practical advice for getting along with your parents (as an adult)

Are you a grown-up who wants to get along better with your parents? Here’s some practical advice I scraped together for myself. Maybe it will help you, too.

1. Help your dad with his computer

When your dad calls you at work for computer help, drop everything and help him, even if you have to step out of the office for half an hour. Never take for granted that he knows what “track changes” is, or that he can find the settings menu on his own. Remember how patient he was when he taught you how to fire a BB gun? Be like that. Speak slowly and clearly and never raise your voice.

2. Don’t complain about their habits

Remember that you’re a guest in their home. If you don’t like the smell of cigarette smoke, too bad. Keep your mouth shut and live with it. Once you accept that your mom has been a smoker for last three decades—that this is who she is, so why should she apologize for it?—then your relationship will be a million times better.

You always say you want the recipe, but when I cook, you’re never in the kitchen.

3. Hang out with your mom when she’s cooking

Listen when your mom says, You always say you want the recipe, but when I cook, you’re never in the kitchen. Go to the kitchen. Offer to help even though she’ll say no because she’s particular about julienning the potatoes into tiny uniform strips. Set the table and scoop out the rice before she asks. Even though she won’t talk to you much, she’s happy you’re in the kitchen witnessing her in her element.

4. Put your phone away

Don’t look at your phone at the dinner table. But before you put your phone away, make sure you take lots of pictures of the food your mom has just spent hours preparing. Send these photos to the family group chat for your dad and sisters to fuss over.

5. Listen to your mom

Listen hard to everything your mom says, even if you think her ideas are insane. When she tells you to consult a professional dating service to find a husband, don’t laugh in her face. Instead, do some research and be thankful that you didn’t go to Stanford, you know how to cook, and you’re not bad-looking. Otherwise, you will die alone. Because everyone knows men don’t want wives who are smarter than they are. They want wives who are lovely to look at, wives who can cook and clean and take care of the children.

6. Keep all chaos out of sight

If you insist on being messy, then keep your mess out of sight. Keep your bedroom door closed. And never leave stuff lying around the living room or your dad will take it and store it somewhere and you will never, ever see it again.

7. Let stuff go, even if your mom won’t

Try not to be angry or sad when your mom brings up things from the past, like the time you made her life a living hell 25 years ago, or the time she washed your mouth out with soap because you talked back to her. Be confident in knowing that you’ve evolved since then.

8. Hang out with them as much as you can

Make time to hang out with your parents, even if you’re just sitting in the same room doing nothing together. The nearness is enough.

9. Show them tons of affection

If your dad is generous with his affection, let him squeeze you in his arms and kiss your head as much as he wants. If your mom is cold and unaffectionate, then give her lots of kisses on the cheek until she laughs and pushes you away. The more over the top you can be here, the better.

When you are 80 and I am 100, you will still be my child.

10. Remember that you’ll always be their baby

Even though you’re a grown-up now, your parents will always treat you like their baby. Because that’s what you are to them. Forever. Hold your dad’s hand at the mall, because it reminds him of when your hand was much smaller, and also because he gets a kick out of pretending you’re his gold-digging girlfriend. And let your mom put curlers in your hair and makeup on your face because it reminds her of when she could dress you up like a dolly.

And believe your mom when she tells you, When you are 80 and I am 100, you’ll still be my child.

how to be a good daughter

Sometimes when my mother wants to be cruel she tells us we burst from a stone. I love when she says this because it’s true. Inside the crystal, my sister and I curled up like yin-yang fetuses and held in our giggles as we got ready to explode in a spectacle of shards to turn my mother’s life upside down and inside out.

Is that what she means when she says we burst from a stone? We’re not of her, not of anybody, not human?

When we were small we’d watch her battle my grandmother at Dr. Mario on the Nintendo. In college whenever she called I’d put the telephone on the table and let her talk to herself, on and on with her opinions and ideas about how I should live my life.

Now that I want to know what she thinks, she’s stingier with her thoughts. Instead, she doles out one-liners like this one, about finding a womanizing rich man to marry: “If he can’t keep his pants on, you can sue his pants off.” Or this one, about fast fashion: “Typical men, exploiting women and children.” (I thought she was talking about labour exploitation but she was really talking about selling clothing to women and children).

Beneath the cruel and bizarre things she says is a vow to protect us, her daughters who burst from a stone like spiders erupting from a boil. Her boil. She wants to save us from bad decisions and bad men with slippers raised high to smack us dead. She sees things blowing up in our faces years before they happen, like young mothers who warn their children not to run so fast or they’ll trip and crack their heads open. But kids need to trip over their own feet to understand how to run. And I need to trip over my own feet (all eight of them, you know, because I’m a spider here) to understand how to keep going.

This weekend my mother asked me to watch a Hong Kong crime thriller with her so I could practice my Cantonese. I paused the film after each line and asked her to break each sentence down into its components because I wanted to annoy her. After five minutes of that, I shut my mouth and watched the movie.

I mean, I gotta cut her some slack, right? It must be hard to be her, because she knows all the mistakes my sisters and I are going to make—and that there’s nothing she can do to protect us.

i’m rich!

Guess what! I found some coins in my couch, a $20 bill in my jeans, and half a stick of Mentos in my backpack.

I’m rich!

The other night we danced for an hour with the lights out in a gymnasium full of strangers. I could hear the two of you shrieking as we flailed our limbs in the freedom of the dark. Three years ago we were strangers, too, but now you’re my sisters. I have lots of sisters scattered all over the world.

Downstairs a man in flip-flops feeds the cats. Most of the cats are shy, but there’s this one noisy one who loves attention. One night a cat almost followed me home. It let me pat its belly and chased me up the stairs before disappearing forever. Maybe it followed someone else home and sleeps in a real bed instead of on the street.

On my birthday the corgi from the shop around the corner crawled into my lap. I let him lick my arm even though his saliva is sticky. The other day I saw an old man playing with him. The old man was smiling so hard he put a lump in my throat. I wanted to put my arms around him but I put my arms around the dog instead.

Two weeks ago my friend read my tarot cards. She’s generous with magic. I want to learn magic, too.

My neighbor with the ponytail always says hi to me and asks me about the guy upstairs, but he never asks about me. Probably I give off vibes of okayness so he knows he doesn’t need to ask.

Yesterday I hung out with my mom. Every five minutes she had something cruel to say: “your top is ugly,” “your skirt makes your legs look chunky,” “your hair makes you look old.” I asked her to just tell me everything she was angry about in one go, then we ran our errands and got foot massages. I tried not to think about the bruise. When I got home, she sent me a text message: “Thank you for being so sweet.”

Tonight I ate a mango over the kitchen sink and let the juice drip down to my elbows.

You know, if you search the corners of your apartment and flip all your notebooks inside out, you’ll probably find that you are RICH.

i changed my underwear this morning

My mother says people don’t change, but I changed my underwear this morning. Two decades ago she changed from Dunhills to Benson & Hedges, the kind you can buy in bulk from a woman inside a cage in some secret corner of Costco.

Three years ago I changed my mind and got on a plane.

No more random shitty jobs to make ends meet. No more typing up dialogue from episodes of Pokemon for fifteen dollars an hour, even though I should have asked for twice as much pay because I type twice as fast as everyone else, but I never knew to ask. No more waking up at 4:00 a.m. in the dead of winter to pedal to the film set and put contact lenses into hundreds of eyes for a living. No more days with no work to do, no knitting on the porch with the neighbor’s orange cat, no chasing my shadow at sunset racing home on my bicycle, no hunting around the supermarket aisles for half-priced meat, fruit on the verge of rotting, deals on toilet paper. No more holding my computer together with duct tape. No more restricting phone calls home to once a month, afraid to hear the fear in her voice, fear that I will amount to nothing, so what will she tell her friends and siblings? No more making promises I can’t keep. No more living in squalor with boyfriends.

Now the boyfriends are strangers and the squalor is my own. My squalor. My home. My career. My life. I figured it out. I CHANGED! Three years ago I changed my mind and got on a plane to try something else. My life before was enough. My life now is enough. It’s always enough.

Did I change?

When will you change your mind and see that it’s always enough and we’re lucky we have each other?

domesticity

My mother is frying up steak and mushrooms. Her whiskey is sweating on the counter, and her face is red from the effort of being my mother. “You always say you want the recipe but when I cook you’re never in the kitchen.” She waves the wooden spatula in the air like a baton, but no one obeys. We’re the musicians who never show up to play.

My ex-boyfriend leans against the stove in his boxers, spatula dangling like a limp extension of his arm. He’s waiting for the pancake to bubble so he can flip it over. He should know better than to cook with no clothes on because the splatter really hurts. I’m counting the stitches on a sweater I’m knitting for him. What happens if he gets fat and the sweater no longer fits? I’ll never know. I gave up my right to know this sort of thing when I moved to another country without talking to him first.

I knit my mother a shawl once. I chose a turquoise yarn spun from cotton because wool makes her itch and I thought the turquoise might look nice with all that black she wears. She never wore the shawl, says it got lost during the move. I think she gave it away to charity. I hope its new owner wears mostly black, too—and earrings as big as hula hoops, the kind that would make my mother cringe.

My ex-boyfriend tells me he still wears some of the things I knit for him. I wonder how his girlfriend feels about this. Maybe she’s wondering the same things as I am. Does he remember me every time he scratches his head under his hat, unbuttons his cardigan, grips his handlebars under his mittens? Does he imagine me on the couch, knitting and purling each stitch with him in mind? Or does he see the objects for what they are: functional items of clothing designed to fend off the chill?

Does his girlfriend ever wear any of it?

The smell of pancakes in the kitchen, the sticky residue of maple syrup when you put your elbows on the counter, little bits of wool stuck to the soles of your feet, along with the hair and flour-dust you promise you’ll sweep up later. My mother says people outgrow each other.

Whiskey breath when I kiss her goodbye after dinner, the stench of cigarettes in the book I’ve borrowed for the ferry ride home, a kernel of homesickness in the pit of my stomach like an undigested dud of unpopped corn.

But what home are you sick for?

One evening I came back to my apartment and found my wooden spatula covered in green fuzz. I thought the fur was cute until I realized it might kill me, so I drowned it in vinegar. I found black mould on the wall, too. But angry scrubbing is efficient; you imagine you’re scouring the face off of someone who was mean to you till nothing remains except for some scratches from when you dug your nails in too deep because you got carried away. I always get carried away.

The next day I lug my new dehumidifier up eight flights of stairs. The whirring keeps me company when I’m making stuff.

I try to make stuff every day. Food, pictures, stories, pieces of clothing, decisions, mistakes. My sister says when you make something for someone, you can’t take it back. You can’t take back your mistakes, either. I have pockets filled with mistakes like sea glass from the beach. Sometimes I like to play with the pieces in my fingers, hold them up to the light, put them in my mouth, swallow them.

My mother has very savage opinions about everything I make. She says the floral prints on my dresses make me look like a woman who’s just resumed her job as a vendor peddling fruit and vegetables at the market after giving birth to some babies. She says the only people with the right to make clothes are those who’ve studied fashion design. She says I should stop sewing, invest in a handbag, a tailored shirt, some shoes, and trick a rich man into marrying me.

No.

I’ll parade around the city wearing my mistakes like sea glass on a necklace.