Exactly two years ago, I wrote my first article in South China Morning Post
, addressing my mental health issues caused, or deteriorated, by the experience of negative parenting. I then received two master’s degree offers from University College London, but my tiger Mom expressed her significant disappointment at my underachievement — where I failed to get any offer from Oxbridge.
A year later, I wrote an article in Harvard Public Health Review (forthcoming, published in 2020 Spring/Summer) where I argued positive parenting entails both dialogue exchange and listening between parents and children. My Mom, however, often displays a syndrome that I dub “voluntary deafness”. Whenever I inform her my reluctance to work in the banking industry, for example, she would selectively ignore my words. Before long, she asks me again, and again, when I will complete all my academic endeavours and embark on a banking career.
On top of being “voluntarily deaf”, my Mom shows little sympathy for my mental illnesses. Whenever I committed suicide or displayed significant emotional instability, my Mom would take the initiative to pay for my urgent, additional psychiatric and psychological counselling expenses. However, once my conditions were stabilised, she grumpily denounced that I was spending extra financial resources from her. Mom, sadly but franking speaking, I need to express my apologies for the medical expenses but I hope you understand how victimised I am: in part due to your unduly high expectations, I am unwilling but plausibly have to consume high dosages of medicines for the rest of my life — as my psychiatrist noted ample times that my acute mental illnesses cannot be cured completely but can only be controlled by medications and therapies.
My Mom has been brainwashing me on the importance to earn a degree from Oxbridge for the purpose of maximising the highbrow cultural and elite symbolic identity for my family and myself. For her, I applied for, but was rejected by, the University of Oxford 11 times and the University of Cambridge 7 times. Each time she would express subtle and disrespectful disappointment at me when I was rejected by the pair of big names. I do not even enjoy any respect I deserve as a son or otherwise based on my hard work.
I am not the only sufferer in my family. My madding Mom has strongly disagreed with my sisters’ marriages since their husbands fail to demonstrate high socioeconomic status and professionally promising profiles. Each day or two my Mom grumbles how outrageous she is to think about the marriages of my elder sisters. All my Mom concerns about is wealth, pride and family glory. She does not even realise that her children never measure success in a way she does. Within my household settings, my siblings and I act more like someone that are born to obey and please her.
Last month, I finally obtained a PhD in Sociology offer from the University of Cambridge. My partner and I did not demonstrate any joy for my so-called “achievement”, as we understood that reading a PhD in Cambridge means I might plausibly suffer from another three years of mental conflicts due to substantial academic stress, and my long-term mental health would significantly be jeopardised.
Despite my indifference to read a PhD at Cambridge, I informed the “good news” to my Mom, with an intention to, finally, earn her recognition and respect. Unexpectedly and in a demeaning manner, she continued to act sarcastic and derisive, saying, “Oh, at least it (an offer from Cambridge) is better than nothing,” and “Ah, you cannot get any scholarship, can you?” Her words compounded my mental suffering.
In my 20-ish years of schooling, despite all the social, interpersonal difficulties and acute mental health issues, I have been studying so hard to impress my Mom. This is because I find it necessary to deliver “remunerations” to her as a return of her decades-long financial and time investment in my academic development.
For such a reason, Mom, I will earn my PhD in Cambridge by 2023. I hope you will be proud if this is really how you define success. Yet, I, more importantly, hope you understand that I am so broke, mentally, socially and otherwise.
After earning my PhD, I will stay away from my family and engage in a social entrepreneurial career that my Mom would certainly look down upon — since such a career is not lucrative despite its meaningfulness.
Mom, I will add that “prestigious” credential to my resume. Yet, I am so broke. As Always.
About the Author: Jason Hung is a researcher and writer who held research attachments at Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley and King’s College, London. He works as a freelance journalist at South China Morning Post and The Diplomat.