For the last few years, the most important priority in my life has been healing the broken relationship I had with my immigrant parents for more than a decade.
I wanted to get to know my mom and dad before it was too late.
I spent hundreds of hours documenting the raw & real journey I went through and wrote these 30 reflections about what I did and what I learned.
These were not easy to write. I want to normalize working through challenging family dynamics, especially within Asian-American and immigrant families where there are often significant language, culture, and generational gaps.
I hope these reflections will help some of you feel a little less lonely on your journey.
Sending you and your family all my love. ❤️
#1 - I Yelled at My Parents for Over a Decade & Here's Why I Owned Up To It
One of the most painful things I've ever admitted is how poorly I treated my parents for over ten years.
From middle school to a year after graduating from college, the only people I ever had a temper with were my Mom and Dad.
Even though I was often a ball of sunshine with my friends, I was cranky and short-tempered at home.
There were days I was downright ballistic.
I didn't know how to process my inner fears, insecurity, and pain, so I found every excuse to dump my anxiety on the two people who loved me the most.
They didn't deserve any of it, and there was nothing I felt more guilty about.
In August 2018, I truly became present with how much guilt I had been holding.
I knew, deep down, that if I didn't take responsibility for how I treated them and commit to rebuilding our relationship, I would go to my grave with my inaction as my biggest regret.
So I wrote them a letter with tears streaming down my face, committing to treat them better, express my appreciation, and be in their lives.
I read it out loud over the phone and cried my eyes out, allowing myself to have tears for the first time in a decade.
With that 18-minute conversation, ten tons of weight that I wasn't aware I was carrying vanished.
It was as if the doors to the rest of my life opened up.
I was finally free.
#2 - The Three Sentences That Changed My Relationship With My Parents Forever
It terrified me. I didn't want to call my parents, but I knew I had to. I needed to free myself from the guilt I'd held onto for more than a decade.
I'd been a jerk to the two people who loved me the most in this world, and there was nothing I felt more guilty about.
I wanted to rebuild our relationship, so I could love my Mom and Dad freely and get to know them before it was too late.
My biggest regret would be knowingly not stepping in. It was time.
I called them standing on the corner of a street, reading this letter I had written to them, sobbing with every word:
- I love you both so much, and I never thanked you for raising me.
- I've been so selfish and haven't found a good way to express my love for both of you, and I want to start doing that.
- Let's talk more—I want to hear both of your stories, what it was like raising me, what it was like growing up.
For most of the call, my parents tried to reassure me, sharing how much they enjoyed raising me, having me by their side, and how they always knew about my intentions even if I didn't show them.
I responded by saying, "I haven't been doing a good job, and I am going to change."
They said, "We'll change alongside you. However you want to change, we'll change too. We will always love you."
#3 - Who I Became When I Didn't Cry for Ten Years
They bullied me in middle school. No one wanted to be close with me to avoid being bullied too. Even my best friend turned against me and became the biggest bully of them all.
As an only child of immigrant parents with no friends to lean on, I didn't have to tools to process my feelings.
So I hardened.
For over ten years, I bottled up my emotions and refused to allow myself to cry. I wanted to be the tough one, the person who could always keep it together.
My insecurities led me to place external achievements above all else. I thought that if I were successful, people would finally accept me.
Feelings only got in the way, right?
I thought that I was strong when all that I was doing was pushing others away.
As I buried myself in accomplishments, I neglected my relationships, especially with my Mom and Dad.
I later realized that my ability to share and receive love from others is directly related to my ability to share and receive my parents' love.
The way I judged them harshly instead of seeing the love behind their actions showed up everywhere.
It was how I treated myself and others.
To be fully free in life, I had to be free with my parents.
The more I could love and be loved by them, the more I could love myself and others.
To do that, I had to relearn how to share my tears as freely as my laughter.
#4 - The One Goal I Had Rebuilding My Relationship With My Parents
I called my parents one day on the corner of a street, with tears streaming down my face.
I told them I loved them and committed to getting to know them and treat them better.
It was the first time I was vulnerable with them.
For the next year and a half, I only had one goal: To be proud of the way I show up with my parents.
I was living at home at the time, so this was just about the hardest thing I had ever done.
More often than not, being with my parents meant that all the growth I'd been working on flies out the window.
I'd snap back into the angry 12-year-old who found every excuse to lash out.
I was dead set on breaking this cycle.
Every time I felt triggered, I excused myself to go to my room and meditate, journal, punch a pillow, do whatever it took to return to being loving with my parents.
It was not about being perfect.
There were times when I raised my voice. I would then come back to apologize.
Most of the best conversations with my parents came after the apology, where we'd talk about how to be better together.
By owning up, I always felt the burden of guilt lift off my chest, the weight that I had carried for over a decade that I vowed never to carry again.
I will go to my grave knowing that these are some of the proudest things I have ever done.
#5 - I Lived With My Parents & Hugged Them Every Day for a Year and a Half
I almost never hugged my parents growing up, only if I was leaving home for a long time or during a special occasion.
During a workshop I attended, we were challenged to give the people we lived with warm, gentle hugs for no reason.
I lived with my parents, so when I went home that night, I (very hesitantly) asked my mom & dad if I could hug them.
Yes, this was overwhelmingly intimidating, but I definitely didn't want to lose the challenge.
To my surprise, they said "OF COURSE!" and hugged back, never commenting on or questioning the act as I had anticipated.
As I greeted my parents the next day, I couldn't help but want to hug them again. There was a pull as if they had waited for years to finally receive my love.
After the first few hugs, it no longer felt awkward. In fact, it quickly turned into a radiant, energizing highlight of each day.
My dad would stand there with a huge grin and arms outstretched, waiting for me to deliver my bear hug.
Once, I was sitting at the kitchen table when my mom gave me a warm embrace from behind, putting her head on my shoulder. I don't think I'll ever forget how it felt.
Over a year and a half, our physical embraces brought us closer without a single spoken word.
If you're living at home, I challenge you to hug your parents today, for no reason at all.
Just do it. Do it before it's too late.
#6 - I Tried to Escape From My Family's Dysfunction; It Didn't Work
It used to be excruciating for me to spend time with my parents. Any form of communication was painful.
I dreaded and avoided phone calls, messages, family trips, anytime they asked me for help.
I sometimes went three weeks in college without talking to them, despite knowing deep down just how much my parents were thinking, missing, and worrying about me.
Living at home, I spent as much time as possible outside with others and attending events.
I felt so uncomfortable being under the same roof that I biked for 30-minutes each day to work from a coffee shop.
At 23, I came to the stark realization that none of this was going to work.
I'd been trying for years to escape the dysfunction between my parents and me instead of confronting it.
As much as I tried to deny it, I carried the weight of not having a good relationship with my mom and dad everywhere I went.
It was this deep, dark secret I hoped nobody would find out about. I desperately wanted to hide the kind of person I was at home—impatient, selfish, and a stick of dynamite waiting to go off.
I was utterly exhausted, trying to pretend that things were okay when they weren't.
My parents loved and served me with their whole hearts. It was the last thing they deserved. So I started putting my energy into improving our relationship.
I knew that it would be worth it, and it's become the proudest thing I have ever done.
#7 - My Mom Pretended to Want a Dog; She Was Actually Heartbroken
Growing up, I wasn't aware of the pains of my parents. I lived in my own world and couldn't see that most of my parents' actions were gifts of love or, more importantly, cries out for love.
I was given a wake-up call that rattled me to my bones and illuminated their humanity.
For weeks, my mom kept mentioning the idea of getting a dog, which Dad and I mostly brushed aside.
She also complained about having discomfort in her chest & heart. But she seemed perfectly healthy to our doctor.
One day, as I was about to leave the house, I finally asked my mom what kind of dog she wanted and that we could seriously consider getting one.
She suddenly broke down crying. "Do you even know why I want a dog?!" she sobbed.
It all became clear as we rushed to her side. "Maybe a dog would care about me more than you two."
She was right. Dad and I had been selfish, demanding, and short-tempered at home, taking her love for granted.
She had felt so lonely and overlooked with nobody to lean on. She was heartbroken, and it was showing up as physical pain.
My dad and I had a serious talk that day. We agreed to be better together and knew that we'd messed up big time.
We apologized and showered Mom with love.
I was determined never to make this mistake again.
I learned one of the most important lessons in my life that day: parents are human, too.
#8 - We Have the Power to Bring Community to Our Parents by Having BYOP Parties
It all started with one stark realization: I have close friends to talk to and count on when things get tough. My parents don't.
When my mom and dad immigrated to America, they left behind everything to live in a new country, culture, and language.
They were so busy surviving they didn't have the luxury of building deep friendships. As they get older, this becomes even harder.
My friend Patricia and I came up with a wild idea: What if we invited our friends to dinner and asked them to bring their parents so we can all meet?
Our parents feel lonely, just like us, so we decided we had to try and bring them the gift of community.
We reached out to our friends with Chinese-speaking parents & scheduled the first Bring-Your-Own-Parents (BYOP) Dinner hosted by my parents (pre-COVID).
The six parents who attended were delighted. They met other like-minded individuals who share similar life experiences, cultural values, and mother tongues.
My four friends and I witnessed touching moments when our parents reminisced on their childhood and shared their hopes and dreams for us.
We all stayed in touch. My parents have since raved countless times about how wonderful that first dinner was, and we can't wait to do it again when it's safe.
The first BYOP event helped me realize that our generation has the extraordinary ability to uplift another generation's quality of life.
With a little effort, we can change our parents' lives by merely introducing our families to each other.
#9 - I Did a Bad Job Hearing Out My Parents; That's Why They Repeated Themselves
I used to have the same painful dialogues with my parents for years. They'd typically share a danger they saw on the news or some concerns/advice for me, and our conversations would end in frustration.
Only in the last few years did I begin to understand why.
Whenever this happened, I'd be unconsciously filtering their words. I wasn't listening to what they were saying but instead listening to my points of view and judging them.
Here are some of those listening filters I'd frequently have, stuck in my head:
- I already know (what you'll say; how you'll respond)
- I have better (options; information; perspectives)
- I am right (about my beliefs; about my choices)
Our conversations were doomed from the start. I pushed them away and shut them down with my responses.
My parents usually only have a few main goals: share that they love me & that they care that I'm safe, healthy, and happy. But because of my filters, I couldn't hear the heartfelt meaning behind their words.
When they don't feel heard, they repeat themselves. It's what most people do, including me. No wonder!
Active listening has nothing to do with agreeing or obeying. It is creating a space for others to feel that their thoughts and feelings are acknowledged.
I've come to embrace that I can never guarantee that my parents (or anyone) will hear me, but I can always control how I help others feel heard.
In doing so, the former happens, as if by magic.
#10 - Dear Mom: I Will Never Yell at You Again for Giving Me Too Much Food
I didn't always have a good relationship with my mom. For over a decade, we mainly only interacted around food.
She used to fill my plate for me with way too much food, and I'd almost always make a fuss about it, complaining that I didn't want to eat so much.
Instead of trying to understand her actions, I pushed her away.
One day, I asked her about her favorite food growing up, and we ended up spending the next two hours talking about her childhood in China and the Cultural Revolution.
It forever changed the way I saw who she was. I finally started to understand why she always tried to indulge me—it is her dearest expression of love.
When my mom was a child, food was the most precious thing she had.
She was born at the height of the Great Chinese Famine so instead of milk, she could only eat flour and water. People were so hungry they ate leaves and tree bark.
Whenever she cooked, brought perfectly cut fruit into my room, and gave me the freshest food while eating leftovers herself, she was saying, "I love you."
In Chinese culture, those words are rarely said out loud.
I now know that she's been saying that to me every day through her actions.
I can't undo how I treated her in the past, but I can look forward and choose to embrace her love language fully.
I get to love her as she has loved me my whole life.
Thank you for giving me life and putting up with me all those years, Mom. I love you so much.
#11 - I Conditioned My Parents and Now I'm Doing Everything I Can to Undo It
During the time between middle school and a year after college, every time my parents talked to me, it was as if they were walking through a field of landmines. At any time, any words or actions could trigger an explosion.
I was cool as a cucumber with friends, bottling up my anxiety to release at home.
Quietly stressed out, I didn't have the tool to process my fears, insecurities, and desires.
I wasn't conscious of my impact on others, especially my parents. They bore the brunt of my inability to self-regulate and still loved me unconditionally in a way only parents can.
But there were consequences.
As I learned later in life, the words I say and the things I do train the people in my life on how to engage with me.
I now notice these conditioned thought patterns and behaviors come up regularly.
The biggest one? My parents are reluctant to ask me for help and will often not do so until it's too late. They're afraid that I will be bothered.
I get to take responsibility for this because I was the one who trained them on what my response would be.
I am committed to creating disconfirming experiences where I respond to their requests with ease, free of frustration, and set healthy boundaries as needed.
By talking about these realizations openly, my parents and I are now able to slowly undo those years of conditioning, unlocking far more love, affinity, and contribution to each other's lives than we ever thought possible.
#12 - I Promised Myself That I’d Show Up as the Same Person Everywhere I Go
I used to act like a completely different person around my family.
When I was with my friends or colleagues, I'd be outgoing, joyful, and an energetic ball of sunshine.
But around my mom and dad, I was the opposite—moody, volatile, and extremely awkward.
As I grew older, I realized that I was expending a tremendous amount of energy trying (often subconsciously) to be a different person around my parents.
It was no surprise that living at home and spending time with them was exhausting.
It was one of the biggest blockers in my life.
I was being inauthentic and pretending that I was okay with it when I wasn't.
I wanted to break free of the old, debilitating pattern of putting on a different face because that no longer served the people in my life or me.
I didn't want to spend the rest of my life unable to be my cheerful, loving self around my parents.
It was a gift I wanted to give them.
My most authentic self is who I naturally am when I am not trying. It's a profoundly fulfilling state of being that I want to spend as much of my life in as possible.
So I promised myself that I would show up as the same person no matter where I go or who I was with.
If I could be myself around my parents, enjoy my time spent with them, and love them with open arms, I would truly be living my best life.
#13 - Letting Go of the Story That My Parents Are Not Good with Technology
Using technology was one of the biggest triggers that came up in my relationship with my parents.
Our tensions typically began when my dad is struggling with his computer, tablet, or phone. Something is not working, and he's at the point of desperation.
How I used to respond was not helpful: I'd come in annoyed about his complaining and scold him for not being able to do a seemingly easy task.
This recurring dialogue was one of our most persistent tensions I was determined to heal.
Here are the mistakes I made that I learned to take responsibility for:
- I created an environment of shame and fear of technology. My impatient & immature responses reinforced my dad's dread about asking for help when something goes wrong.
- I didn't acknowledge his efforts. I learned that my dad puts an extraordinary amount of effort into trying to figure something out before asking me for help. A little verbal affirmation goes a long way to help his self-confidence.
- I didn't assume the best in him. It's not that my dad doesn't want to learn; he is very eager despite not having grown up with technology. He's always doing his best. If I lead with compassion and grace, he doesn't feel judged and quickly absorbs what I teach him.
The more I work on my communication with him around this topic, the more he seems to thrive with technology.
I am now consistently surprised by what he's learned by himself, and I couldn't be more proud. I just had to believe in him like he has always believed in me.
#14 - The Three Key Challenges for Healing My Relationship With My Parents
The greatest freedom I've experienced in my life came from finding completion with my parents about our relationship.
No award or accomplishment has come close to the lasting fulfillment I feel from returning to love with my mom and dad.
Rebuilding my relationship with them remains the proudest journey I've embarked on. It was also one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
At the beginning of my journey, I received three challenges to heal my relationship with my parents:
- Accept and forgive them for what they have done and for what they have not done, for who they are, and for who they are not.
- Acknowledge that they have always wanted the best for me, that they did their best, and that they've completed their duty as parents.
- Take 100% responsibility for my life and my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Healing required putting what's happened in our family behind me. I had to ruthlessly eradicate the blame, shame, and guilt associated with my parents.
Most importantly, I had to embrace that our old wounds will inevitably come up and that these are life-long challenges.
It is up to me to continue to work through our past traumas, rewrite the beliefs that no longer serve us, and learn to love and be loved by Mom & Dad.
Also, time was not on my side. I needed to work through these challenges before it was too late. There was too much life to live on the other side to wait any longer.
#15 - Identifying My Emotional Wound and Coping Mechanism From Childhood
When I was in elementary school, kindness seemed to be all I knew. I wanted to help others out of the purity and innocence of my childhood heart.
I remember carrying a first aid kit with me wherever I went. It was my genuine pride and joy to be the first to help my classmates whenever someone got hurt.
But something changed when I showed up on the first day of middle school with braces and a face full of acne. My classmates started making fun of me, and the world didn't seem so kind anymore. The harder I tried to fit in, the worse the bullying became.
Most of us had experiences like this. Whether we felt criticized, neglected, dismissed, micromanaged, unappreciated, or unacknowledged, an emotional wound forms.
We instinctively, often unconsciously, decide how we need to be to protect ourselves from such pain in the future.
My emotional wound was feeling unaccepted by my peers. I coped by believing that I needed to be successful; otherwise, no one would like me.
I allowed this story to rule my life for the next decade, bringing it with me into adulthood even though it no longer served me.
I had to learn the hard way that the relationships in my life, especially the one with my parents, mattered more than any external achievement.
The older I get, the more I realize that I'm just returning to that unconditionally loving, younger me. When I started embracing that I no longer needed to prove myself to be loved, the love started effortlessly pouring in and boundlessly flowing out.
#16 - The One Internal Shift I Had to Make to Begin to Understand My Parents
For the longest time, I didn't understand my parents. I was so confused by their behavior. They didn't seem to be logical or rational about their decisions.
It was practically impossible to have a conversation with them that felt worthwhile because it seemed like we didn't have any mutual interests.
I realized that this cycle of having the same conversations and consistently butting heads over and over again wasn't going to change unless I did something about it.
Fast forward two years, and we're so close it's as if we could talk about anything. I can't wait to hear them share another story from their past. So what changed?
The simple (but not easy) internal shift I made was: becoming curious.
I started asking them questions about their childhood, what their favorite food was growing up, what their favorite memories and proudest moments are, as well as their fears and regrets.
I became genuinely interested in who they were as people and the stories they have.
As it turns out, there's no mistake why my parents turned out the way they did. They had life experiences, just like me, that shaped them into who they are today.
I started to understand all their seemingly illogical or irrational behavior. If I had to go through all the pains, challenges, and traumas they experienced, I would probably have very similar fears, insecurities, habitual tendencies, and strong points of view.
The surprising part? They didn't change. They were the same parents they'd always been. What mattered was my curiosity.
#17 - What I Learned From Hitting Rock Bottom During the Hardest Year of My Life
2018 was the most challenging year of my life. I had to shut down my health tech company. My relationship of two years also recently ended.
I moved back in with my parents and could barely get out of bed in the mornings. I didn't know what to do with my life anymore. I had hit rock bottom, feeling completely empty inside.
I was desperate for answers because no matter how much I distracted myself, I only temporarily numbed the pain that always came back whenever I was alone with my thoughts.
Thankfully, I had deeply caring mentors who inspired me to look within for answers.
Cleaning up became the theme of the year. I started to sweep the temple of my heart and own up to my mistakes.
This journey led me to realize that my biggest regrets all had to do with how I treated others.
The surface level pains were rooted in my ego. Once I got over the pain of my startup not working out, my deeper pain was regretting how poorly I treated the people who worked for me.
My girlfriend leaving me definitely hurt. But after getting over all the voices rationalizing that it wasn't my fault, I confronted my deeper pain: She challenged me for being transactional with strangers, friends, and my parents, only nurturing relationships for personal gain, and I didn't listen. She was right.
No amount of external achievements can ever replace the fulfillment that comes from the relationships in my life. So I called her and owned up, shortly after calling my parents to do the same.
#18 - What It Means to Take Full Responsibility for My Communication
Taking responsibility is the opposite of blaming.
It begins with the willingness to declare that the cause & control of my life is within me, not in external factors.
It is not a "truth," but an empowering choice I can make for how I see the situations life throws at me.
When it comes to communication, taking full responsibility means that I am choosing to be 100% responsible for my communication success, letting go of blaming (including myself, others, conditions, or circumstances), and committing to learn & improve.
For communicating with my parents, it looks like this:
- If I speak to my parents and they don't hear or understand me, I can take responsibility by not blaming them but instead accepting that my communication was not effective and try a different way.
- If my parents are repeating themselves, especially in a frustrated way, I can choose to see that I am not responding in a way where they feel heard, acknowledged, or understood.
- If I don't understand what my parents are saying, I get to own that I am not actively listening to them with my full attention—without judgments, filters, or distractions.
- If I attempted to communicate that I'm sincere, but my parents felt otherwise, I can hold the belief that my communication (the impact) landed as insincere, regardless of my intention, and try another strategy.
Taking full responsibility is a transformational gift I get to give myself that leaves me with the power to improve my words, tone of voice, body language, and listening skills until I reach my desired outcomes in life.
#19 - Letting Go of My Childhood Stubbornness and Improving My Chinese
I was born in Hawaii and moved to California when I was four years old.
My mom and dad have always spoken Chinese to me. They wanted me to learn the language and to stay connected with my family's heritage. But everyone else in my life spoke English to me.
I desperately wanted to fit in, so I shunned my mother tongue and refused to go to Saturday Chinese school.
At home, I spoke with a mash-up of languages. Anytime I didn't know a word or phrase in Chinese, I'd use English. My Chinese vocabulary and pronunciation didn't improve until I started taking college classes.
As a result, my parents and I have always had a language barrier. It prevented me from understanding them and expressing myself fully.
Since embarking on this journey to rebuild my relationship with my parents, I've discovered just how important it is to work through our language barrier.
Improving my Chinese has become a way of connecting meaningfully with my parents. If I don't understand or know how to say a word or phrase, I can always ask them in conversation to practice.
I am working towards talking to them more fluently and deeply understanding their stories & perspectives.
A teacher said, "I always tell my students that when you speak to someone in their mother-tongue, you are saying 'I love you.' All the more so if there are language/cultural/generational barriers within a family."
I had to let go of my childhood stubbornness and choose to say "I love you" more to the two most important people in my life.
#20 - Family Is All My Dad Needs to Be Fulfilled, and It's a Lesson We All Need to Hear
My friends say my dad is a jolly man. They tell me that I got my big smile and joyful nature from him, and I couldn't agree more.
One night, at a dinner that my parents hosted, someone asked him, "Mr. Lam, how do you stay so happy?"
By the time he finished sharing his answer, there was not a single dry eye in the room.
He told us that he spent most of his childhood living with other families because his parents separated when he was four years old.
With each house that he stayed at, he admired what it was like to have a family—children and parents eating together, living happily.
He vowed to have a family of his own one day.
He's so happy because he has already fulfilled his life purpose, and he gets to live it every day. He now has a healthy, happy family of his own.
He provided for his mother until she passed away and supported my mom and me, which brings him all the fulfillment that he needs. His only goal now is to take care of himself so that he can maintain it all.
He added that he knows that many people nowadays have big goals: success, wealth, fame. He doesn't have those goals because they don't bring him fulfillment.
He says that when I have kids, he wants to help take care of the next generation.
My dad taught me a huge lesson that day.
He reminded me that the deepest fulfillment in life comes from serving the people around me. That is what matters in the end. He is living proof.
#21 - Note to Self: I Cannot Change My Parents; I Can Only Change Myself
When my parents didn't meet my needs and wants, I spent years getting frustrated and trying to change them to be more in line with my desires.
I held a story that their behaviors, personality traits, and strategies were "flawed."
When I tried to teach them concepts that I've learned and tell them how to live better lives, I'd wonder why they didn't listen to me.
I realized later that I had done the same to them: brush off the wisdom they wanted to share with me. We kept hoping that the other side would change first.
The lesson I had to learn is that no matter how hard I try or how strongly I believe my parents must change, I don't have the power to make them different.
I only have the power to change myself.
It doesn't mean that I cannot express my concerns or desires. It's essential to any relationship to share my feelings, needs, and what I'd enjoy seeing from them.
I must remember that by focusing on what I can do differently to help our relationship grow, I'm modeling the kind of relationship I'd like to have.
Giving before receiving:
- Better understanding and meeting their needs/wants.
- Improving my communication strategy, tone, etc.
- Processing my desires so I can meet them myself or seek them elsewhere.
Being the one to change first has always served my relationships and increased others' willingness and desire to reciprocate.
#22 - Try This: Practice Saying a Genuine Thank You to a Triggering Statement
My parents worry about me a lot. They've reminded me my whole life to stay warm, eat enough, and get enough rest. They care deeply that I am safe, healthy, and happy.
I've had to do a lot of inner work to see the expression of love that's behind practically everything they say to me. I've had to un-learn my habit of labeling and reacting to their reminders as "over caring" or "annoying."
Why? Because it no longer serves our relationship. It's only brought us further apart, not closer together.
In a communication course, I did a remarkable exercise that helped with this, that you can try with a friend.
We were instructed to take turns training our peers to reenact an experience of someone saying something triggering or emotionally distressing to us.
We then had to respond with a "thank you." The challenge was that the other members of the group were judging my "thank you."
I had to say thank you from a place of genuine gratitude. It had to be authentic. I couldn't fake or force it to try and hide the pain.
I realized how incredibly sensitive we are to inauthenticity. It took me a good ten tries before I could come to a place of true appreciation.
Why is this so important? An authentic thank you is so hard when we are triggered.
It requires going through all the mental gymnastics and processing our emotions to empathize with another person. It requires unconditional curiosity about why someone would be the way they are.
It's not an easy exercise, but it can be invaluable for transforming any relationship.
#23 - Advice My Mom Would Give to All Parents: Be Friends With Your Children
When I asked my mom, "What kind of advice would you give to all parents?" her answer blew me away.
It was the first time I had heard her articulate her parenting strategy to me, and I gained a far deeper understanding of why she raised me the way that she did.
We could all benefit from her wisdom.
My mom's biggest recommendation is this: Be friends with your children.
If you assert your dominance as the parent and demand that your kids listen to you, it will be tough to establish a good relationship with them.
Your children will be asked to be your source of happiness, to meet your expectations, and they will probably give up because they will never succeed.
When you're thinking from the perspective of being their friend, you won't take things too seriously. Friendship isn't dependent upon someone reaching a certain level in life or achieving a particular goal.
If you assert that you're right and your children are wrong, then there will be a lot of fighting, conflict, and ignoring each other at home, which can last for weeks, months, and years.
These relationship standoffs are the most painful and draining. There will be no happiness.
If you want your children to respect you, then you must respect their perspectives and choices first.
Meet them where they are at.
The best strategy for parenting is to get along with your children and to be their friend. This is the surest way everyone will live in harmony.
#24 - Not All Heroes Wear Capes: A Memory That Exemplifies My Mother's Love
My mom is my hero. I am only just beginning to understand the depth of her unwavering, unconditional love. The older I get, the more I appreciate all her acts of selflessness I witnessed in my youth.
One memory stands out that embodies the type of love that pours from my mother's heart.
I was still in elementary school when we visited our relatives in China. My uncle gifted me a microscope kit, complete with everything I needed to magnify specimens hundreds and thousands of times their size.
I was overjoyed. I spent all day finding fruits, vegetables, fabrics, practically anything I could find in the house to examine under the microscope. When my mom walked over, I started to show her.
At some point, I said, "I wish I could see something that's still alive and moving."
Without hesitation, she goes into another room and emerges with a lancet device used for a blood sugar test. She pricks her finger and squeezes a drop of blood on one of my glass slides.
I stared in awe as I saw individual red blood cells for the first time with my own eyes, swirling and dancing on their own.
This simple act made an enormous impression on me.
It stands for all the times she puts others before her in a heartbeat. She jumps on opportunities to improve my life fully aware of the pain she’ll have to endure.
Despite all the suffering she’s had to go through in her life, the light in her heart has never dimmed.
There are endless examples of her expansive, generous, radical love. This is one that I’ll remember forever.
#25 - Not All Heroes Wear Capes: The Act of Service That Embodies My Father's Love
My dad is my hero. I am only beginning to understand and admire the boundless love that pours from his heart.
I spent so many years looking only for his imperfections that I neglected to honor my dad's extraordinary qualities.
The older I get, the more I am completely astonished by how consistently he has put family above all else.
What embodies his love, care, and humility is his unwavering dedication to being the family driver.
Of the thousands of times he's driven me to school, fencing/circus training, tournaments, events, errands, long-distance trips, and more, I don't remember a single time when he's complained or shown reluctance.
For seven years, my dad worked night-shift to earn more money for the family, so the only rest he got was periodically sleeping throughout the daytime.
But the moment he hears that I'm leaving the house or coming back home, he would insist on getting up or skipping his nap to give me a ride with a persistent determination that only a father could provide.
He showed his love through making multiple trips a day, sometimes waiting patiently in the car for hours.
Anytime I would express my worries about him, he would always brush off his acts of service as if it were no big deal. But it IS a big deal and I want everyone to know.
The willingness, consistency, and attitude my dad brings to driving are otherworldly.
It comes straight from the heart.
There are countless examples of his quiet, selfless, undying love. This is one that inspires me endlessly.
#26 - The Shortcut That Helped Me Deepen My Relationship With My Parents
Calling my parents to talk used to be the last thing on my to-do list, if it even made it on there at all. Deep down, I knew how important it was, but I kept pushing it off.
Why? It was a complicated, painful mash-up of:
1. Guilt for how I treated my parents in the past
2. Dread for the tensions that would come up
3. Not knowing what to talk about that’d be new
Days, weeks, months, and years would go by, and our relationship stayed the same. It was too easy to hide in my own, comfortable, predictable world.
So what changed? Social accountability was the key to helping me overcome decades of inertia.
The most beneficial workshops I attended put us into groups where we held each other accountable for calling our parents to work through our tensions. We had to do the hard work as to not let our group members down.
Two of my friends, my partner, and I later took this to the next level by committing ourselves to call our parents weekly to ask them progressively deeper questions. We went public with our commitment.
The four of us then gathered weekly to discuss what came up for us during our interactions with our parents, share the lessons we're learning, and hold each other through challenges. We live-streamed these sessions for full public accountability and called it The Parent Project.
Being socially accountable to the changes I was looking to make has brought more consistent, powerful results than anything else.
This strategy applies to almost every part of life. The more people who know about a commitment, the more pressure I feel to show up. Social accountability allowed me to achieve what I never thought was possible.
#27 - The Transformative Power of Asking My Parents Deep, Meaningful Questions
The strongest relationships I've had in life have all stemmed from getting to know another person until we are intimately familiar with each other's worlds.
I feel most connected when we have an internal map of one other's major life events, fears, dreams, and desires.
The more we understand about another person's experiences, the easier it is to be kind. We can recognize where their choices and perspectives may come from.
Although these roots may not always be easy to embrace, they are the source of the empathy we need to overcome interpersonal conflicts.
The challenge with my relationship with my parents was that we never gained that deep knowledge of each other. We also had a language barrier, so almost all of our conversations were surface-level.
On my journey to get to know my parents, having deep conversations was what transformed our relationship.
When my friend Candace first told me about this idea for creating a bilingual card game to help immigrant families have more meaningful conversations, I nearly jumped out of my seat. I knew it was something I would never regret working on, even if it never made any money.
Just helping one family develop more empathy and connection would make it all worth it.
Asking my parents a question every week from the Parent Are Human card game has helped me forge a friendship with them that I never knew was possible.
Seeing our creation help other immigrant families has truly been a dream come true.
I will go to my grave knowing that this was one of the proudest things I have ever worked on.
#28 - My Parents Showed Their Love for Me Through Gifts & Now I Am Doing the Same
Growing up, it was not easy for me to receive gifts from my parents.
My mom or dad would buy something out of the ordinary to surprise me, and I would reject their offering, often demanding that they return it.
I was not happy because I didn't want them to spend money unnecessarily on me.
Eventually, I started waking up to the truth that every gift they presented to me was a direct expression of their love. They wanted me to know that they cared and were thinking about ways to add to my life.
Not only did I not acknowledge their efforts, I unfairly took the opportunity to release the bottled-up stress and frustration from my own life. I labeled their gifts as annoyances instead of offerings of warm connection.
As I'm getting older and closer than ever to my parents, the tables have turned, and I find myself doing the same thing they had done for me for my whole life.
I'm constantly thinking of new gifts to send, ways to increase their quality of living, and how to fill their home with thoughtful expressions of my love.
Gift-giving became so important, my partner Tong-Tong and I teamed up to curate a catalog of the highest-rated and most frequently used products we've gifted our parents so others can also share the love with their families. We called it Parents Are Gifts.
Our parents have given us the greatest gift of life and made countless sacrifices for our well-being and future.
Even though our younger selves may not have been able to see, appreciate, or understand those sacrifices, it is never too late to start giving back.
#29 - It Took Me Two Years of Inner Work to Let Go of My Shame and Forgive Myself
I rebuilt my relationship with my parents because I felt so ashamed of having taken my stress & frustrations out on them for years. I was fed up with running away from my past, and I wanted my parents to have a son who loved them freely and wholeheartedly.
Despite becoming closer than ever to my parents over the next two years, I still quietly held onto that shame.
I wasn't ready to let it go because I secretly believed that I wouldn't be a good person if I didn't have it.
My dear friend Kim helped me forgive myself on one of our Parent Project calls. Here is what she said:
"Close your eyes and see little boy Joseph sitting there, realizing what he's done to his parents, not wanting to be like that anymore. Can you go over and see him? He's feeling sad and ashamed.
Sit in front of him and look at his eyes for a moment. Look at him with full acceptance. What do you want to say to him so that he can forgive himself?"
I sat there silently for several minutes, tears welling up underneath my eyelids.
With all the tenderness and compassion in my heart, I thanked my younger self for doing my very best despite everything I was going through.
"Can you forgive him?" Kim asked. "Yes," I replied with the courage and confidence I didn't have until then.
I knew that I couldn't be free, self-expressed, and satisfied with life if I couldn't put my past behind me.
I removed the poisoned arrow from my heart. My parents have already forgiven me for not having the lessons I haven't learned yet. I no longer need to hold myself hostage. I can just love, with all my might.
#30 - Building a Future Where My Family and Friends Live in an Intergenerational Village
"What is something I do that makes you feel loved?" I asked my parents on a weekly call. My mom immediately replies, "Your hugs every day!" My dad says, "Anytime I get to spend time with you."
That day, my parents shared vulnerably that the older they get, the more lonely and insecure they feel when I'm physically far away. My dad had just slipped in our hallway. He was fine, but it was scary. If I was nearby, I could help if something ever happened.
Our conversation had me thinking—what do I ultimately want in life?
After reaching financial success and independence, what am I going to do with that money?
My parents gave me more than anyone could ever give me in this lifetime. I want to help them have a retirement beyond their wildest dreams, not out of obligation, but as a gift freely given. I want them to feel more healthy, happy, and loved than ever before.
On top of wanting to be physically near my parents and spend as much quality time with them as possible, I also want them to have a community of close friends. I know firsthand how necessary that is for a fulfilling life.
The ultimate dream is to build an intergenerational village where my family, friends, and friends' families can all live in separate homes clustered together.
I will have to take care of my parents as they get older. In a village, we won't need to be solo caretakers. With a whole community and multiple generations in one place, we can lean on each other to live our best lives. We can share our lessons and the fruits of our labor to help other people build more villages worldwide.
There are many things I want to create in this lifetime. This is one project I will never regret working on.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read my writing. Embarking on this journey and writing these reflections have some of the proudest things I have ever done.
I hope you found something to be resonant or helpful for you on your journey. It would mean the world if you shared this piece so others can discover it.
Please don't hesitate to reach out at joseph @ parentsarehuman.com or send me a message either on Twitter, Instagram, or through the chat at the bottom right-hand corner of parentsarehuman.com. I would genuinely love to hear your story.
Warmest wishes to you and your loved ones. ❤️
Parents Are Human is a bilingual connection card game designed to spark deep conversations between you and your family. You can buy our English + Chinese deck today. Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Spanish & an English-only deck coming next! 🙏