When “teaching” your parents backfires

In a parent-child relationship, an obvious power dynamic exists that cannot be ignored: the parent is the dominant one, and the child is the submissive one… or the one who is perceived to be submissive. Unfortunately, as all children grow older and eventually become adults, they will inevitably develop opinions and learn things that do not jive well with their parents, and so disagreements and fights will ensue. The false premise of a lot of these fights is that “your parent knows best,” and while ideally, that would be the case, it is not always the case. This week, Chris and I were talking about family dynamics and why he doesn’t like to tell his mother too much too soon. He didn’t give many details around it, but he simply said that during his adolescent years, they had a strained relationship because of how much information she would always want to extract from him about pretty much everything. I told him that the thing that irks most Asian kids in immigrant households is this stupid idea that, oh, no, you can’t date until you finish college and get a good job, yet when you finally reach that stage, your parents living in their delusions suddenly expect you to immediately be equipped to find The One right away… without any practice in social skills via dating before this.

Chris said he doesn’t think this will be the top of mind concern or pushback for parents of our generation. Instead, he says that the challenge will be something our parents never even had to deal with: the ideas around grasping gender identity and fluidity and how to talk about and address it will likely trump anything around restrictions around dating or who is allowed to come over. That is likely true, but the above concern is still likely to be there. The problem with any and all conflicts that tend to come up between parent and child is when parents assume they know everything and their word is the final word, but they will not even, for a second, hear what their child thinks or get their perspective. In the situation of discussing gender fluidity, don’t *we* have something to learn in that regard? If that is the case, shouldn’t the parents be able to be taught something by the children? Not allowing for a conversation period robs their child of agency, autonomy, and the ability to think freely for herself. It tends to end only in resentment and lingering anger against the parent, not necessarily for the restriction itself, but for the total shutdown or lack of conversation to be had.

When we were discussing this, it reminded me of a conversation I had with my mom as recent as last week when I was walking back from my 16-week scan. I was telling my mom that it went well, and she starts getting mad, angrily saying that I’m exposing the baby to too much radiation and that I shouldn’t be doing so many scans. “You need to be careful! Use your own judgment! When I was pregnant twice, I never had to do any of these scans. Why do you have to do these now?” The question seemed so ludicrous. Ultrasounds were not a normal part of pre-natal visits until well into the 1970s and ’80s, and that also depended on your provider and health insurance coverage. Technology has advanced a LOT in the last 35-45 years since my mother was pregnant with Ed and me. The fact that I even have to call this out to her just seemed ridiculous.

“Technology has evolved a lot,” I tried to explain. “These scans are all routine now; everyone who goes to the doctor for prenatal visits does these.”

“Fine, FINE!” she raised her voice in response. “You do whatever you want! I’m just trying to warn you, but you live your life the way you want. I’m just giving you a suggestion.”

She always does this. Whenever I try to explain anything to her that she doesn’t seem to understand or want to understand, she assumes she has “wisdom” and knows more than I do, and then shuts down the conversation completely by saying, “Do what you want!” It’s impossible to ever share any information with her that even minutely goes against her set-in-stone beliefs, even when they are based on outdated or flat out inaccurate information. In her mind, there’s absolutely no way I would know more than her about anything. This is why parent-child communication breaks down, why parent-child trust and relationships break down. It’s sad, but it doesn’t leave much room for a back and forth, constructive conversation about… well, anything.

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