Reconciling with My Immigrant Mother
Words by Miranda Sam
When the going gets tough, people always say, “Mind over matter.” Until this year, I thought this mentality was reserved for the athletic, but it came in handy during the most difficult conversation in my life.
My mom and I had been on rocky terms for well over a decade. I never went through the teenage rebellion phase, instead I always nodded and smiled in agreement, and secretly suppressed my true emotions. I couldn’t speak to her candidly without feeling judgment, yet I felt worse knowing how much she’d done for us.
‘Sacrifice’ could have been her middle name. Every decision my mom made was in the name of her family, a noble adherence to Confucian values. I learned about her sacrifices clandestinely whenever we had a moment by ourselves. She told me that instead of playing with her friends after school, she traded food stamps for groceries and cooked dinner for her younger brothers. When she got accepted as a flight attendant, a prestigious career in Communist China, she dutifully declined under my grandmother’s willful ‘advice’ so she could continue taking care of the family. But the most heart-breaking story I learned was how she gave up a budding romance with a classmate who was smart, sincere, and later turned out to be a doctor. Marrying for love wasn’t an option, but marrying for economics to bring her family overseas was expected.
She had placed all her proverbial eggs in one basket, stashing her hopes, dreams and endless hard work in an investment account hoping for an abundant future return. The investment was her family, namely her children. But as my potential to live up to her high expectations disintegrated, our relationship became toxic. Tensions built up to the point where she didn’t talk to me for months while living under the same roof. Over the years, I fell in and out of depression, blindly ignoring that the source of my pain originated from the one person I trusted most to love and protect me.
The breaking point happened when I planned my wedding, a wedding I never intended to have. I went through with holding a Chinese banquet hoping it might make her happy. Days leading up to the wedding, she requested to add a guest, my aunt’s boss’s friend—a stranger in my eyes—to be seated at my immediate family’s table. In the end, because so much effort was expended on chauffeuring this guest, the opportunity to take a full family portrait was sacrificed.
So I went to see a counselor who specialized in bridging the cultural gap between immigrants and first generation Chinese-Canadians. I told her I wanted her help to communicate my feelings to my mom because my vocabulary wasn’t strong enough. The counselor’s sage response changed everything, “You have the words, you just need the courage.”
My mom called me a few weeks after the wedding. My mind raced as I debated taking the call because I avoided her for so long, though I knew it was now or never. For the first time, I spoke openly and honestly, telling her that my husband and I were upset over her actions. Her response was a forced, “Well, sorry,” then she proceeded to relegate all responsibility to my grandparents: “I didn’t do it, I listened to them!” In that moment I realized even though my mom had been #adulting since age seven, underneath that tough exterior there lived a scared little girl whose sense of self depended on others’ permission and approval.
From that one conversation, I gained confidence to stand up for myself in front of my mom and others, but most importantly to stand up for the relationship I have with myself. I learned to be kind to the little girl inside me, helped her heal, and gave her the support I previously neglected to give her. All along I believed my struggle was against my mom. In reality, my mom had been struggling with herself, and I was just a casualty. All it took was knowing somewhere deep inside I had a source of courage to change my own actions, and that ultimately changed everything.
Maybe the athletes were right; it’s all a matter of the mind.
Marketer by day, writer by night, what Miranda loves best is working with the written word. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, MONTECRISTO Magazine, and VITA Daily. She also runs Style by Fire - a Vancouver fashion events and retail new blog. When not working, she's practicing handstands and trying Vancouver's newest restaurants. Connect with Miranda on Twitter or Instagram - she loves getting to know the H&L community!