My favorite part of every weekday is when I get home from work. As soon as I walk in the door, I hear a tiny voice scream, "Mommy, you're home!" Then my 3-year-old gives me the most amazing hug. Then a kiss. Then she grabs my hand and shows me whatever project she did in school. I always say, "I missed you today."
It's so different from my childhood.
My single Korean mother didn't get home from work until after 6 pm, so by the time she walked in the door, I was either doing homework in my room or out playing. If I was home, I'd yell a "Hi Mom!" and she would go into the kitchen to cook dinner. I knew she was tired, so I never bothered her. She rarely said a word.
I love being a mom, but it's profoundly difficult for me. I had to learn it was okay to openly express affection with my daughter. I have never felt like I deserve the overwhelming love she has for me, because I wasn't raised that way.
I love that my mother showed me how to be independent and instilled in me the value of hard work. But she was so focused on being strong that I often felt neglected. I just wanted to be loved by her.
Now that I'm a mother, I often think about how I'll raise my daughter differently than my mother raised me. It's not because I think she was a bad parent. I respect her more than anyone else in the world. I just want to make sure my daughter always feels loved.
1. I want my daughter to know it's okay to say, "I love you."
I don't ever remember my mother saying, "I love you" without me saying it first. I would hear the phrase in my friends' homes in daily conversation, and I thought it was strange.
In Jody Phan's 2016 article "Different Ways Asian Parents Show Their Love," she said her Asian parents never said it to her either. Soon, it became part of who she was, and it wasn't unnatural to not hear it.
I can say the same for me.
I tell my daughter I love her every day. Maybe it's selfish of me because I'm making up for lost "I love you's" my mother never gave me, but I like to think it makes her feel special.
2. I want my daughter to know it's okay to give hugs if she wants to.
The first time I met my best friend's family, everyone gave me a hug. When I tried to let go, they squeezed harder.
I never got random hugs from my mother. We didn't show physical affection.
In Mabel Kwong's 2014 post "When to Hug Someone. And Why Asians Don't Hug," she shares why it's a cultural thing. "In Asian cultures, getting touchy-feely with each other is frowned upon." For some Asians, it's also a way of getting dirty or catching germs, while others are just super aware of personal space.
I give my daughter massive bear hugs. The feeling of her tiny arms wrapped around my neck is something I never want to give up.
3. I want my daughter to know it's okay to have a sense of humor.
When I was younger, I remember sitting on the couch, shaking my leg. My mom said, "In Korea, they say if you shake your leg, you will shake all the luck out of your body."
She laughed loudly, and she never laughed when my brother and I told funny jokes. She was always so serious. In Elena Ruchko's article "Chinese Humor vs American Humor, and How to be Sarcastic," she says it's hard for non-Chinese people to understand Chinese humor because it's deep-rooted in cultural references that can't be translated effectively.
I see how I may not have understood her joke. I'm sure American humor, since English is not her native language, is just as confusing to her.
I make sure my daughter has deep-rooted belly laughs. It's usually when I'm dancing to the Trolls soundtrack. I want her to know laughter is the best medicine.
4. I want my daughter to know it's okay to cry.
The only time I saw my mother cry was by accident. I had walked into her room and she was sitting on the floor, weeping softly into her hands. When she heard me, she sat up and pretended nothing was wrong.
I didn't know how to react, so I walked away. I never brought that moment up because I know she would either deny it or feel embarrassed.
Was refusing to cry part of Asian culture? In Tia Gao's Medium article, "Why Chinese People Don't Cry," she says that for her parents, it was important for immigrants to maintain a positive outlook because "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." And whenever she started to cry, her parents would brush it aside because they had suffered so much in the past.
I think my mother can relate. She had lived through the Korean War. She endured starvation. Both of her parents died when she was young. She married my father and moved to an unfamiliar country, only to raise two children alone.
She didn't have time to cry.
I tell my daughter it's okay to cry. Instead of bottling emotions deep inside, I let her know it takes more strength to let them out.
5. Finally, I want my daughter to know it's okay to talk about mental health.
Years ago, I had what I called my "early-life crisis." I went into a deep depression, was put on medication and started therapy.
I was terrified to tell my mother.
When I finally told her, she reacted how I expected: She refused to believe me. I needed "to get over it." And I felt as if I failed her. She had always been so strong and here I was, so weak. So, I hid my bouts of depression from everyone for years.
But I eventually learned not to be ashamed of my mental health. I also learned I'm not alone.
There's an insightful article by Ryan Tanap titled "Why Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders Don't Go to Therapy." It helped me see my mother's point of view: "There's an underlying fear among the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community that getting mental health treatment means you're 'crazy.' If you admit you need help for your mental health, parents and other family members might experience fear and shame. They may assume that your condition is a result of their poor parenting or a hereditary flaw, and that you're broken because of them."
I don't blame my mother for refusing to believe I needed help. She had always denied her own need for help. But I want my daughter to know there is nothing weak about needing help, and there is immense strength when you finally ask for it.
There is nothing more beautiful or frustrating than being a mom. As much as I say I'm not like my mother, deep down I know I am. So I will take to heart everything I learned from her and try to be a good parent.