First of all, before I start this blog post, happy Chinese National Day! This holiday, much like our 4th of July, is a super important day, so I figured I’d point it out! Yay!
Anyway, back to the blog.
I’ve been asked to tell you about an experience I’ve had during my gap year. The moment I chose is not a happy moment, but a very important one.
It was a Sunday, and Pipi (my “little sister,” the one I’m teaching) had math tutoring sessions, because she would miss a week of school; she and her parents were heading to Canada for a film awards ceremony (her father is a film director). Unlike some Chinese parents, Pipi’s parents do not overwhelm her with tutoring sessions and mandatory studying. This session was just to help her learn what she would miss.
However, on that day, things were not going so well. Pipi was having a hard time focusing, she was taking too long to finish problems, and refused to let the tutor help. When Pipi’s mother realized that the session was not productive, she yelled at Pipi, “Why are you doing this? Why do you think you know everything?! You say ‘I know I know I know’ but you don’t know! You are so slow. In china, you must work hard! Everyone is competing for good jobs. If you are like this, you will never have a good life!” I hid in my room and listened as Pipi started to cry.
The drama escalated as the yelling match moved to the living room. The math tutor, who is my friend, and I looked at each other silently with awe as yelling turned to screaming. The screaming ended and Pipi returned to her sessions. I walked out to the living room to find Lily, Pipi’s mother, crying.
She said to me, “How can she be so ungrateful? I do everything for her. I hire the tutors, I give her everything. I give her my everything. When I was young I did everything for my parents. At 14, I worked so I could provide for my mother. I did everything.”
I felt torn. At 18, I straddle the line between adult and child. The child in me wanted to side with Pipi. She’s 9, how can she understand the selflessness that comes with parenthood? She’s not quite old enough to fully grasp why she should be so grateful. She’s, psychologically speaking, still very self-centered. The adult in me sympathized with Lily. It must hurt to have your own child scream at you, your own child throw everything you give her back in your face. There was no easy conclusion for me to reach.
Because I could see both sides, I felt conflicted. We can’t expect children to understand the immense amount of sacrifice that is parenthood. They need to be children. We cannot force them to grow up too quickly. We have to let them be selfish.
The incident opened my eyes — it showed me how scared I felt to have to cross the line into adulthood. It showed me how, even though I resent the egocentric nature of children, I must accept it. Piaget’s stages of cognitive development tell us that children simply aren’t capable of abstract concepts like empathy quite yet. It’s something you simply must forgive.
When reflecting on this experience, I am reminded of this: children and their parents are both imperfect. There is no denying this. However, imperfection is countered by unconditional love.