The holidays are upon us and it’s my first holiday season back in Seattle where I can celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year with my family since I left more than 12 years ago.
As with most Asian families, our holidays and celebrations revolve around some aspect of eating. It’s part of our cultural heritage to enjoy each other’s company surrounded by the comfort of food. These family rituals are good because they foster a sense of connectedness, familiarity, safety, and trust.
But in the midst of this holiday cheer, the familiarity of our Asian holiday rituals can also keep us from delving into deeper and more meaningful relationships with our loved ones. I’m calling this my “holiday fear”.
The fear I have is in getting closer to my parents. I’ve had the luxury of being away in the past as an excuse, but now I’m confronted with trying to be as authentic and real as I can while respecting their Chinese heritage. What I mean by this is that I want to be able to express my appreciation to my parents beyond my usual pat response of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” in Cantonese. I’d like to say and do more, even if it means risking myself relationally through possible rejection.
My family (including my brothers) has never had an opportunity to share their true thoughts and feelings with each other. Even though the holidays would appear to be the most appropriate time to do so, we’ve stayed emotionally distant and hidden from each other for more than 30 years.
This is a common complaint and challenge among many of my Asian clients and the younger, immigrant generation. Many young people have never had their parents express an interest in getting to know them. Consequently, some fall prey to gangs, addictions, or unhealthy, abusive relationships.
The biggest struggle I face is not feeling “known” by my parents and not “knowing them”. I wish they could understand my fears, hopes, dreams, and hardships. I equally wish I knew what motivates, inspires, or moves them. They have had to struggle financially for so many years that they may have repressed their thoughts and feelings from not only us but also to their own selves. Now many years later, I have come to terms with this loss of connection with my parents. Still, I want to try my best to give them a glimpse of my heart.
The biggest suggestion to myself and others struggling in this area is to start revealing more to our parents. It is a bit counter-intuitive because we all desire our parents to seek out this information on their own as opposed to us chasing them down. Nevertheless, I think it’s a start. So as a means to build a stronger relationship with them, I just started sharing about what gets me excited. I first told them about my excitement to be back in Seattle and living in the same city as them. I told them how I’m excited to be working at an Asian counseling center and working with students from the Seattle Public School District. I told them I’m excited to start building a private-practice for adults. I also told them I’m excited to be dating again and revealed my hope that I’d like to one day get married and raise a family. All of this was done with the goal that my parents can get to know me without having to ask. For them, asking questions about my life may be too vulnerable for them. For myself, it seems risky to talk about these areas of my life when they didn’t ask for it. Still, I believe it’s my responsibility to take the relational risk and initiate these conversations or we will forever remain stuck in our old patterns of relating based on assumptions and wondering if either side truly cares about the other. The dialogue has started and it must continue if the foundation for emotional intimacy is to grow stronger in the years to come.
To contact Sam Louie, e-mail [email protected] or call (206) 778-2686.
*Disclaimer: “Dr. Sam” is a certified counselor (MA), not a clinical doctor. All views and advice suggested in his columns are meant to be useful and are based on his experiences.