How I forgave my Asian parents

Last year I walked away from a job that I created for myself with a diagnosis of PTSD. 

I am a registered music therapist and yoga teacher and convinced a non-profit organisation working with homeless young people to allocate their resources to me, a self-assured recent grad with an intense passion. 

However, after five years of working in crisis service, I walked away with debilitating back pain, thinning hair, a fear of being out alone at night, a dependency on alcohol to fall asleep, a deep sadness, and PTSD, to name just a few things.

Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

In this tumultuous time, I questioned all of the life decisions that had led me to this poor state of health. Why did I have to pursue music therapy and teaching yoga as viable careers? Why am I doing work that affects me so intensely? 

But more than my self-questioning, I was quick to divert the blame to my parents, the easiest people to point the finger towards.

Why couldn’t they have been more like other Asian Australian parents and pushed me into commerce, law or medicine? Why did they give me so much freedom unlike many of my other Asian Australian peers?

A different upbringing

Unlike many Asian families, my parents moved to Australia for an easier life. Rather than leaving poor economic or political conditions, they left their thriving homeland in search of a more relaxed, Westernised approach to life. 

I was encouraged to adopt the Aussie lifestyle and values. Unlike the common Asian diasporic narrative, I wasn’t pushed to excel at school nor was I expected to find a high paying, stable job. This allowed me to explore music and yoga as both my interests and professions without any form of judgement or disappointment from my parents.

Photo credit: Asami Koike.

But I still grew up within a Japanese family with Japanese values. This meant that there were a lot of unspoken truths and things that weren’t explained to me properly, like the time my divorced father casually told me that he met someone in Japan, who then moved into the house a month later.

This Japanese style of communicating important matters barely made sense to me. This confusion made me think more seriously about what it meant to be a Japanese Australian person.

And I swiftly turned all that confusion into blame towards my parents. 

The blame game

As I found myself unwell with PTSD, I felt that they had let me down by not being stereotypically Asian enough by giving me too much freedom.

This anger quickly seeped into all my conversations with my mother and during one particular conversation, she finally became the Asian mother I had blamed her for not being and said, “I raised you too soft; you’ve become a useless adult”

For the next few months I allowed this to fuel even more anger inside of me. How dare she say that to me when I have PTSD? Why don’t Asian parents understand mental illness? Why do all of us Asian Australian kids have to put up with parents who say things like this? And on and on it went. 

Even though I had first blamed her for being too Western and allowing me to have too much freedom to pursue my creative careers, the moment I could fault her for saying something that so many Asian kids hear, I blamed her for being too Eastern.

Finding forgiveness through a balanced perspective

As I slowly started to go through my healing and recovery process through a combination of EMDR, yoga, and acupuncture, my perspective slowly changed.

I started to understand who I am: a Japanese Australian, first generation immigrant. A person who will never be Australian enough, never be Japanese enough, and instead, exist in the middle of the two cultures.

asian australians smiling and holding australian flag
Photo Credit: Eureka Street.

Likewise, I was parented the same way. My parents raised me based on both Eastern values and Western values. Therefore, I needed to understand and embrace my parents in the same bi-cultural framework. 

When I view my parents through a Westernised lens, I can only see where they’ve fallen short: they don’t communicate with me openly enough, aren’t not warm and gentle enough, and don’t want to sit with me when I’m sad.

When I view my parents through an Eastern lens, again, I can only see shortcomings: they didn’t push me to learn the Japanese language, didn’t teach me about patience, and gave me too much freedom which confused me as a teenager.

But when I view my parents through a bi-cultural lens, a different story emerges.

A perspective shift towards forgiveness

I can see that they’ve prioritised my wellbeing in their decision making process and that they never imposed any archaic values on me. I can see that they never expected anything from me as a woman. And I can see that they allowed me to pursue my creative outlets in depth while also deeply imprinting the values of being respectful, punctual, organized, and hardworking.

Black and white thinking, which is common during times of mental distress, simplifies parents to being too “Asian” or too “white”. By shifting perspective, it’s possible to see that instead, maybe Asian parents are trying to free their children from the constraints of what they know while still holding onto the good parts of it.

After all, no parent is perfect. Even the most self-aware and affectionate parent manages to create problems for their kids. And when the children are raised in a culture different from the parents, there is more potential for confusion and blame.

But by doing the painful inner work to understand myself and where my strengths lie as a person between two worlds, I have been able to forgive my parents.

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