Friday, February 7, 2014

What are parents for?

What would you ask your parents to do for you? What wouldn't you ask them to do? Do you worry about burdening them? About asking too much?

The last whole family picture (minus sister-in-law and nephew) taken in China

Being in the US living with my family has shed light on a major area of cultural difference between how my wife and I view our relationships to our parents, and if I be so bold, between Americans and Chinese in general. It is a clear division between collectivist and individualist thinking. It causes me not a little tension.

Since we've been in the US, we've had to ask Liao Sha's mother and father to help us do numerous things back in Changsha. Some of these things have required them to spend money. All of them have required expenditures of time. One day I expressed that I feel bad that we're here but still bothering them so much, that we're still interfering in their lives. Liao Sha looked at me and said, "We don't think like that. Parents are the only people we never have to worry about bothering."

I don't think like that here with my family. I am constantly doing chores so as to "do my fair share." We make sure to buy enough vegetables and whatnot so that everyone can eat, figuring (a) it's the least we can do given that we're not paying rent and are interfering with their daily lives, and (b) it's a way of "pulling our own weight". Whereas if in Changsha, we'd be training Amos to comfort himself to sleep, we don't dare do so here for fear of bothering everyone.

Do you see the contrast? Raised in an individualist, highly independence-minded culture, living with my parents is embarrassing enough without causing extra strain on them. Thus, I worry about being a burden. Raised in a collectivist, community-minded culture, living with parents would be completely normal, and asking parents for help is 理所当然, a matter of course. Thus, Liao Sha lives at complete ease, never worrying about being a burden to her family.

What do I want my sons to know? How do I want my sons to think about Liao Sha and me when they grow up? I imagine the healthiest of views is somewhere in the middle, but how do we get there?

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