(L to R My two sisters, me, and my giving and loving mom)
I think we’ve all heard the idea that no matter how much we fight it, we all somehow develop a part of our mothers or fathers in us through the years. Whether it be the way we speak, act, or our habits, it permeates on a subconscious level. It may start early, or it may emerge later in life—but sooner or later, it does.
Growing up, I was definitely a different kind of child. At a young age, I was outspoken, had the most insanely creative imagination, I was anti-conformist, and I knew how to get what I wanted, when I wanted. I dreamed very big at a very young age. I was a tough little kid, and I always felt like I’d never meet another person like myself. I always knew I was very different.
Personality wise, my mother was not so much like me. She was soft around the edges, not terribly opinionated, conventional, had the tendency to nag excessively, and for some reason, she really cared about what everyone thought. You could easily say this about most Asian mothers, but for me, the idea of this way of thinking was completely absurd. “Why do you care so much about what others think mom?!”, I would tell her. She never really had an answer. My mom was a very giving person—to her own detriment. She would always put everyone’s happiness before herself—even if it made her mad or unhappy. Part of it was because perhaps she cared too much about what people thought. The other part was because she genuinely had the biggest heart. She never talked about the great things she did. She did them quietly. When my mom went through tough times, she put all her energy into helping others. She taught Vietnamese and volunteered in the kitchen at the Buddhist temple. She poured all her energy, love, and money into making her daughters happy. To this day, I will come home to visit, and she will treat me like a princess. Seriously. If I asked for a gold crown, she would ask me, “What size? Do you want it to be diamond encrusted?”. The people she loved came before her because they mattered the most. Always.
As amazing and giving as she was, I still felt like my mom cared too much about what people thought. She would drive me completely crazy up until the point when I moved out. I believed she was a slave to others’ opinions—and to me that was the most horrific thing because it was like living in your own prison, and the idea of not being free from that was unthinkable to me. In addition, I didn’t understand my mom’s sacrificial and giving ways. “Mom, you need to make yourself happy!” “Who cares what they think mom! Put yourself first!” Because I was so different and such an independent thinker, I vowed to never be like my mother. It just seemed too much like self subjected torture.
When I started to hit my mid to late twenties, I thought about what I vowed to myself in my teenage years. Thankfully, I never became a nag, I maintained my creative and fiercely independent way of thinking, and to hell with what everyone thought of me. I had made it to being a young woman, and not having turned into my mother. Victory. That is…until bits and pieces of my mother started to run through my blood.
I learned that I started to sacrifice my own happiness or needs to make others happy. Anything I had, I would give away to friends or family, and not think twice or expect anything back. No one owed me a dollar, a favor, or a thank you. “Do you like this dress? Take it, I’d probably never wear it anyway.” “Are you short of money for groceries? Here, let me send you some money.” “Do you need a car? Take mine.” (I seriously gave my sister my car after I left Houston for New York. When friends wanted to start their own businesses, I offered to help design their websites or logo. I would go out of my way to send them links, information, and advice from my personal experience. Then I would check up on them to see how well they’ve been doing. They felt indebted. I felt their gratitude was unnecessary. The only time I seriously ever put myself first was when I made the decision to move to New York to make a name for myself and start my career.
One day, very recently, it hit me. I was turning into my mother. I sat there and looked at my life, and realized how much of her was in me. But because I had such a tough persona, it was never truly apparent to me. Then I realized that developing a part of my mom in me wasn’t so bad after all. I am still myself—crazy, creative, independent, non-comformist. However, the genuinely giving and unselfish parts of my mother run deep within me. I wouldn’t think twice about giving someone the clothes off my back if they needed it. It wouldn’t even be a discussion. “Here. Take it”.
So at 31, I learned this: as much as my mom gives to me financially and materially (to this day still), this small part of my character that she passed along to me is the best gift ever. I’m not saying that you should put everyone’s needs and wants above yourself 100% percent of the time, but if it makes someone feel good and happy, what’s so bad about that? So when you start to think about how much you don’t want to turn out like your parents, you should feel blessed that sometimes you do.