until I see someone that are in even worse situation than me, like disable people, men and women with cancer and etc …..

    They have not chosen to be in that situations in their life. Suddenly I see the perspective very clearly and felt I would do anything not to be in their shoes.

    I straighten my shoulder and my mind and said to myself, if life haven’t giving me what I felt most important, that is for sure my true life-values of what I will achieve for me in my future life.

  • kazerniel

    Hi, have you read Toxic Parents yet? It’s written for a bit lower level of consciousness than yours, but there are chapters in it about emotional neglect and abuse, which might occoured in your childhood according to your story. It may be worth reading it :) (The books is about all kinds of neglect and abuse parents do to their children, and how to heal from these as an adult.)

  • Random

    Celes, I just want to say Thank You for opening your story to us. It takes great courage and great strength to do so – I mean that’s why I keep returning back to this blog and love it so much because you obviously care for the lives others to the extent that you are willing to share such a personal story with us all, despite all the criticism that may arise from it. :love:

    So Thank You! I look forward to the remaining parts :)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Random, thanks so much for your sweet comment. :hug: I’m really glad that you appreciate the sharing, and I’ll continue to share more of myself openly here at the blog too. Please continue to share your feedback openly too along this journey – I always welcome all your comments.

  • Ish

    Hi Celes,

    One of the interesting things I’ve noted in this increasingly globalised world is the trouble with language gaps between parents and children. It cannot be underestimated that the power of language to connect this vital relationship. Language is more than just words, it’s concepts, values, traditions, world views. When you say, in the past, at least you struggled to communicate, I seen the same thing in my relationship with my parents. It makes me want say that parents have a responsibility to ensure that children can converse fluently in the language they consider their own – and of course others if they so wish. Since I started making an effort to speak (no matter how rubbish it sounds) in my mother tongue not only have my world opened up to the world view of the parents I’ve opened my self to my rich culture again.

    Keep up the good work – I really like your stuff.

  • Qiuling

    Hi Celes,

    I’m glad you write this as you give us the chance to understand you better. This series of posts not only talk about you connecting back to your parents, this is the series that also bridge you to the readers. Being a readers for 2 years, this writing makes me feel much, much closer to you than before.

    It takes a huge leap of faith and courage, and I admire you for that. You also remind me that showing vulnerability is actually the key to connection and, strength especially. People keep saying about being strong, but we’re all humans. It would be so tiring to be strong all the time. In fact, it’s self-denial already. The more people desire to act strong when we don’t feel like this inside, the more the facade would crack. The first post of this series has already hit me to the core. You are a mirror to my relationships with my parents, and we happened in live in the same country, Singapore. Yet I decided not to remark and wait for a bit, as you mention you like to share as honestly as you exactly feel and view at this situation. I’m afraid I may ended up judging you and hurting you instead. I’m glad I wait.

    Moreover I have to salute on your courage. The more intimate the writing is, the easier it will be criticised. After all, the topic may be the one people are deeply ashamed of, the very dirty linen that is dying to hide. And then the writing expose the wound directly.

    This series has easily become my favourite, which is as impactful as another post that you talk about your view on romance, about letting go of your crush, and another one on parting ways with a valuable friendship of ten years.

    Thank you for sharing such an personal part of you. Thank you for writing.
    The wound is not exposed to be hurt and scarred for life. It has to be exposed because the chance to be healed is here. Your child-self, and your teenage-self want to be loved and they will be so proud of you by the time you finish this series, as you will be your better self!
    Waiting with patience and compassion for more of your posts, :heart:

  • http://onmymind.areavoices.com Qin Tang

    Celes,

    Thanks for sharing your life story. The relationship you had with your parents is not uncommon. As someone who grew up in China, I can understand and relate to the thoughts and feelings you described in some way.

    You are absolutely right that language, generation gap and worldview can cause difficulties in relationships.

    Speaking different languages or dialects as in your case can be problematic. But people can still have problems communicating even speaking the same language.

    It’s a language and also a cultural difference. I can easily say “I love you” to my kids in English, but it’s hard to say it in Chinese. It just doesn’t feel natural. Chinese in general don’t express their feelings so freely as Westerners. My parents and I never say “I love you” to each other, which is more than normal in China, at least in my generation, but I know they love me, in their own way, not the ideal or perfect way as shown on TV.

    As time changes, our needs are different. For my parent’s generation, life was mostly about daily survival and fulfilling the basic needs – food, clothes, shelter, making and saving enough money to provide for those needs. Old habit dies hard. Even though now life is better for them as well, they are still mostly concerned with taking care of those needs. We on the other hand have grown up in the good times and don’t have to worry about life’s basic needs and survival. We have higher needs and desires.

    There is always a gap between what we want in a relationship and what the reality is.

    I am looking forward to your next parts and hearing about your resolution.

    Qin

  • http://www.thereinventiondiva.com Sharon Simpson

    Dear Celes

    Hi, I’n new to your blog and was immediately taken in with your searingly honest account of your relationship with your parents. Like most of the other readers who have left comments I too have had a difficult relationship with my parents, however, as I got older and became a parent myself, I changed.

    Like Julzie, I changed my expectations and got the courage to live my life without my parents in it, that meant without the constant longing for us to be close. I took the focus off what I didn’t have, a close loving relationship with my folks, to what I did (and still do have) – an incredible relationship with my sons and their dad.

    Our parents do the best they can, often when we as adults are old enough we say that what they did wasn’t good enough. Your post comes at a time when my mother and I are beginning to talk again (something I welcome) and I’m looking forward to reading part 3.

    Take care
    Sharon

  • Helen

    I think the second sentence of this post can be edited now… =)