Because papa and mama know best

If you took a poll among Indonesian Chinese undergrads, you would likely find that about the same percentage is studying in business/management programs as there are first generation ABCs or CBCs in engineering or commerce. And if you asked them the reason for their choice of program, an overwhelming number of them will reply with, “My parents.”

I was at dinner with a bunch of my young Halim relatives yesterday. And every single one of them was either studying or working in business/management/finance. And once again, most of them credited their choice to parents. One young lady (a second cousin of mine) with a passion and flair for graphic design is grudgingly ploughing through SMU’s business school. She tells me that she longs to transfer to NUS where they have a new program in design so that she can at least take some classes as electives. But she doesn’t do so because doing it would be disobeying her parents.

Among my first cousins too, practically all of them have been instructed/influenced to take up business or finance. Some willingly, others unhappily. Because, as they’re all told, that’s the most practical program to study. I asked the SMU undergrad if she thinks she would ever decide for her children in future what they should study, and her reply was an emphatic,”No!” Hmm… I wonder…

Do you ever wonder if we will do the same kinds of things our parents do to us that annoy and frustrate us? Have you ever thought about the fact that our parents were young too, and they probably struggled with many similar issues… perhaps against their parents? What made them into who they are today? Why are they constantly telling us what is the ‘best’ thing to go? Lord knows we children hate it when we hear the “I’m more experienced in life than you are so you should listen to me” line… or the “One day when you’re a parent, you’ll understand why I’m doing this.” If you’re anything like me, hearing such lines just makes me want to dig my heels in deeper and refuse to budge. I’m stubborn that way. I always want to ask why and I’m not that easily convinced even if I do acknowledge that they may have perspectives that I don’t yet have.

Sometimes, parents may be right. Sometimes, they’re not. Often they have greater wisdom than us. But then again, sometimes, not. I don’t think there is any general principle here on whether or not children should defer judgment to parents, but I do think that the choice is up to us. Of course it’s a lot more complicated than that, especially if disagreement or insistence on our way is construed to be disobedience, or worse, an unfilial act. Even if we know that isn’t necessarily true, knowing that our parents think so doesn’t make it any easier.

I struggle with this problem too. My mother, bless her, is a very wise and farsighted person, with plenty of sound advice. I acknowledged that about her when I was 11 years old and I’ve always respected her opinion. But I don’t always listen to her. She always gets to say her piece (and I try to be patient and let her), and I will say mine. More often than not, we’ll end up arguing passionately from opposing ends. She tells me the decision is up to me. I think to myself that although she says that, she won’t let me have peace until I choose what she thinks is right. Fortunately for me, when I do choose differently from what my mother recommends, she respects it.

The thing with my dear mother, is that she’s such an organized, long-term planning, near-perfectionist kind of person, that she’s almost always offering analysis on what’s the most rational or efficient way to do things. And she’s more insistent than she probably realizes. Sometimes, I just want to go my own way. Make my own mistakes. If I am to learn in the end that she was right, I don’t mind, I just want to figure it out on my own. And maybe, maybe, some alternative path might turn out to be better for me, and if I didn’t insist on it, I would never know.

I am very much like my mother. So when she tells me that when I become a parent I’ll know how hard it is to let go and to figure out the boundaries as to when to step in and when to keep out, I believe her. And no matter how frustrated I might get with her sometimes, I never forget two vital things. One, just as I believe I know things about my life that she doesn’t know, I acknowledge that she knows many more things about life than I do. Two, she is my mother. She bore me, loved me, and brought me up. She’s put up with all kinds of my nonsense, and I must have hurt her thousands of times in my life so far. But she has always forgiven me and been patient with me. For these two reasons, it would never be right for me to dismiss her views or exclude her from my life. I will still disagree with her. I will still choose differently from her, and there could be many more opportunities to do so in future. But I hope I will always remember how to do so with consideration for her feelings, and with respect.

Papa and Mama may know a lot of things we don’t know. But I don’t agree that they always know best. Neither should children become too arrogant and think that they definitely know what is better for themselves. That is why the best decisions and the best relationship growth in families occur when parents and children learn to communicate and share their thoughts in humility and mutual respect.


Parents, no matter how much you love your children and wish to protect them, it is your children who must live with the consequences of the decisions in their lives. The sooner you let them make their own mistakes, the faster they will achieve their own successes.

Children, if your parents are driving you crazy with what you feel are attempts to control your life, try initiating genuine communication with them. Don’t ever let your frustration make you lose your gratitude and respect for your parents. Be patient, be loving, and bide your time. Hold on to your dreams, for they may still come true. *wink*

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s