Kai Xin (00:08):
Yeah, I’m gonna record another episode with just both of us chit-chatting on the topic of expectations versus reality regarding filial piety. So, Cheryl, you chose this topic, can you explain why?
Sure, this topic is something that’s super close to my heart. Because I think in my own experience, and also listening to a lot of my friends, as we navigate adulthood, it’s very common that there is increasing tension between what our parents want for us, versus what we ourselves want for ourselves to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life. So I’d like to just learn from you and have a conversation to understand, how has your relationship been with your parents? How have you navigated this sort of tension yourself? Because I know, you have taken a lot of very unconventional paths that perhaps is different from the Asian parent expectations. So yeah, I think there’s a lot to learn from you.
Kai Xin (00:58)
Yeah, I’m also quite curious to learn from you how you’re such a good relationship with your mother because I do notice that both of you are really close, and you do share quite deep topics. Cheryl just rolled her eyes, even though it might not be captured on camera. So yeah, I think there’s a lot that we can learn from each other. And I do think that this is a topic that is very much needed, especially in the Asian context, some of our Asian parents might feel that all this Western influence and media, you know, now our children “chi pang zhang ying” which means in Chinese, like little birds who have their wings grown to become stronger, and they want to fly and have their own independence. And parents can get very bitter and sour about it. So we’re gonna unpack all of that, and how to navigate those conversations. So I would like to start off here with a question. Cheryl, do you think that you’re a filial child?
I think that’s a super funny question because it’s almost that if I say, “Yes”, I’m patting myself on the shoulders, and it feels like very thick skin. But if I say “no”, I can really imagine my mom taking a slipper and throw at me.
Okay, so I will try to be as realistic as possible in terms of how I can answer. I think, yes, but not enough. So the reason I say that is because, yes, I am very expressive to my parents, especially my mom, I let her know that I love her, I call her and express love through quality time, and like just giving them surprises in terms of gifts, or just some sending some money for them to spend in Malaysia. And the reason I say not enough is because I feel like I don’t follow every single advice that my mom gives me. And sometimes I just one ear in, one ear out. That frustrates her as well. So yeah, I think yeah, yes, but not enough.
Kai Xin (03:01):
You’re not the only child that defies parents nagging. Yeah, I hear you. I think for me, filial piety, we need to unpack these two words first, because, from your definition, it seems like expressing true love and heeding advice. And those are definitely two things that I don’t do. But I don’t think that I’m an unfilial child. In fact, I do feel that as much as I can I care for my parents.
Kai Xin (03:25):
So I think in the Asian context, if I were to go via the books that filial piety, like Confucius say, is to respect your parents, it means where you cannot disobey them, then it’s a bit tough, because I do see a lot of very contradicting views I have with my parents as I grew up, but I’m not rude to them. So in the past, before I learned the Dhamma, I would raise my voice, I get very impatient. But now I think I learned to respect that they have their own views, but I can also have mine and still have a very decent human conversation gentle in my speech and actions and support them in other ways, like time, running errands, helping them to, you know, book, their health checkups, or ensuring that they know you know how to navigate around Singapore now that they’re retired, etc. So I think materially, I am filial in terms of time, care, and concern. I also try my best even though like you said, it’s also not enough.
It is interesting that you earlier started by saying that you are not expressive like I am, but I think what you just described is the complete opposite, right? You do express love by running errands for them, you do express your care by taking care of them as well, bringing them to doctors and things like that. So just wanted to call that out and I just wanted to see why didn’t you say that you don’t really express much. Do you mean expressive in terms of words of affirmation?
Kai Xin (05:04):
Yeah, I guess when people express love, I am thinking in line with like you, you tell your parents how much you love them, and then you maybe show them physical affection. You hug them. I never hug my parents. I think it’s just really weird. And I don’t say I love you, Mommy. I love you, Daddy. It just feels weird. Yeah, so I think it’s a very different love language. And in some people’s eyes, it would seem a little bit cold. But that’s how we communicate.
Yeah, yeah, that’s super interesting that you mentioned. I think what you feel weird is what I do on a day-to-day basis. So yeah, definitely to each their own, and it depends on how we are actually conditioned, and upbringing as well. So how would you describe your relationship with your parents now?
How has it evolved?
Kai Xin (05:50):
I struggle to define it. Because, yeah, there are so many aspects, I feel like my relationship with my parents is one that care is shown through actions. Because growing up my parents, I mean, in terms of physical time, my dad is not around most of the time because of work. So he and my mom work at a shophouse very hard labour and it’s in those kinds of industrial estate, where you have to deal with mosquitoes, etc. So long days, and long hours, and my mom would help to run errands for me to school, etc. And that’s how I know she’s sacrificing and she’s loving me. And I think that carried with me through adulthood. And that’s also how I show care for other people. And I think growing up, we never really connected on a deep level, like we won’t share our deepest darkest secrets or our day. It’s just like, okay, yeah, I have friends, my mom knows my friends, my dad doesn’t know my friends. He doesn’t know a lot of things. I think it’s just the mother as a figure who knows the ins and outs. And I never really see them as kind of, yeah, people that I can go to for troubles because I feel like that would just worry them more. Yeah, so I think there are quite a few aspects. But my relationship with my parents has taught me to be more independent. And also to rely quite a lot on me.
Yeah, I think your father from what you describe is really like the typical Asian father stereotype, almost. They’re cold, they don’t really express their love. But you know, they love you from afar, kind of father.
Kai Xin (07:30):
And then he goes buy food for me, then I know he cares for me.
Nice. And then your mother is the type where you can really see through her hard labour as well. And that’s how, you know, she’s, in a way sacrificing for the family and sacrificing for your well-being as well.
Kai Xin (07:45):
Yeah, that’s correct. And I don’t think it has changed. I think it’s just my mannerism around them has changed a bit. And now I would have deeper conversations with them. As an adult, I can talk to my dad about politics about worldviews. I can discuss Dhamma with my mum, and I try to also listen to some of her worries so that she has somebody to turn to. I think as a child, I didn’t really have those tools in order to support her. Yeah. How about yourself?
My relationship with my parents has changed a lot. I think, when I was younger, obviously, the dynamic is very much more parent-to-child dynamics. And now I would say it’s more peer-to-peer. And I think there was a time in my life when I moved to Singapore for school, and I was bullied. And somehow because my mum was the type that constantly gets worried or anxious, so her default is to nag at me whenever there was anything negative. So I started to learn that telling her anything negative resulted in me getting more nagging, which is unhelpful to my situation. So I kind of clamped up and did not tell her that I was being bullied, I was just pretending that everything was fine. So in doing that, our relationship became very superficial. So it’s kind of like, how are you? Good. What happened in your day? Nothing, fine. So it was kind of a very awkward situation. And obviously, it made us feel a little bit distant as well. There were no explosive arguments, I was just in this really pretentious environment, and I didn’t see my mom, as a friend or someone to that I could open up to during that time of my life. But then what happened, that change our relationship for the better was when I started coming out to them. And I think because we held very different views about that. It kind of forced us to see common ground in order for our relationship to repair.
It forced her to see my pain and it forced me to see her pain as well. So then we started opening our hearts and started sharing our fears, sharing our concerns, and I think, at this point, we are in a very good relationship where I feel like she’s my friend, I can tell her anything. And at the same time, I can also be a peer in terms of supporting her in her spiritual growth. So I think it has blossomed from a parent-child tense relationship to a very equal and loving relationship.
Kai Xin (10:24):
Wow, that’s, that’s great. And it’s also very interesting because I don’t think everybody would go through the same journey as you right? Especially coming out. It’s such a, it’s such a difficult thing number one, and I can imagine how the Asian family values and coming out are quite opposing, and you manage to come to a beautiful outcome. How do you even get past that because I know friends, they would just cold war with their parents, and they will cut off ties. So there must be something you and your mom did well, to have what you have today.
I think it’s not easy, and it has definitely gone through many years of rocky and angry conflict moments. But then I think, after letting the anger or the conflicts or the attachment to “I am right, my view is right, you are wrong,” simmer away, what we realise is that actually, our bond is more precious than any of the views that we have. So from that, the mutual curiosity to understand each other in terms of not just what views my mum hold, or what views I hold, but rather, how we feel as human beings, what are our pains that we experienced? What are the difficulties of me coming out as an LGBT person in the world, right? Like, what are the sufferings I’m going to experience and her seeing me from that perspective, rather than you are this perception, or you’re this label, and of course, for me is to see her as not just a mother that doesn’t accept me or a mother that opposes me. But rather to understand the anxiety that she has, because of the fear she has been inculcated by her conditionings of her generation. So it’s not easy, but I think it’s just realising what is the most important thing that you have with your bond as a mother and daughter, which is that it is something that you can never replace, or can never find. That it is truly unconditional. So from there you, you start to find common grounds to make it work.
Kai Xin (12:36):
You mentioned a couple of things curiosity, and understanding their point of view, right? Rather than saying, I’m right, or you’re wrong. Is that a tipping point? Or like an instance where both of you realised it? Or is it more of like a gradual accumulated experience kind of thing,
Definitely a process so it’s gradual, I think everyone tries different ways before they can reach a happy outcome like this. And for my mom and I, it’s definitely trying anger, noticing that it doesn’t work. Trying hatred, noticing hatred doesn’t work, or just trying distance, right, coldness. And notice that it doesn’t work as well. And then we are left with nothing else. So then we have to try acceptance and see how that works. And it turns out well and is the force that melts all the unhappiness away. But yeah, enough about me. You are quite a rebel yourself, you know, not going to university. And now moving out as well. Like even though you are Singaporean. For the context of our listeners, Kai Xin is renting a place rather than living with her parents.
Kai Xin (13:48):
And also context I’m not married. So it is quite, quite unique or abnormal.
Yeah, so Kai Xin has made some really different choices. So how do you navigate all these conversations with your parents? Or were there any conflicts that happened as a result of what you wanted for yourself?
Kai Xin (14:06):
I’m pretty conflict-averse. So I guess it’s not really like screaming matches kind of conflicts, but just a lot of heated debate, trying to get my parents to understand my point of view. I’ll quote a couple of examples. First, it’s more related to the university, I did not take on the conventional path. So I stopped studying after Polytechnic and set up my own business with my business partner. And of course, parents are worried, I know where they’re coming from. So there were a lot of conversations trying to understand their point of view, and also trying to get them to see my point of view. And I think, once I was able to understand the underlying real concern, for example, they really just want me to be stable. And that it seems really risky, so they are concerned about my welfare. Do I have a future? You know, if I start my own business? Would I be bullied by society, you know, the society is yeah, kind of vicious in certain people’s minds and eyes. So I think, once I’m able to see their point of view, and then have a counterargument, and most importantly I myself have to be very firm about why this is the best choice for me. After weighing the pros and cons, then I think we can have a human discussion. And what next is, I think it’s always baby steps, I would usually be quite stubborn, I will do first and then ask for forgiveness. So even though they keep nagging, they would know I would not change my mind, if I already have my mind set on something.
Do First, ask for forgiveness later.
Kai Xin (15:49):
Of course, I do it in a way to not like not in a way that inflicts harm on them and not be a burden, I think that’s very important. Otherwise, it would be irresponsible of me. So I take care of myself well and then moving forward, I earn a decent income, and then I start giving them an allowance. They know not only can I take care of myself, but now I have the ability to care for them. And then just keep sharing, you know what clients I have, then the names of my clients can keep getting bigger and bigger to household names. And I think that’s where they have some form of certainty. And I think it always boils down to money. My parents, especially my dad worried that I don’t have enough money to fend for myself to retire because they have been through a really tough life. And he doesn’t want me to suffer, in a material sense. Yeah, so moving out was the same thing as well, because in his mind, it’s like rental, it’s expensive. And it is a negative in your accounts, right? But then I have to counter to say that, hey, actually, I’m investing and my investment is covering for my rent, don’t have to worry, in fact, I have a surplus and I still have balance. So I think giving examples and assurance and while still supporting them, kind of allay some fears. And, of course, what I noticed is like getting them to see my point of view is not an overnight thing. And I just have to be patient, and keep reassuring them like now moving out. I think I feel guilty that I’m not a good enough child. I feel like I’ve abandoned them in some ways, then how can I make up for it is by just making sure ideally, every weekend, I would spend time with them within my own capacity. Yeah, of course, I feel like I can still do more. It’s never enough. Yeah, like the Buddha say, you can never really repay your parents, even the, like, they defecate on you, you carry them on your shoulders for 100 years, it’s still not enough. So bits and pieces through actions, then they would come around and say yeah, actually, my daughter she’s capable, don’t have to worry too much.
I think it’s very wise of you to be able to see through the ask from the superficial value, right? Instead of taking it as an instruction, you try to understand what’s behind that and what’s their intention behind wanting you to do certain things. And once you recognise that you can try to convince them through your sharing your successes by convincing them and persuading them that you can actually make a life of yourself and they don’t have to worry that you will have to eat sand every day.
Yeah, and I think it’s very similar. Although we have very different dynamics with our parents, the common theme that we have here is patience. Any sort of change, or any sort of maturity in the relationship always requires patience over and over again to just build that trust. Because after all, I think parents as much as we see them as Gods when we were young, they are the feeder, they know everything, they know how to fix these problems here and there. They’re also after all, these humans learning for the first time how to parent a child for the first, second, or third time. There’s no textbook or handbook out there on the best, or incorrect way. So they’re just really doing their best.
Kai Xin (19:16):
Yeah. And I think it’s so important to find that balance also. Because sometimes we really don’t want to anger our parents, and we can give them too much such that it compromise our own well being. And that’s another scenario where we are too defiant we want things our way and it becomes very hurtful, and then we stop seeing the underlying care and concern that they have to, like you say come to a common ground. So I think it’s so important to recognise when do we stay firm because we know this is what’s beneficial for our well-being. And then when do we keep our minds open to say, hey, actually, our parents can be right because they have lived life for so many years. And with years of experience. The majority of the time, they would have seen more. And they would also have wisdom to share. Yeah.
Kai Xin ( 20:09):
I’m not sure about you. But now I noticed, like our generation, because we’re so well connected right with the Internet. And with so much information from all over the world, there is a tendency to feel that we know better than our parents. Have you ever felt that way?
Cheryl ( 20:22):
Yeah, definitely. In terms of finance, I feel like I read so much more, my mother’s too risk-averse. Maybe if I try this new thing, or try that new thing, I will know it better. But then after consulting her, I realised, hey, actually her years of experience dealing with assets and all that is actually so much more valuable. And I would benefit in keeping an open mind to learning from them.
Kai Xin (20:46):
Yeah, I think it’s so give the benefit of the doubt, right? My parents, I don’t feel like they are the most financially savvy, it’s rare, traditional exchange time for money work very hard. And it kind of puzzles my dad, especially when I can go away for one month for retreats and like what’s happening to your business, do you still have money to earn, etc. And not exchanging time for money. It’s just a foreign concept, or it’s not familiar. And I think while there are a lot of ways sometimes, especially before I learned the Dhamma, I feel like I know better. I think it stems from a face of ego. And that’s where the argument begins, right? It’s like, Ah, I know better, and you don’t know anything. And sometimes I think it’s so bad of me to belittle them just because I feel that I’m more educated, it becomes disrespectful. Yeah. So I think sometimes I also have to take a humble pie to say, growing up, I caused a lot of hurt for my parents. And now it’s my time to stand my ground, but also be open to using questions and understanding their point of view.
There’s this Malay proverb that parents usually when they want to nag you, they will always say, the amount of salt that you eat, is less than the amount of rice that
Kai Xin ( 22:01):
Chinese also have.
I’m also actually very curious about something that you mentioned just now, which is that sometimes you can tip into certain points where you just follow your parents, and as a result of pleasing them, you suffer a lot. Have you had any examples like that before?
Kai Xin (22:21):
Oh, no. I’m such a stubborn child. So I think my, my parents suffer from my stubbornness. I would say, I’m very blessed to have my parents because I know friends who have very strict parents, like Tiger Mom, you must be a lawyer, you must be a doctor, and they have a certain roadmaps set up for the kids. My parents just really want their kids to be well and do well in society. Have a decent income, can fend for themselves, help them financially when they grow older, etc. So I think, because they don’t ask very much of me, there is very little that I could kind of go against them. It’s just regarding conventional pathway. I think that’s where it becomes a little bit tricky. Yeah. So besides going home at a certain time curfew, I can’t think of any other examples where.
That’s interesting. I thought I was very much like you, because my mom doesn’t really ask too much of me, maybe just, you know, study when I need to study. And she doesn’t put too much pressure on my grades. My friends have crazy parents. Inverted commas disclaimer, not labelling anyone’s parents as properly crazy, but like a lot of them are maybe much stricter in terms of controlling curfew, not allowing them to go overseas and things like that. But my mother is really chill. So this is what I discovered during a therapy session, actually, was that somehow, somewhere I inherited this view that I need to be a perfect child, to my mom. And so although it’s not explicit expectations that my mom set on me, I just somehow had a lot of implicit conversations, implicit expectations that I felt I had to fulfil, if not, I’m not up to par as a good child. And obviously, the result of that was a lot of anxiety, the result of that was a lot of kind of repression as well. So therapy helped me to uncover that.
There are two layers of expectations, a lot of it, the explicit is, what they say what they nag you to do or not do. And the implicit comes from a lot of the things that you pick up just by observing their reactions to things or their kind of emotional responses to when you do certain things. And then from there, obviously, I had to learn to say, “What are some things that is a must have? What are some things that is good to have?” And from there, I was able to learn how to establish a lot more individualism and independence in terms of who Cheryl Cheah is as a person, rather than as a daughter.
Kai Xin (25:20):
Interesting. So you’re saying that through the nagging, and sometimes maybe conversations you feel like you’re not living up to send it as an ideal child? Like, how do you pick up the definition of what’s a good child and come to realise or internalise that you don’t fit that definition.
I think it’s a lot of things that you don’t hear it being said explicitly. It’s about noticing how my mother reacts when some someone else in the family disappoints her, or how my mother react perhaps in anger, when things don’t go her way. So the things I absorbed and, and kind of turn it into an inner narrative on what I should do, what I should not do, etc? Or what lines I should or should not cross.
Kai Xin (26:06):
And what’s your current definition of what is a good child?
Kai Xin (26:09):
I think it simply boils down to as long as I don’t hurt myself, and I don’t hurt anyone. And I think that is being a good person. And by extension, that becomes a good child. Because I understand that what parents want is really that their child is a good person, happy person. And is well.
Kai Xin (26:29):
Have you ever felt guilty about not doing enough?
Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes, especially when I think about the transience of life where you don’t know when exactly your parents may just pass away. And that whether the last time you talked to them could be the actual last time. So sometimes, no matter how restless or how annoyed I feel at them, I feel like I should always end every call by explicitly telling them that I love them. Because I don’t know if the next time I call them they whether they will answer or not.
Kai Xin (27:00):
I really need to learn from you how to be expressive, when it comes to love.
Cheryl ( 27:06):
Yeah,you can start with Thank you. You don’t have to say I love you if it feels icky.
Kai Xin (27:10):
Yeah, yeah. Do you know last time growing up, I have so much ego that it is difficult for me to say thank you, and I’m sorry. And I also observed this, maybe my perception is wrong. But I also observed this in them and in my siblings, there’s just no habit of doing that. And after learning the Dhamma, I realised it’s so important to put my self view aside. And I started doing that more. Like when my dad would to fetch me, I would say thank you. And he always feel like it’s very weird, like you don’t have to, why are you being so polite? It kind of icks him out, but secretly it makes him more happy? So I try to you know, do that more often. And it also kind of, I believe, connect me and my siblings more as well. Like, we’re just more generous with all this endearing terms, I think to transition to I love you might be tough. But I would try or like even like hugging my mom.
Cheryl ( 28:15):
I’m curious why. Why is it so hard to say I love you. What about the word love icks you guys so much.
Kai Xin ( 28:22):
I don’t know, a lot to unpack. I hope I can find some clarity. I suspect it’s because of how unfamiliar it is to, since my childhood. It’s not a norm. Yeah. So to go against the normal behaviour is uncomfortable.
So fun fact, I actually used to not like to say thank you as well, I love you, we always say in my family. But thank you I always thought it’s so weird. Like your mom makes food for you, why do you have to say thank you every day. It’s so weird. But then I listen to those motivational talks. And they say, you can say thank you to your friends so easily. But what your parents do for you or sacrifice for you is 1000 million times more. And why is it so hard to say thank you? And then I just started with like once, maybe once a day because I just get like, so when I had to do it, but then somehow that habit paid off and I think it just becomes very natural to say a lot more as well. And it gives a lot more meaning to the relationship as well as my parents efforts become appreciated. And I think they are humans after all right like doing all this hard work. Yes, is sacrificial and unconditional. But the moment you thank them, appreciate them. They will also just feel very happy.
Kai Xin ( 29:47):
Yeah, I think it hit it hits different because our way of saying thank you is to acts of service, but sometimes it goes unnoticed. So when you say explicitly, it reinforced this appreciation and gratitude. Yeah, yeah, thanks for reminding I should slowly inch towards being more expressive. You can keep me accountable.
Kai Xin (30:13):
And anyway, I think this is a little bit off topic, but I just wanted to talk about toxic parents a little bit. Most of the times, parents are well intentioned, right? They want your children to have a good successful life. And sometimes they may do that in not so skillful ways like being extremely controlling, or, you know, like, maybe more unhealthy ways of parenting, for example, a helicopter parenting. What are your thoughts on that if anyone is experiencing, maybe mental distress because of the way their parents or their parents are relating or communicating with them, although the intention is good.
Kai Xin ( 30:58):
I don’t think I’m in a best position to offer suggestions because my parents don’t exhibit any toxic behaviour. But what I can say is that it’s important to separate the toxic behaviour and the person itself. And we spoke about this in one of the episodes, I think it was seeing the world in shades of grey.
Kai Xin ( 31:20):
So, first step is to dissociate. And then I think it’s also helpful to look at the human aspect behind their behaviour, right? So some might not be extremely toxic. It could just be scolding. Why do you come home so late? Or why do you not do this or that? And it seems like they’re reprimanding you and nagging. Sometimes we also short tempered, usually, it’s towards our most dear one, and beloved ones, that we lose our temper more often than not. And I think it’s important to recalibrate, to say why. And personally, from my experience is because I take them for granted. Right? I wouldn’t raise my voice to my friends, if they were to ask me to do certain things, I would just maybe be a little bit annoyed and tell them like after that. So I think it’s really evaluate whether I am taking my parents for granted. Have I done my part? Is it from a place of ego that I perceive their behaviour to be toxic? Or is that the truth.
Kai Xin (32:22):
And of course, if that is the truth, then if I’m put in this position, because it’s easy for me to say, but I think it’s important to see the human behind them. And then also we evaluate whether I have the capacity to tolerate such behaviour. And if I don’t, I need to first take care of my well being, and ideally remove myself from the situation, heal first have the capacity, then go into the battlefield, and try to work with them on the issue. Because if my mindfulness is low, it’s very difficult for me to have a decent conversation and it will always be very explosive.
Cheryl ( 33:01):
But you say you’re conflict averse, you’re a bag of contradictions!
Kai Xin (33:05):
Yes, I am conflict averse, in a sense, where I don’t confront. But when it comes, because I don’t confront I suppress, then it explodes. So I’ll give you an example that it’s also the reason why I moved out. All my life, I have been so used to having independence, and having physical space and lots of physical space. Because parents, they go to work early, they come home late. So pretty much me and my siblings have the whole house to ourselves, pretty quiet. But the moment when my parents retire, and my dad now he’s working in different job, but he comes home early seven ish. And then my grandma moved in together with a helper. Suddenly, the house became really crowded. I thought I could adjust, but actually, it’s quite a big transition. And it took me I think, almost a year to realise it was affecting my mental well being, I get stressed really easily. And it’s COVID period, I have nowhere to go. I find myself breaking down. Of course, my parents don’t know I break down. I do it silently in my own corner. And yeah, like just, you know, just losing sleep, not sleeping enough. And with the lifestyle movement, people waking up early but I sleep, it goes kind of thing. My sleeping habits have been so interrupted. And my mindfulness level dropped tremendously. So I find myself snapping at my parents, snapping at my grandma, which makes me feel horrible. So it was quite a transition and dilemma, do I move out, because that would seem that I’m just running away from the problem. So I Tahan. I keep it in try my best. Okay, let go you know, it’s all in the mind. But then it comes to a point where I realised it’s not beneficial also, because I am not acknowledging the problem. I’m just forcing my way to fix it.
Kai Xin (35:00):
So when the Buddha talks about the first noble truth, it’s about understanding suffering, right? He doesn’t jump straight into enlightenment and the fourth Noble Truth, the Noble Eightfold Path, you first have to acknowledge, so you cannot let go without really recognising that the pain is there. Then working through, understanding the cause, etc. So I think it was quite an aha moment for me, because I also have to take a humble pie to say, Yes, I have been practising for many years, but I’m not enlightened yet. And I have limited capacity in order to deal with such things. And sometimes walking away doesn’t mean I am being irresponsible. In fact, I think it has brought my family closer, because now we just cherished time, so much more, rather than always being physically present and just take each other for granted. Time is so much more precious here.
So happy for you, and so proud of you for recognising your limited capabilities and acknowledging that working out working away is not a sign of weakness, but actually a sign of huge courage and vulnerability as well. To admit that this is where I’m at, and it’s okay to take things as it is.
And just to add some points on the toxic parenting. One is, I think, very similar to you. But I think what is important to reiterate here is that first, you, yourself, know yourself best. So if you are experiencing a lot of prolonged feelings of distress, perhaps it’s natural to want to justify right, our parents are just thinking of us, we should just follow them. But if you feel this sort of feelings, I think recognise that, perhaps unintentionally, your relationship with your parents could be toxic, for instance, the dynamics or whatever. So try to seek help, reach out to a friend, reach out to a counsellor to help you t have an objective perspective on how you can go through this problem. And walking away, not even drastic as moving out. But walking away by means of taking some space to have a walk, exercise, or do your hobbies could sometimes be a good breather space, that helps you to just recalibrate, recenter and go back into the storm. Again, you cannot fight fire with fire. So you have to find some space to just recenter then you can solve the problem effectivelt.
Kai Xin (37:35):
Yeah. I think though, that whatever you said, there must be an additional nuance or layer to it. We can talk to somebody talk to a friend, but who we choose to speak to or with is so important because perhaps our parents are not toxic. Or they might exhibit toxic behaviours, but probably with their own struggles, their stress, stress coping mechanism, just like how we also have ours, and if we were to mingle around with friends, who reinforces that our parents are evil, and you should, you know, defy them and have your own independence, etc, then, I think that’s also not very helpful. So ideally, speak to someone trusted, wise, or a professional, who can give a more objective perspective. And don’t play victim like Don’t say, I suffered so much because of my parents, but also don’t do the other way where we feel that we could just, you know, bite the bullet. And even though our parents are abusive, we just think that okay, we should let it go. And that’s spiritual bypassing, it’s not helpful. Yes, I think it’s a balance. It’s so nuanced, and only you can be your own judge.
Kai Xin (38:44):
So we’ve we’ve covered quite a lot about filial piety, you know, sense of guilt, trying to find our independence, while repaying our parents, we just like to circle back to repaying our parents part. Are there any practical steps that you personally take, in repaying your parents?
I take a lot of inspiration from one of the suttas, which talks about the three kinds of children that a parent could have. So one is that they are less than, equal or above in terms of their virtue, their morality, their wisdom, and even their mindfulness. And obviously, the best kind of children that you can have is those that are even higher in terms of these three characteristics than their parents because they will then lead and bring their parents on to the good path. So I feel as a Buddhist or a Buddhist child, I feel that is really the best way we can repay our parents by practising our own morality, and cultivating our own loving-kindness, generosity, and wisdom. And then in doing so, we’re able to inspire these qualities within our parents to help them to just cultivate these wholesome qualities as well. And I feel this is the best way we can repay our parents, simply because it’s the gift that transcends this lifetime. It’s a gift that, you know, when your parents do good deeds, it helps them in their next lives as well, and in their next rebirth as well and helps them to even be happier in the here and now. So I think it doesn’t have to be something super huge, like, meditate every single day for 1000 hours, even a small thing of just encouraging them to from stinginess to become a more generous person, or encouraging them to maybe start chanting one of their favourite verses, especially because our parents are the generation that is usually more faith-based, or just encouraging them to listen to a Dhamma talk that you really enjoy. So just things like that to help uplift our parents’ minds, I think can be one of the best ways. Of course, if you do have extra resources in your life, like some extra money that you can, (in your current circumstances) spare, I think these little material gifts can also make them feel cared for and appreciated. So of course, complement that as well in your ways of paying your parents well.
Kai Xin ( 41:24):
I just want to say that’s very beautiful. So it goes beyond the material means. And it’s like what the Buddha said that the Dhamma excels all gifts, right? If we can help our parents realise that it’s so much more than anything else. For myself, in the same line, I think I would first be a good person and show them through my actions and my conduct that, “hey, you know, I have changed” and convinced them through my conduct that the Dhamma is beautiful, so that they will be curious. And then instead of me nagging them to go for Dhamma talks or to chant they would feel naturally drawn to, I’m quite grateful that my mum does chanting everyday now, and she meditates. So that’s very, very good. And my dad is a very virtuous person. So I think it’s just encouraging them to do more of those good deeds, yeah, brightening the mind. And I think the last thing in terms of repaying them is just don’t let them worry. If I can remove some levels of anxiety, that will be great. Of course, I can do my best and whether they want to worry or not, then it’s their karma. Something I can’t control.
You can do your best, but you cannot control what they feel or think, you just do your best with the best intention and execution. And I think that one last thing that I wanted to add was actually sharing of your good deeds, so not in terms of sharing merits, but just sharing with them verbally so that they could rejoice in your generosity, rejoice in your goodness, as well. So I realised something very interesting. As my mother becomes closer to Buddhism,after her retirement, I realised that the things that she rejoiced the most are not the monetary ones, but actually the ones where she knows that I have helped other people, she knows that I have served the community or helped to spread Dharma in one way or the other, and that brings her a lot of a lot of joy. So yeah, I think maybe, you know, just sharing these things can can help your parents feel very happy and inspired too.
Kai Xin ( 43:48):
I do have a question, though. Just one last thing. What if parents don’t rejoice in certain, seemingly good deeds that we do? Like they feel that we are spending too much time, you know, trying to be of service to others but compromising our own health, or if we’re donating too much money? And I’m just thinking it’s quite a dilemma. Because if they don’t rejoice, then it’s kind of like creating negative mental energy. So I feel like we have to tread very carefully. Isn’t it depending on our parents’ inclination?
Yeah, I think definitely take the contents into consideration and reflect and see, is their concerns justified? Are you really taking care of yourself and if you are, and you’re happy with your own well being then you can share with them. You can share with them honestly, why you spend so much time and, and why it actually makes you happy. And I think also, maybe not tell them like, “I did this, I did that,” but rather help them to understand the impact that you have achieved. So for example, if you donate $100 to the monastery, but rather, tell them, “Oh, we helped to build this hole, which many people will get to go to meditate in.” That’s very skillful. Yeah.
Kai Xin (45:19):
And it seems also that we need to consider what are some meaningful causes that they would be happy about. Because if our parents are not into the Dharma, then I mean, they might not necessarily rejoice or maybe they have a different faith that if it’s like, you know, why, why you would never go to this particular you know, faith, you always go to the temple or the Buddhist centre, and you can create some for hostility. But I think it’s very skilful of you, to talk about the impact rather than the means. So that’s great. Thanks a lot for sharing.
Kai Xin ( 45:53):
All right. I’ve learned a lot today from you Cheryl, thank you so much for your reflection and sharing. Likewise, Kai Xin. All right. And to the next episode, we wish all of our listeners stay happy and wise!
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