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Am I a "Bad Child?"

Moving Out vs. Filial Piety

From Texas to California, I had moved 1,922 miles away from my parents. When I first moved out, I had at least 1,922 things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see. I didn’t just want to have a future, I wanted to be a part of building it. So when the time came, it felt right to leave home. It was my life, and I had my checklist of adventures ready in my notebook.

So why did I feel guilt?

Life was not always easy as an only child, neither at my parents’ home nor on my own. My mother frequently reminded me of filial piety, the virtue of respect for parents and elders. Subsequently, as the only child, I was expected to obey and had many self-imposed expectations to please and honor my parents and extended family. All of my parents’ wishes for a better life were on my shoulders. Emblazoned in my memory are stories of my father’s boat refugee escape from Vietnam and my mother’s sacrifice of her college education. I could not share this burden with siblings.

My guilt mostly stemmed from knowing my parents would experience many challenges while I was not living with them -- from reading important documents, listening to the menu of keypad options on customer service hotlines, going to the doctor when one of them is sick, learning how to use a smartphone, and more. And without any siblings, they wouldn’t have anyone else to rely on, other than friends and neighbors. Emotionally, my absence would bring my parents much sadness and longing. It would try their patience and unconditional love. My sense of filial piety made me feel selfish for leaving home. I felt like I had let my parents down and that I was a “bad child.”

I felt like I had let my parents down and that I was a “bad child.”​

But when I look back on these eight years, I’m proud of my parents and how much they’ve grown. They’ve shown me how to grasp onto the love of life, embrace empty-nest syndrome, and create a new life for themselves. Honestly, they have more late Saturday nights with their friends than I do. Finding more comfort with adventure and openness, my parents have loosened up more than when they were raising me. They even tell jokes and practice sarcasm now… They have nurtured the courage to show me how human they are. And that makes me proud to be their daughter.

What does it mean to be a “good child” in 2018?

During these eight years, the most significant lesson that my parents and I have learned has been the changing definition of the “good child” and modern filial piety.

This is probably a familiar Asian American story. My parents’ generation was taught that to be a “good child” meant you would follow your parents’ wishes, work in the family business, and care for the elders in a multigenerational household. For our generation, the American culture and the forces of globalization call for a modern definition of filial piety. We even see this push-and-pull in Crazy Rich Asians’ male lead, Nick Young, as he tries to pick between following his family’s wishes for him to fulfill his duty as a son and following the love of his life.

broken image

In 2018, a “good child” is one who can be independent of the parental household, make their own living, find a nice partner and start a family, and care for their elders when they can. Modern filial piety recognizes that children may have to move to pursue successful career paths, and it’s not a sign of disrespect to the parents. Having a long distance relationship with the family means calling home at least once a week using FaceTime and sending family care packages on occasion. Even when it’s hard for the elders to accept, a “good child” offers to help out financially if necessary and encourages them to do what they want when they retire.

I love both of my parents dearly and together, we practice accepting this new definition of a “good child” every day. Being so far away from home can be hard on all of us, and I am proud that all of our relationships have become stronger throughout these years.

Humans who inspire me:

  • Julia Hong
  • Stefani Hong
  • Pretty much the entire Hong (maternal) family
  • My parents


[1] Crazy Rich Asians photo from Brit+Co