Ms. Pan, a single mother, came to America in the 1950s and brought up her children in the adopted land by running a small business. Ms. Pan’s four adult children are a typical Chinese American success story. From lawyers to entrepreneurs, they enjoy a remarkable career coveted by most Chinese Americans. But Ms. Pan’s senior years revealed a far grimmer experience. After she was kicked out from her own home by one of her adult children, none of the others wanted to live with her by taking her into their luxury homes. Pan died alone in a public senior care centre – in agony and anger.
For many Chinese Canadians, sacrificing their own lives for their children’s success is a natural choice. In return, they expect their adult children can provide caregiving duties as they age or when they are ill. But many of them would tell a disturbing story that they are ignored, abandoned or cut out from their adult children’s lives altogether. If Pan’s story represents a heart wrenching experience of an older generation, modern-day parents also suffer a similar plight.
Henry has grown up in Canada, with most of his childhood living with his mother alone. His parents have maintained a long-distance relationship, with the father working in China to provide the mother and the son. When Henry entered university, he began to estrange himself from his mother – the one who brought him up and lived all the years along with him. Henry’s departure broke the mother’s heart.
While the reasons behind these family fractures could be manifolds and individualized, a clash in east and west cultural values, especially the North American culture that plays down the value of family ties could bear a major blame.
As individualism, rather than family ties is highly valued in the North American culture, couples would make choices of living separately or together based on their own career of emotional needs, giving little consideration of their children’s wellbeing. Such a me-first mentality that supersedes parents’ sense of duty would weaken their ties with their children, leaving children less likely to see themselves as part of an unbreakable family unit.
But “Little binds adult children to their parents these days, beyond whether the relationship feels good to them,” said San Francisco psychologist Joshua Coleman who has seen a sharp rise in estranged parents. Abandoning parents and family is seen as a virtue of being self reliant and independent, which is enthusiastically encouraged and advocated by all North Americans. While providing caregiving duties to senior parents could be a gradually disappearing phenomenon in China, filial obligations are an unfamiliar term in the West. Under the North American culture, forcing such obligations on children is considered abuse.
“Teaching the children of the vice of yielding, duty and responsibility is in fact abuse to Americans and restraining their desire for individual freedom and personal winning in life,” a disgruntled parent posted on a forum on estranged parent.
Under the influence of prevailing culture, rearing a child could be the worst investment decision a parent has ever made, which can also explain the continuous declining rate of child-birth in North America.
“My biggest regret in life is to have raised four ungrateful apes!” the dying Ms. Pan said on her senior home bed.
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