Bridging the generation gap

  • Opinion
  • Monday, 09 Dec 2013

Making friends out of one’s parents can be hard work, but it’s definitely worth pursuing.

THEY say that friends are families that you choose for yourselves.

My framily (a portmanteau word of “friends” and “family”) consists of childhood buddies, ex-housemates, classmates in university and people who will laugh at me every time I fall and slip in public.

These are the people who have seen me at my worst and still choose to stick around despite me occasionally retreating into a defensive cocoon at the tiniest hint of intimacy. Often, it takes years of trust-building and loads of patience for these friendships to blossom into a familial-type kinship.

Trying to be friends with the family I was born into, however, was a completely different ball game.

I’m at a point in my life where I can say that I get along well with my siblings. This friendship between siblings, of course, was preceded by years of nasty name-calling, hair-pulling and simulated wrestling matches in our living room.

Suffice to say, growing up made my siblings and I better people.

I’m happy to say that we’ve come a long way since then and are now on the best of terms with each other.

However, I must say that becoming friends with my parents remains to this day a challenging endeavour considering the two things sparking conflict all around the world are also grounds for ideological war between us.

What are these two things, you ask?

Religion and politics of course. Even a conversation that starts out as innocent as “what do you think about this documentary about dogs?” can escalate into a unnecessarily heated debate as soon as elements of religion and politics are injected into it.

“I don’t understand why you can’t see things from my perspective!” I would tell my parents.

“You’re being immature and disrespectful!” they would reply.

“Why do you have to be so old fashioned!”

“You’re still young, you know nothing of the world!”

“Ugh so frustrating! Please stop talking!”

“You better not talk to me like that you ungrateful brat!”

Unfortunately the exchange of unhealthy banter would intensify and continue until we’re too tired and demoralised to say anything else to each other.

I would then proceed to feel immense guilt for not nipping the argument in the bud when I should have. I would regret the things I said in the heat of anger.

I would wish that I handled the situation with more class and maturity. I would feel hurt and dejected.

But being a self-diagnosed narcissist (a fact validated by psychological surveys I’ve taken online – those are legitimate, right?) means that I won’t apologise even when I know it’s the right thing to do.

The cycle then repeats itself, creating a deeper strain in our relationship.

Finding myself in this lose-lose situation one too many times has forced me to evaluate the reasons as to why I can never find myself on the same page as my parents.

The generation gap between my parents and I definitely plays a hand in our ideological differences.

Like most Asian children growing up in the 60s, my parents were taught to strictly conform to standards set by the society and to keep up appearances. Disobeying my grandparents would earn them a caning.

After all, “the nail that stands out gets hammered down” is a prevailing mentality among Asian communities until today.

My parents were also raised during hard times, while I on the other hand, grew up in circumstances where I’m spoilt for choice.

Having to deal with an alcoholic parent at a tender age, my mom became an adult way before her time. My father had to share bare necessities such as food with nine brothers and sisters even if grub was hard to come by.

There’s a certain kind of resilience in both my parents that comes from growing up in tough conditions.

Having been brought up in such circumstances, it is natural for my parents to hold my siblings and I to the same standard.

This is challenging because although I’m only midway through my journey of self-discovery, I’m quickly finding out that my parents and I differ on a myriad of issues.

What would do you do if you were in the same situation as your parents?

I find that being honest to my parents about my views on things like politics and religion, or life in general, makes a whole world of difference.

Let them know that as much as you respect them looking out for your interest, you need to establish your individuality. After all, you are your own person.

Also, don’t be so quick to dismiss their points of view.

Try to understand where they’re coming from.

Respect that they are a product of their social upbringing.

Having occasional debates with your parents can be intellectually stimulating when done in moderation but a line should always be drawn when condescension and ad hominem attacks enter the picture.

I’ve learned the hard way that winning an argument counts for naught when your relationships are at stake. I have to remind myself every time I find myself entering a clash of egos with friends or family.

Accepting I have this character flaw, however, is the first step to fixing it.

> Natasha Joibi first pitched the idea for this column to her parents. She took their ensuing laughter as an insignia of approval. She can be reached via @natajoibi on Twitter. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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