The Recipe for Loving My Chinese Parents

The recipe for loving my parents is complex. It is the product of countless mental notes from years of trial and error and several mishaps. The golden step to avoid getting scalded, you ask? Greasing your pan with several layers of patience.


The recipe for loving my parents is complex. It is the product of countless mental notes from years of trial and error and several mishaps. The golden step to avoid getting scalded, you ask? Greasing your pan with several layers of patience.

Working on this recipe evokes familiar emotions from tackling math problems when I was 12: confusion, short-lived enlightenment, false hope and occasionally, the delight that comes from a rare occurrence of solving a question right.

My relationship with my parents can be best understood when compared to my tumultuous experiences with arcade racing games. The cyclic, three-step process of careful navigation, occasional bursts of joy followed by waves of inevitable frustration, encapsulates my arduous attempts at communicating with my parents. These games serve as brutal reminders that I am not the racing champion I believe myself to be. Grating screeches of tires on metal remind me that any confidence mustered is unfortunately misplaced. Similarly, when it comes to interacting with my parents, I am often thrown off by unexpected setbacks despite having slowly gained their trust.

Nevertheless, fleeting in-game moments when the animated car cruises steadily past the glittering skyline of a randomised city spur me to try again- because who knows, I might just win in the next round! Such situations tease you with the promise of a different (read: ideal) outcome in exchange for diving back into them. The same can be said for the countless instances I attempt to get through to my parents.

This volatile dynamic with my parents often feels missing from the conventional representation of Asian parents in popular media. The memes littered across the subtle asian traits Facebook group, for instance, while certainly relatable, often lack a nuanced portrayal of the struggles of learning to love them. The struggles of embracing all that they are; their loving homecooked meals, but also their incessant worrying. 

My parents’ love for me is rough and clumsy. If I rush past it in a hurry, chances are I end up with paper cuts. I am often stung by the double-edged nature of their affection. Their best intentions are served with a side of frequent hovering over me. Their library of reminders, while built on concern, is filled with regurgitated phrases. Eventually, their actions, motivated by parental love, wear me out.

I am not, however, completely clueless to the mechanics of their parenting. Their love hinges on primal instincts- the same instincts that govern their reactions to how much I flirt with the boundaries of my curfew. Their love is dictated by constant surges of fear and worry about my safety.

Hence, when their love is camouflaged, decoding it is a lot like putting together scrambled puzzle pieces. It demands attention to a language I am unaccustomed to- little acts of service which are routinely performed, yet often go unnoticed.

My mother, for instance, might have never explicitly said “I love you” , but her love reverberates through her actions. The various notes scribbled on the back of scrap paper (“remember mask”, or, my personal favourite, “be careful soup!!”). The endearing attempts to remember my favourites, evident from the smugness she does not bother concealing when I order a mango pudding at restaurants. (“Don’t you know? This is Crystal’s favourite dessert.” - a conversation between my parents where my mother proudly claims presidency of my fan club).

Her love for me conceals itself in actions contradicting her words. She recoils in disgust after glancing at my mess of a bedroom. When I get home from a sleepover, however, I am greeted with fresh bedsheets and slippers placed neatly at the edge of my bed. She shakes her head as she recalls exactly how disgusting my room was (to the point she felt like puking!, she exclaims), all while beaming cheerfully.

Often, malicious vines of passive-aggressive attitudes shroud deep-rooted concern. My father’s curt, clipped tone as he reminds me for the hundredth time that I will suffer health consequences if I don’t sufficiently heat up my lunch really translates to: “Please take better care of yourself so you won’t be sick when you get older.” Here, concern is buried under frustration.

Being able to decipher what my parents really mean, sadly, doesn’t indicate complete acceptance. Empathy fills me when I realise that my parents are simply trying their best. They try their best with piecemeal scraps from parenting books, from previous experience as young parents raising my older brother. Yet, this knowledge can’t eradicate the looming sense of being restricted, even more so as I enter my twenties.

However, realising the convoluted nature of my parents’ affection made everything click: this is the only way they know how to love. The relentless nagging, their distaste towards me staying out late, their hesitance to come to terms with me growing up is the only form of parenting they understand. I let this stay with me, as a way of relieving much of the frustration that I had. At times, it feels too much like acquiescence, as if I’m invalidating my own feelings of weariness. Ultimately, it is not a form of justification that eases all wounds, but a gentle reminder that allows me to empathise.

I am still perfecting the recipe on loving my parents. Currently, three tablespoons of communicating boundaries and two ounces of appreciating their efforts in raising me seem to work best. Add in a pinch of remembering to protect my personal space and whisk, and there you go! A decent recipe to preserve for generations to come.

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