Like mother, unlike daughter: a self-care journey on adulthood

I grew up watching my Asian mother relentlessly take care of everyone around her. As a stay-at-home mom, she was always on her feet: prepping and cooking meals, finding items I and my brother misplaced, taking care of us when we were sick, cleaning the house, and doing all the administrative work of being an adult, wife, and mother. 

She never sat down. I always remember her being on her feet doing something, and she’s proud of that.

On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed getting pampered: an occasional massage at the spa, switching up my hair at the salon, spending money on beauty products, and enjoying slow moments. And rather than being on my feet, my favorite spot is our couch. 

It took time for me to grow into adult responsibilities. This growing process coupled with my parents’ differing beliefs and personalities led to tension and misunderstanding.

LAZINESS OR REFUGE?  

The couch is my favorite place in a home, but it’s often deemed the lazy person’s seat. Whether watching a film, applying for jobs, or working on my laptop, I was consistently reprimanded for often being found atop its cushions. But as the weight of pressure from family, myself, and society grew with age, I found myself more frequently visiting the couch as a place of solace.

Asian girl lays across a couch
Photo credit: Kendal’s Instagram

When I was in high school I was given space to focus on my schoolwork, sports, and adolescence. As I grew up, I got more gendered responsibilities. I expected them, but wasn’t ready to accept them yet. 

Post college was especially hard on my household. Emotions were high because I was disappointed that hard work in college didn’t make finding a job easy. On top of that, moving back in with my parents created a toxic environment. I felt I had disappointed them in not becoming independent right after graduating. My parents refused to understand the hardships millennials encountered after college compared to when they were my age.

This made me feel like I was the problem. And on top of figuring out adulthood amidst the tensions in the house, I also had to be on my feet to help with general household work. The expectations were too much for me at the time and I didn’t uphold my parents expectations. This made things worse. 

A healthy headspace was nonexistent and the only thing that gave me refuge was the couch. My only form of self care was when I could lounge on the sofa, but even then, I was scolded for doing so. 

DEFINING PERSONAL VALUES

After moving to New York City by myself, traveling abroad, and meeting new people, I‘ve learned to cope with stress in healthier ways while also balancing the responsibilities of adulthood. Through my experiences, I came back to myself. I overcame feeling guilty about who I am and how I wanted to live. Below are some takeaways from what I’ve learned over the years:

My Productivity Doesn’t Indicate My Value

I am valued and loved for simply existing. The amount of work I accomplish in a day doesn’t make me any more valued or loved than someone who may have “done less.” Being present with others and enjoying “slow-living” is just as meaningful as those who enjoy being busy all the time.

Don’t Make Assumptions 

I don’t know how others feel or why they do what they do unless I ask. Has someone been more productive than I thought? Is there an alternative way to get the result I want from someone? How can I best support and create a space they can thrive in? Don’t make assumptions – communicate with intention and then adjust. 

Don’t Project My Reality and Expectations Onto Others

Lived experiences are going to be different for every person. Mine will be different from my mother’s, my brother’s, my best friend’s, and strangers. It is not my place to discredit or devalue someone else’s experiences or desires. Someone else is not me – so I cannot expect them to react, behave, or believe in the same things I do. How someone chooses to respond to life events and their emotions is their own volition.

Be Open to Conversation

When someone opposes my way of thinking, I’m willing to try to understand and respect their opinion. Am I open to genuinely hearing their thoughts and feelings? To do more research? Am I open to be wrong? These are all questions that I keep in mind when confronting differing viewpoints in a mature manner. The more collaborative a conversation is the less combative it will be.

Spending Habits During Stressful Times Aren’t Always Frivolous 

Spending habits can be a form of therapy to help cope with outside stressors. Getting my hair done to feel more confident, isn’t a waste. If going to the movies or buying a new outfit will improve my mental health, then I fully support spending some money for positive emotional pick-me-ups. 

Implementing Time for Self-care Isn’t Selfish

Time for a workout, to read, or to do a nightly facial routine with our eight different products doesn’t make us selfish. We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. I always try to find a moment in our day to unabashedly do something for myself. By taking some time to do things you enjoy amongst our responsibilities, we’ll be able to sustain ourselves much more than if we didn’t. 

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash
Whatever Makes Us Happy Should Be Present in Our Life

Our soul is fulfilled by what we enjoy; we are drawn to it for a reason. Whether it’s pampering myself with beauty products, playing Animal Crossing for hours, or perfecting Dalgona coffee iterations, I intentionally integrate moments of happiness into my life. These simple things energize, sustain, and inspire me to be a better version of myself. 

Find A Partner Who Shares Similar Values 

My fiance has been critical in pivoting how I choose to structure my life and unlearn self-guilt. We share values of time usage and spending habits which creates less tension in our lives. I’ll often find myself questioning whether I should get a facial or get my hair done and then he’ll be the first to support it. His support has helped unravel the conditioning I’ve learned over the years and teaches me that I am worthy of happiness wherever I identify it.

MATURING AND GIVING BACK

From time to time, I’ll still hear my parents say, “You’re back to your old ways” when I’m on the couch rather than on my feet. But now that I’m older, I’m more proactive. I’ve likely already finished chores or I’ll ask if I can help with any additional work. 

As an adult, I better understand my values. How I want to spend my time and money is up to me. My preference in a slower lifestyle isn’t bad. It’s how I prefer to deal with stress and boost my mood. And likewise, my mother’s fast paced lifestyle isn’t bad; it’s just different.

Nowadays I try to help my mother around the house to make her life easier because I understand the load of responsibilities she carries. By doing so, I hope that she will have more time in the day for self-care. Because at the end of the night, though our self-care routines may differ, (mine being various K-Beauty products, hers being Bag Balm), we’ll both have a moment for ourselves. 

As much as my mother selflessly helped me, I want to give back to her by lightening her load so she can relax more.


Featured image by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

See also: How I forgave my Asian parents, Millennial burnout in quarantine and the mindful way forward with Juno Kim

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