While familial love is expressed in various ways such as hugs, kisses and saying “I love you” in Western culture, it’s not always common place among Asian families.
My parents have never said “I love you” to me and I can recall one hug taking place a few years ago, when I was 22 and going on my first ever solo holiday.
This isn’t to say we’re a loveless family. We just have different ways of showing it.
When I was 18, my dad bought me a car out of the blue. It was a secondhand Honda Accord, but it was going to save me from getting public transport home from work to Western Sydney late at night. Looking out for my safety was his way of showing love.
“Thinking about it now, I don't think I've heard any of my family members saying "I love you" to each other."
For myself and many Asian-Australian twenty-somethings I know, the lack of conventional affection from their parents doesn’t seem strange at all, because it’s how we’ve grown up. In fact, it would seem more strange if we were to all of a sudden start showing affection towards our parents.
Patrick Yang, a 27-year-old Chinese-born Australian, says, “It’s gotten to the point that, even if I want to say it, I can't because it just feels, unnatural.
“Thinking about it now, I don't think I've heard any of my family members saying "I love you" to each other,” he continues.
In a 2014 article for Fairfax Media, Singapore-born psychology student Jessica Li-Shan Driscoll argued Chinese parents show love through discipline. “We have a saying in Mandarin that sums up the role of discipline in Chinese parenting. It literally translates to ‘beating is affection, scolding is love’. Parents discipline because they care,” she wrote.
The writer credits her strict upbringing for her success. “I remember mum spending hours by my side, forcing me to study. I didn’t know it at the time, but she read my textbooks every night while I slept, just so she could help me revise. Had mum never done that, I doubt I would have taken my studies as seriously or done well enough to attend a top university,” she explained.
Conventional ways of showing love even alludes some Western families.
For Nishan Sequeira, a 27-year-old Indian-Australian, he knew his mother cared for him deeply even though she only verbalised it once at his recent wedding reception.
In episode four of The Family Law on SBS, Benjamin Law's brother Andrew is fed up with their mother's overbearing party planning for his 18th birthday. But like many Asian parents, Jenny was just trying to show her son how much she loved him through food, or as she puts it, "All the meats."
Conventional ways of showing love even eludes some Western families. Patricia Youlten says her mum occasionally shows affection by “sending sweet texts” or buying her household items or beauty products. “It proves she's thinking of me,” she says.
“My dad rarely said ‘I love you’, and I assume that's a part of a generational thing. But he'd show me love by cooking me specific things for dinner and he'd also buy me books,” she adds.
Though it may be years between hugs and kisses, I’ll always know my parents love and care for me through their phone calls asking what foods I’d like to eat before each weekly dinner. After all, the way to my heart is through my stomach.