Lessons I learnt from my Asian parents


Asian parenting
Things my typical Asian parents never allowed me to do
Image credit: Jessica Fang

For many of us who’ve been brought up by typical Asian parents, there has always been a resistance to what our parents want for us vs. what we actually want for ourselves. Growing up, I couldn’t wait to be an adult so that I could finally do whatever the heck I wanted. 

But it was only when I moved out of the house, exited my 20s and entered a full-blown adult life, that I realised, maybe my boomer parents weren’t all wrong. 

Millennials are always quick to say that life for boomers was easier in the past, where they could easily buy houses and stay at the same job for 20 years. But that doesn’t mean we don’t share the same growing pains once we curtsy out of being a young adult and debut as someone the young’uns officially refer to as “aunty” and “uncle”. Here’s how I came to that realisation:

Note: Everyone has had a different experience growing up with typical Asian parents, and these may be unique to just me.


1. Not allowing me to have pets on a whim


As someone who has loved animals all my life, I could never understand why my parents always said “no” whenever I begged them for a new puppy or kitten. Their rationale was that pets would be dirty, destructive, and require a ton of care.

It didn’t stop me and my siblings from bringing home a couple of strays that eventually became permanent residents. But I told myself once I moved out, my home would always be open to pets. Turns out, I wasn’t quite ready for that. 

Let me explain how I came to this realisation: During the Circuit Breaker, I volunteered to foster TSL’s resident kitty Pika. She’s adorable and all that, but that doesn’t exempt her from being a true blue cat. That means she vomits hairballs everywhere, poops and pees a lot, sheds copious amounts of fur, and scratches nearly everything

furniture damaged by cat
My favourite ottoman now looks like a shredded potato sack, and my carpet now has remnants of Pika’s stinky regurgitations.
Image credit: Jessica Fang

It’s not that I mind all of this; I’m well aware of what it’s like to own a cat. But it had never hit me just how painful it was to see the slow, real-time destruction of furniture I actually spent hard-earned money on. 

Back home, I didn’t bat an eye when my cats made our old family sofa their regular scratching post. But now that I have my own sofa being sacrificed – not to mention the additional responsibilities and chores involved – I can finally understand my parents’ lack of enthusiasm when it came to bringing more animals home. 


2. Not letting me spend money on whatever I wanted


As kids, many of us were probably guilty of bugging our parents for the latest toys and fads. And one thing Asian parents would’ve had in common, was the automated reflex of saying a soul-crushing “no” each time.

Tamagotchi
No Tamagotchi for me – my parents also didn’t want me to get distracted from my studies.
Image credit: Wikipedia

That was pretty much my life growing up. I could never understand why I was never allowed to have a Gameboy, get Pokemon cards, or go on overseas holidays like some of my peers did. Don’t get wrong – I still appreciated the gifts I got during birthdays and Christmases, but my parents were frustratingly firm on not buying me whatever I wanted on a whim. 

It was only after I entered the working world and started supporting myself that I realised just how challenging it is to sustain a comfortable living. Spending money on luxuries at the drop of a hat would’ve left little room for essentials like bills, food and savings for the future. And now that I look back, my parents had 4 kids to care for and had to prioritise their spending on necessities.

My strict upbringing has inadvertently allowed me to know my #priorities and accumulate a good amount of savings that’ve gotten me through difficult times.


3. Not buying into fake “sick day” excuses


This may be a somewhat controversial topic, but my parents were one of those who never entertained invalid sick days. This meant that, as long as I showed no obvious sick symptoms like a fever or diarrhea, I had to go to school. 

Malaysian school kid in the 1990s
I probably brought this upon myself though. When I was in kindergarten, I used to hate going to school and would feign stomach aches so I could stay at home.
Image credit: Jessica Fang

I later realised that my parents’ instilled this sense of discipline into my siblings and myself, so we wouldn’t develop a habit of skipping out on obligations by using sick days as easy excuses. And it’s something I unknowingly brought with me well into adulthood. 

Disclaimer: Of course, the basic human right of claiming sick days is valid. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, it’s a big wake-up call as to how important it is to take an MC if you need to. 


4. Making visiting extended family mandatory


Growing up, my parents used to force us, rain or shine, to visit my grandparents every single weekend. I used to dread this at times, especially during my university days when I would rather hang out with my friends on my days off.

But regular family time was always prioritised over everything else. I never realised how much I would miss these weekends until I moved away from my hometown, worked at Singapore Airlines, and couldn’t make it back home for special occasions. 

Christmas family picture
Xmas at the Fangs’ is always something I look forward to
Image credit: Jessica Fang

The FOMO is real, and the saying that “distance makes the heart grow fonder” is all too true. And now that my own parents are ageing, it feels that the time I do spend with them is never enough. 

In a weird twist of things, this has made my siblings and I much closer now that most of us have moved out of our parents’ home. And should I have kids of my own in the future, I would probably want them to have a close relationship with my immediate family.


5. Forcing us to do chores 


Household chores
If you were brought up under traditional Asian parents, you would be able to relate to this
Image credit: @thesmartlocalsg

I’ll admit – the only reason why I was able to live on my own with little to no trouble when it came to chores, was thanks to years of “training” from my childhood. 

Whether it was washing dishes, doing laundry, or mopping the floor, chores were a mandatory part of my daily routine when I was a kid. For some extra motivation, my parents would give us stickers to collect every time we completed a chore, so it never really felt like unnecessary work. 

And since I used to love following my mum around, she would take advantage of my loyalty by teaching me a ton of efficient hacks. This ranged from how to iron and fold clothes and mend torn seams, to efficiently mopping the floor and wash dishes. Suffice to say I owe everything I know about housekeeping to her, and she prepared me well for life on my own. 


6. Nagging me about too much screen time 


Being the child of a typical Asian parents, I sure as heck wasn’t spared from bouts of nagging whenever my parents found me slumped in front of the TV. That’s because I used to spend hours playing video games when I was in university. 

My parents would warn me that my eyesight would go bad, and my brain would turn to mush. 

Ps3 video gamesI was deprived of video games when I was in school, so once I started working, I indulged like a kid in a candy store.
Image credit: Jessica Fang

Well, the latter didn’t quite happen, but they were indeed right about my deteriorating eyesight. I never needed glasses as a kid, but due to a mix of genetics and bad habits like lots of screen time and reading in the dark, I eventually had to wear glasses permanently. 


7. Being overly nostalgic about the “good ol’ days”


“Back in my day…” are 4 words that we often hear during conversations with our elders. My younger self used to space out as my dad would reminisce about his kampung childhood while bringing us to his old haunts all over Peninsular Malaysia. 

I admittedly used to find it such a drag, and I couldn’t understand what was so good about a world without mobile phones, video games and the internet. But now that things from my childhood have become obsolete, I’m no different from them. 

Asterix in Belgium
I started a collection of my favourite childhood comics, and I’m darn proud of it.
Image credit: Jessica Fang

Just take a look at the multitude of millennials taking to the internet to reminisce good old childhood memories from the 1990s. We millennials are now finding pretty much every opportunity to talk about amazing things from when we were kids, from creating manual ringtones on old Nokia phones, to our impressive CD collections and treasured discmans.

And yup, the day I caught myself telling a fresh grad colleague, “back in my day, we did it this way…” was the day I realised I am becoming my parents


8. Making me take a ton of health supplements 


Scott’s Emulsion, multivitamins, essence of chicken, and even next-level supplements like powdered chlorophyll – these are ghosts of our childhood’s past. And being the stubborn eater I was growing up, my parents forced a ton of these unto me. 

It was understandable, since every parent would want their children to grow up as healthy as possible. And if health supplements can potentially help with that, it’s easy to see their point of view when it comes to being overly concerned with their child’s health.

Vitamins and supplementsIt didn’t stop with my childhood – even now my parents give me stashes of vitamins when they see me. This is the haul from my last visit home.

Now, we can all attest to the fact that these weren’t magic pills to score those A’s in our exams. But some 20 years later, I now find myself reaching out for vitamins and supplements to stay healthy. Worse still, I’ve caught myself giving unsolicited advice to friends to take more vitamin C and when they say they’re feeling under the weather. 


Why I appreciate everything my typically Asian parents have done for me


Family pictureImage credit: Jessica Fang

I consider myself extremely lucky to have a close relationship with my traditionally Asian parents. But even though we don’t always see eye to eye, entering adulthood has helped me understand their intentions to bring me up as best as they could.

And the funny thing about it is that many of us unknowingly bring over the same values with us, even if we don’t want to admit it. That’s why, amid all the debate on “who’s doing it right”, our elders could sometimes use a break. After all, not too long ago, they were at the same crossroads in life as many of us now find ourselves at.

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