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Bibliotherapy about Family Relationships

Conflicts with my first-generation mother
am a second-generation, 33-year-old Japanese American man. My mother raised me as a single mother, working two to three jobs at the same time. I know she had a hard life, but I can’t stand her blame and criticism anymore. Every time I saw her, she said things like: "I don’t like the attitude of your American wife"; "Change your job"; and "I wish I could live with my grandchildren." Whenever we argued, she got upset and finished the conversation by saying, "You are a bad son," "You never understand your mother." and "I sacrificed my whole life for this!" I often go to her home to take care of things around the house and her finances. But I loathe going to her nowadays and I don’t know what to do to make her happy.

This is a good example of generation gap between the foreign-born first-generation parents and the American-born second-generation children. Typical first-generation parents come to the US and work hard to give their children better life with considerable sacrifice on their part. Things could be even more difficult for a single mother with limited English skills. Consequently, she expected her child to grow to be a successful adult and to take care of her when she got older. She expected you to become and behave in the way she wanted; however, you turned out to be somewhat different from her expectations, because you are who you are. So, your mother said hurtful things to you to make you a better son, but her action only drives you away. If you were born in the US, you learn American ways of thinking and life style that is to value individuality and independence, not dependence or interdependence which are Asian values. That creates conflict and that is one of the big reasons why second-generation children struggle in the US. Many of them express this conflict as "losing battle."

First, you are not alone in this. America is made up of immigrants and their descendents. As the generations progress, descendents become more Americanized. As a second-generation person, you have to be able to see the big picture, not to be trapped by guilt and frustration of not being able to meet the expectations of your first-generation parents.

Second, distinguish between what your mother wants from you and what you want to give to her. You are a responsible and considerate good son and have done a lot for her. The problem is that what you give is not enough or not satisfactory to her.

Third, think of her life for a minute. She left Japan a long time ago for whatever reason and built her life in the US. She probably couldn’t pay as much respect to her parents as she could if she had stayed in Japan. Is she a bad daughter? Just because you can’t take care of your aging parents in a Japanese traditional way, that doesn’t mean you are a bad person. You can only do so much, because you have a job, your family, and your life and you only have 24 hours a day. If you can provide what you want and can to your mother, it should be considered good enough.

Fourth, consider the next generation. Your children grow up looking at you. If you lose yourself in pleasing and making your mother happy, your action would tell them that meeting parents’ expectations is more important than meeting your own.

It is not easy to have a good relationship with foreign-born parents. If you think it through and come to peace with what you can and what you cannot give, then you could feel good about your life. Having a good balance is the key.
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