I grew up in a very traditional family. My dad was the fourth child of the five brothers. My grandfather passed away when my father was about 4 years old. Life was not easy for my dad who grew up in World War II without a father. In a way, his oldest brother who was 13 years senior of my dad was like a father to my dad. My mother is the oldest of the 6 children. My youngest aunt is 13 years younger than my mom and my mother took on the responsibility of helping my grandparents with all the younger siblings as early as the first grade.
My family is very traditional in a way that there is a hierarchy in terms of generation and different expectations in terms of gender. Boys are always treated differently than the girls. The expectation to the men is very different to the women. Men are expected to take care of the family, being the breadwinner. Women are expected to take care of the household. Men are expected to inherit the family name and family fortune and girls are meant to marry into other people’s family.
The only difference in my mom and dad’s family is the expectation about the education. My mother’s side of the family has a high expectation for children’s education, no matter boy or girl. My maternal grandparents met when they were both janitors in a Japanese kindergarten when Taiwan was under Japanese colony. My maternal grandparents learned to speak Japanese while working in the kindergarten. My grandfather used to say to me: “I learned the importance of education and how far it can take you when you were poor.” According to my grandfather, once he and my grandmother were able to communicate with a little bit of Japanese with the teachers in school, they were treated differently than other Taiwanese. They got married when my grandmother was 16 and my grandfather was 19. When their children started to go to the school, my grandfather vowed to send them to a good school and to give them the education.
On the other hand, my father who didn’t have his father and had to start working since he was 10, he never believed the importance of the education. However, as my mom was in charge of the household and parenting, my siblings and I were all expected to do well in school.
So, growing up, I was expected to help out with the chores and to take care of my brother while getting good grades. At the same time, my brother, being the only boy and the youngest, was expected to study well and have fun.
We, my sister, my brother, and I, all turned out to be OK, or better than OK. All of us had achieved higher education and are considered the “productive member of the society.” My mom and dad produced four Master Degree and 1 PhD and 1 PhD-in-making in their family of creation.
As I sat in the dinner table with my siblings and my mom, I can’t help but realized how many degrees my parents produced. Both of them graduated from high school. During their time, when the minimum education in Taiwan was elementary, they achieved higher than others. Both my maternal grandparents had only elementary education. I feel so grateful their sacrifice to bring the better life for the next generation.
This realization made me think about my dissertation outcome, which I have not made any connection until this visit. In my dissertation focused on the couple interaction when the female partner is the adult survivor of the childhood sexual abuse, I found that, one of the partners would copy from his/her parents’ behaviors/belief/emotions while the other partner would used his/her child coping strategies with the abused parents.
I realized that, essentially, my mom copied my grandparents’ expectation and behaviors and we, the younger generation, copied that expectation and continued this family expectation: “Do well in school because that’s your ticket out of poverty.” From my grandparents to my mom, she and my dad got us out of poverty. For me, copy this expectation is no longer about getting out of property. It is about improving and evolving through education, training, and knowledge to better oneself.
Does your family have a specific expectation and does this expectation connect with a certain value? How do you copy or coped with this expectation? How does this expectation/value have influenced your life?
In case you are interested in my dissertation, part of the outcome is published here:
Chen, C. G. & Carolan M. T. (2010). Phenomenon of comparative development between female survivors and their partners: Implications for couples therapy. Contemporary Family Therapy, 32 (4)396-411.