Being Theresa Le Blog Post Breaking up with My Asian Mother For Good
Asian Tiger Parenting,  Raw Thoughts,  Relationships,  Self Discovery

Breaking Up with My Emotionally Abusive Asian Mother, for Good.

{shouts in tears and anger} “…. OK Theresa, from now on I don’t need you anymore. You do whatever you want to do. Don’t worry about me. I won’t call and bother you anymore.” *click*

Last weekend my mom called and asked if I can help her schedule a doctor’s visit as it’s been over ten years since her previous check-up, and she doesn’t have a doctor that she can connect with. I made the appointment with our family friend physician in town and told her I would drive her as she doesn’t drive and lives an hour away. Without any consulting or consideration, she then dropped the news that she would be staying at my place for seven days as it would be easier for her doctor visits.  She has done this a few times now, spontaneously inviting herself over for an extended amount of time. Although I am uncomfortable with her just welcoming herself over, I felt like it’s the least I could do to bring some happiness to a lonely ageing mom.  I’m well aware that I should have set up these boundaries from the beginning. Perhaps, that would have set us up for more success with our expectations of one another rather than falsely leading her to think that these situations are ok for me.

Her arrangement has always been to sleep in my office because it was her room of ‘preference.’ However, this time, I told her days in advance that I needed to have my office to work. The spare guest room that I had spent money to have furnished for her back in November 2019 would be my ideal arrangements for her stay. To my dismay, when she arrived, she kept insisting that she would sleep in my office.  She would say things like all she needed was a blanket, and she can sleep on the floor. If not, she’ll try the guest room but may end up on the couch in the morning and for me not to be alarmed. That sent me off on a trip of conflicting emotions. I wanted to stand firm on the boundaries that I had drawn, but then I felt terrible because of all the things she said. I felt like I had to make her stay more comfortable.  I felt obligated. On top of all the other micro passive-aggressive comments that she made, I felt no longer free in my own home.  I felt confined, with many limitations, and now, I had to work around her preferences.  Worst of all, I felt angry that my boundaries kept getting pushed, trampled on, and disrespected.

When she had changed her stay from seven days to four days, I finally caved and gave my office up.  It was a trade-off moment for me.  At least she wasn’t staying long this time, so I looked forward to getting back to my routine and being a more productive person.  But now, at least I could jump off the “horrible host” guilt trip she had sent me on. It was one less thing on my plate.

These situations and feelings are things that I’m very aware of and had tried to make boundaries for.  Not only boundaries for her but myself when she’s around me.  Here’s the issue, I hadn’t anticipated the boundaries that I had set for myself were inadvertently causing everyone else grief, as I was leaving my ‘mother hosting responsibilities’ up to them now.  My sons came to me and told me that they felt bad for grandma because grandma says nobody is around.  They also said that grandma wouldn’t do anything unless they do it with her, which their fine with, but was torn as they wanted to hang out with their friends too.  My husband then told me that she kept trying to give him unsolicited advice and even attempted to rearrange his office while he was on a meeting call with his co-workers.

I had offered her my entire house during the day to do whatever it is that makes her happy and comfortable.  She could cook, bake, garden, walks, explore, clean, sleep, you name it, I was ok with it.  I just asked for her to understand that my husband and I do have work to do, and like millennials these days, it’s not always a 9-5 pm job.  It was a goal of mine to continue my daily routines while she was here.  I wanted her to see how life can get busy for my family and get a feel for what the norm is for us.  I felt like she should at least be able to understand that.  I was firm on this boundary and wanted to uphold it.  I honestly just wanted to set my priorities straight with her, and especially when I’m starting something new, taking 4-5 days off of it was too much time wasted for me.  I wanted to set expectations that we can’t go into vacation mode every time she visits. What she saw was us ignoring her, not appreciating her, and she didn’t understand why we couldn’t just stop for a second to sit with her during the day or why we’re strict on our evening routines to have extra time at night fine-tuning our projects. 

“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”

– Jill Churchill

Something you should know about Dear Mother is she’s quite a capable woman.  She currently lives on her own.  She loves to research and experiment with all different types of cooking and baking recipes.  She has a green thumb and loves to garden.  She is an orchidologist, an expert in orchids – self-taught, with a bit of help from the internet. She speaks and writes English very well.  She can do online banking, text messaging, make FaceTime calls, send photos messages, write emails, etc. This is quite impressive for an Asian-Canadian elderly parent, trust me.  When it was time to go to her doctor’s appointment, I didn’t even have to go into the office with her.  She was able to hold her own with the doctor, expressing her symptoms, understand what’s expected of her and what’s to happen going forward.  I was very proud of her.  The only thing I had to do was help her schedule a lab visit to get her blood work done as well that week.  Which I gladly did for her.

You also should know that she’s also a selfish, self-righteous, and entitled woman who uses guilt as a method to get what she wants. She is also old fashion and holds firmly to her Asian roots, traditions and customs.  She’s contradicting and is known to exaggerate or fabricates stories for emphasis or in attempts to be relatable and likable. She also has never worked 8-12 hour days in her life.  In fact, both my parents never really worked at all.  They have never attempted to balance a job, let alone a career, a career change, and all the other hats that a typical modern parent would put on in a day.  They could barely work on their relationship with each other – which is why they’re no longer together.  Her previous visits had always been during the holiday breaks, so she’s never been in a busy, fully operational home, where attention is divided amongst many things, and routines are the saving grace.  But the worst part is she’s overly dramatic yet is non-confrontational and would rather walk away from hardship than work through them to better herself or save the relationship.  Simply put, she only knows what she knows – ignorance is bliss.

The following day after mother went home from her 4-day stint at my place, between 1:45–2 pm, I had missed 4 of her calls. In that time, she had also called my husband four times, who was on conference calls that afternoon and left him text messages asking him to get me to call her. When he didn’t immediately answer her, she proceeded to call and text both my sons to get my attention. They all ran upstairs in haste, telling me that I had to call her back and that it seemed urgent. When I did, the conversation went like this:

Mom:  I need to get that account number so I can make another appointment at the lab
Me:  Ok, you could have just texted me.  Is this all you wanted? 
Mom: Yes.
Me:  Do you have to make the appointment immediately? 
Mom:  No. 
Me:  So you called me four times and alarmed everyone else in the house for this?  And you couldn’t give me 20 mins to call you back?  Do you know Mike and I are working?
Mom:  Yes, oh, ok – yes, I’m sorry, Theresa.  Can I get the account number so that I can make an appointment?!
Me:  Yes mom, I can text that info to you.  That’s not the issue here. The issue here is I’m trying to tell you what you’re doing isn’t respecting my time and how it’s making me feel.
Mom:  I do respect your time. I just needed my account number, but I won’t do that again, ok, so are you going to give it to me or do I have to create a new one?
Me: No, you don’t have to create a new one. I already said I would text it to you.  I don’t understand the urgency.  Is there something wrong? 
Mom: No, nothing is wrong
Me: Then, mom, you need to understand that you can’t do things like this.  It causes everyone in my house to be alarmed, and we all have our things to do, it’s a big disruption, and I feel like you can be kind enough to give me 15 mins to call you back without alarming everyone else.
Mom: I am your mother. How can you say that to me?!
Me: This has nothing to do with your title. It has everything to do with respecting people’s time and understanding how it makes me feel.
Mom:  {shouts in tears and anger} “…. OK Theresa, from now on I don’t need you anymore. You do whatever you want to do. Don’t worry about me. I won’t call and bother you anymore.”

Theresa Le Blog Post Asian Parent Abuse Breaking Up Break Up With Emotionally Abusive Mother

Within the last 16 months, my estranged mother, whom I’ve been trying to rebuild our relationship with, has said those words to me on more than one occasion. We tried to make amends in November 2019, which was when she had told me she was sorry for all the sorrows that she has put me through and that she wanted to be a part of my life. She said she wanted to take this opportunity to make things up to me.  Yet just yesterday, those words quickly came out of her mouth again because she couldn’t have the humility to listen to how she was making me feel.

Quite frankly, I’m finalizing it this time for her.  I’ve been dealing with these self-centred, stubborn and narrow-minded situations from her for almost all of my young life.  I’ve escaped it over a decade ago when I was kicked out of my house, and it was the freedom that I had that made me realize the amount of weight I was carrying in this relationship.   I know that the topic of conversation leading to this decision isn’t anything drastic in nature.  It was, again, her tone that she chose to carry forward.  But that’s precisely my point –  the issue is such a small thing.

I’m exhausted from this relationship. I’m exhausted from having to adult her and seeing right through her. I’ve gone through a health scare, a major surgery, my wedding, the birth of my kids, with her saying the words “I leave her [me] up to God” to other family members who question why she doesn’t reach out to me, and lord knows that I’ve tried reaching out to her. I’ve had her continuously mute my phone calls, send me away when I show up with my babies, and have her treat me as though I’m never good enough. She has exaggerated stories between my brothers and me so that we can be of conflict and pay her more attention. She has even gone as far as preventing my brothers from contacting me when things didn’t go her way.

I was at a good spot in my life where I made amends with myself thinking she will never be the mother that I’ve wished for and that the distance between her and I is for a good reason. However, less than two years ago, I had revived this one-way relationship with her because of other issues with my inconsiderate father. (I will save these reasons for another post.) The rekindling of this mother-daughter relationship was supposed to be a new relationship. I had put it out there that I wanted her to humanize me from the default title I had with her. I wanted her to know who I am.

I ask myself, what are all these things that are tying me to a person that’s making me lose myself. The ultimate answer? It is the filial piety and all other customs and traditions in my culture, which was taught to me at a young age, that ties me into these substantial obligations to my parents. Why am I allowing it? I don’t believe anyone should be in a position of slowly losing themselves and having their energy being sucked out of them due to obligations that go against their comfort zone.  I also don’t believe in one-way toxic relationships. What gives her the right after all these distant years to use her “mother” label on me?  

How can someone easily disown their daughter, not once, not twice, but countless times? Is this not a form of emotional abuse? I’m sure it is, and I was allowing it. I enabled this person because of the default title that was bestowed on them when I was born. To me, a title and designation are not as important as carrying out the job they’re supposed to do. Therefore, I’m a strong believer that to be a mother means a lot more than to have legal guardianship over a child. Amongst other attributes, a mother should love and accept her child for who he or she is. She should pays attention to her child’s particular nature and responds to the specific needs of each child.

Some people don’t change. Even at the ripe age of 65 and with the number of experiences and life lessons she has endured, nothing changes. I don’t understand why some parents are willing to lose their child over pride and a sense of vulnerability. Many would rather choose to level up on their facade rather than doing the hard work of self-checking, ego dropping, learning acceptance, and working through the pain.  What’s unfortunate is, it is from these places of hard work where real growth and change lies.

Although I wholeheartedly agree and adapt to some of these traditions and appropriations, I honestly find that many elders, my parents included, abuse it. It gives them a sense of entitlement, which is ridiculous.  I’m tired of not being seen as a person and building boundaries just for it to be torn down again because of labels and obligations that stem from human-made customs and traditions.  Customs that have been altered to suit societal and individual needs and but no longer conform to modern-day life.  Consider all the mental illnesses and conflicts that we are all dealing with because of this.

I’m not a person with a defined religious background, but I can firmly say that I believe in God, the universe, the divine, and all other terms you’d use to describe a higher being. So I ask, would God want me to continue enduring this one-way relationship if it brought me so much sorrow?  If I’ve done all that I can, and I’m losing myself within this battle, does that make God happy to see? Probably not. I don’t believe he/she would want me to continue enabling someone to act selfishly, and in turn, spreading my negative response energy to others and not allowing myself to grow. If my boys came to me and told me of this dilemma, what would I do? And in all truthfulness, I would advise them to save themselves. Viewing this entire situation in this context trumps all those ancient human-made traditions.

Further, I don’t believe God made me her daughter so that I would be responsible for any portion of her life. Some of us are barely able to be accountable for our own lives, let alone others. We were all given the same free will and opportunities to make our own choices to navigate and make the best of our own lives. I believe that I was present in her life for a reason, a blessing or a lesson. As a matter of fact, I believe that some people come into your life to test you, teach you, and some bring out the very best in you. But, we are still responsible for our own lives. Distinguishing this and understanding that the circumstances that she’s in are the results of her own choices. It’s from this standpoint that allows me to move away from her freely.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

– Maya Angelou

This time, I firmly chose me, and I will always choose me, unapologetically. I’ve given this relationship many chances, but time after time, she refuses to see me as an emotional human being as well. I’ve bent, I’ve bowed, and I’ve been honest. Nothing is ever good enough. Moreover, I’ve built a better relationship with myself to jeopardize that for her.

I also refuse to normalize and enable abuse from immigrant parents due to the choices that they’ve made and their entitlement from ancient societal traditions. Especially when they are equipped and capable human beings. This means, I also refuse to normalize laziness and negligence. This shouldn’t be the norm, and it’s not ok to live like this.  It’s never ok.

Be compassionately curious about what’s weighing you down, because that’s where you’ll find yourself, friend. Love yourself so much to recognize when someone is treating you wrong.


PS: Just in case you think that I’m a cold-hearted daughter, I’d like to update you on the condition of my mother’s health. She’s doing absolutely fine. Our physician friend says that she’s doing so well that he couldn’t believe it and ordered another test to be sure they didn’t miss anything.