It was the first time in 16 years that I was able to handpick and deliver these flowers to my estranged mom. Sixteen years ago, I ran away from home, after she threatened to disown me for running away to marry some guy almost 4,000 miles away. I wanted to run away because I couldn’t stand the suffocating control she asserted on my life. Growing up with such a “tiger mom,” I was a “model child” on the surface but it was just a facade to please her. The lack of an integral “me” led me to struggle emotionally since my teenage years, with recurring depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts and escapism… My deepest desire in the past was to escape from this emotional prison.
So for me, meeting a guy who represented anything but what my mom wanted to see in her future son-in-law was my deliverance. While I was away, the rift in mother-daughter relationship grew wider and wider. All these years, she waited with despair for her daughter to return home, until one day, all hell broke loose in my marriage and I told my mom over the long distance that I was going to come home and spend the next Chinese New Year with her. And so she welcomed me back, and I found a haven for my broken soul, a refuge for this Phoenix to rise from the ashes.
No sooner than this “Prodigal Daughter” returned “home” did I find out that I was faced with an “earth-shattering” reality–that what I attempted to escape from my failed marriage was hitting hard on my face once again. It was the discovery that, like the man I divorced from, my mother had the same traits of someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I was crushed and devastated… But survive I must, I told myself. Gradually, I climbed back up from the dark corner where I shut myself. This time, I couldn’t look away anymore. I would either wallow in depression and return to that rabbit hole of dysfunctional relationship, or come out as a whole person. I eventually chose the latter.
After a hard look into myself, I realized that it was my lack of self-worth that drove me to that fairytale romance that turned into a life-sucking codependent relationship. And so similarly, it must have been my lack of self-worth that had allowed my own mom to step all over me in the way she treated me.
My only choice, I decided, was to heal my wounds and fall in love with my own self–for the first time in my life. So for the next few months, I worked on my inner self with a “quantum healing” tool as well as a “French Kiss Life” philosophy. I would love myself and life passionately! And I worked on my relationship with my mom. I started to draw healthy boundaries. I started to understand why she did what she did, and why she behaved in such a way that I would abhor. I dug deep into her history. Then I saw this little girl, whose father died when she was five. This little girl who was in her mother’s womb when the Japanese soldiers air-raided China. Understanding the effects of stress on unborn babies and three generations down the genetic line helps me see why she has turned out the way she is.
This little girl grew up in the countryside and had to till the ground with grandma and was looked down upon by her father’s family. She was probably yelled at for nothing. She fled the countryside with grandma to the city and then the Communists took over. Throughout her childhood she was brainwashed by Mao’s Little Red Book and the only type of communication she knew of was “class conflicts.” Famine in the 60s sent her into hunger pangs. Cultural Revolution ripped up all traditions and morals. More chaos and conflicts.
So she became the way she is. Harsh in her words. Extremely demanding with her perfectionism. Obsessive about cleanliness. Those are her ways to find order in a chaotic inner world… and to find a sense of superiority over everybody else around her, including her own children. Because she never developed her own sense of self-worth. She never felt secure about anything. So she has to have control and supreme power in her own home.
While I suffered from harsh treatments after I returned home after so many years, I decided to give her a chance. I decided to give “us” a chance, no matter how estranged and tense our relationship was.
Little by little, I turned into her role model. I realized she didn’t have a good role model growing up. So I started parenting her while I parent my own inner child, who had since a long time ago felt like an orphan in search of elderly women to become my surrogate mothers.
As a result of this expanded understanding of my mom and my inner self, along with compassion, I have been able to shift our relationship from an extremely strained one to one with openness and respect, something that was never ever possible before.
So this is the most special Mother’s Day in decades, because I have finally found peace in my relationship with my mom and untied the knots from years of miscommunication and misunderstanding. When I told her how I appreciated her for taking me in after my divorce and giving me an environment where I can start from ground zero, she said, “You know, as your mom, I never expect anything back but will support you unconditionally. I’m happy as long as you understand that.” And I do.
In our “family tradition,” we never get too sappy about anything. But on this day, I gave her a hug and received a warm one back, unlike all my past experiences. I can feel that mom has learned to receive love for the first time in her life.