Why Asians Don’t Say “I Love You” To Their Parents

“I love you, mom, dad.”

That’s something we hear children and adults alike say to their parents in movies and TV shows. And in everyday life, of course.

Love is something that I will always treasure. Love locks on Southbank footbridge. | Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure.

Love is something that I will always treasure. Love locks on Southbank footbridge. | Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure.

But funnily enough, be it in reality or the fictional worlds, the phrase of affection “I love you” is rarely uttered by Asians to their parents, whether in English or in their mother tongue.

I’m admittedly one of these Asians. Never once have I said “I love you” to the folks face-to-face or even over the phone. To me, it’s a strange thing to do.

Why?

Recently, I chanced upon an interesting article about this phenomenon. It suggests Confucian teachings and Asians who tend to educate their children with negative language (or aren’t good at expressing positive emotion) may be why many Asians hesitate to say these three words to the family.

This arguably makes sense. A lot of the time, Asian kids grow up on the receiving end of countless dictator-esque verbal instructions. Typical Asian parents are known to constantly chide their offspring for not getting straight A’s in their exams, for not practicing their musical instrument or for playing under the hot sun.

These scenes are some of the most vivid ones of my childhood and to this day my mum’s nagging still rings in my ears. I never forgot and still remember how unhappy I was on these occasions. Consequently, hostility towards our Asian parents may consciously or unconsciously build up within us when we are naïve kids and stick to our heart as we grow older – encouragement and affection are hardly allowed to thrive.

Secondly, Asian culture prides achievement and saying “I love you” can make an Asian person look like they’re wavering from reaching their next milestone. Metaphorically, many Asians frequently keep a focused eye on the prize. Just look at the late night overtime work culture in Hong Kong and Singapore. Accordingly, family time is limited and come such occasions, we’re at a loss to vocally express affection to our parents face-to-face – we simply don’t think about doing so in the first place, being so absorbed in chasing chimeras.

Or perhaps many Asians are just (stereotypically) too shy to “talk back” to their elders at home and tell them that they love them in their face.

All this doesn’t mean Asians don’t love their parents. One can say we often express gratitude to our family through unspoken means (this is not to say other races don’t do this. I’m sure they do too). And actions speak louder than words.

Many of us (grudgingly) take up music lessons because we realise our parents are lucky enough to give us the opportunity to do so, or at least realise this when we’re older. A lot of us are typical Asian nerds, studying hard and graduating with decent grades to make our nagging parents proud. Symbolic forms of love.

Some of us materialistically treat our parents to lavish banquets to express our love. Then there’s not forgetting filial piety, a virtue valued by many Asians.

I remember once as a kid I decided to show my appreciation to my parents. When I was living in Malaysia, nine year old me made a shabby paper bird sculpture to give to dad on his birthday. When I presented it to him, he said with a furrowed face, “What’s this?”, callously flicked it aside and went back to reading the paper. I never saw that sculpture again.

Well, I tried. At the end of the day, as the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts. Sure, many of us Asians might not say “I love you” to our parents, but deep down I bet we do treasure the love our parents have for us. After all, just like any random person next to us, we’re all people with feelings, social creatures of some sort that need to love and be loved in return.

Do you say “I love you” to your parents, or do your kids say this to you?

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100 thoughts on “Why Asians Don’t Say “I Love You” To Their Parents

  1. It is interesting you write about this Mabel, as when I was growing up they were words that were never uttered in my family, I’m not Asian, but still, no one every showed any endearments, or affection. The stiff upper lip British thing, I suspect. I think it is American Television that changed that mostly. We were shown these families and how families should act. It kind of destroyed a lot of things, kids aren’t displined anymore because on TV you are friends with your children, such a lot of rubbish, if an adult of 30 because friends with a child who was 5 where they weren’t related, then everyone would think it was sick. You are a parent, be their parent, don’t be their friend. Oh,I am ranting now, so sorry. Great post.

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    • That’s so true. I remember growing up there were a lot of American-family sitcoms on TV which my parents encouraged me to watch. I think one reason why I never learnt to say “I love you” to my parents from these programs is mainly because I couldn’t identify with them culturally.

      Like you, I have also never understood why some parents want to be their children’s “friend”. Those who claim to be their children’s best friend, I usually chuckle inside – I’ve never seen an adult running around the playground and sliding down the slides with a bunch of 5 or 6 six year olds in the playground 🙂

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      • You are so wrong. I was that parent and my daughter grew up to be a happy and healthy ,over -achieving, productive person. If you never wanted children don’t have them. If you show them how much fun life is and show your children empathy and true love- they will flourish. I was a true friend of sorts to my daughter. But I was the parent. I had a son who died when my only other child -a girl was five weeks old. So I cherished every day with her and loved playing with her. But I was her parent and she is a wonderful woman of over thirty with a great education and job. I personally feel very sorry for children who have mean -distant, rigid, authoritarian parents. Those children never learn about real love and joy- until they get as far away from those parents as they possibly can. If you don’t want children don’t have them

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        • There are certainly different parenting styles, none right and none wrong. Very good to hear your daughter grew up seeing the fun and positive side of life, and driven to be the best person she can be. A little encouragement can go a long way.

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    • Very well said Conrad!

      We do say “I love you” a lot in my family. I heard it lots and said it lots as a kid and continue with my husband and daughters. We’re a pretty lovey family. I will say though, I’ve been working with my 7 yr old to understand that actions speak louder than words : ) She’s pretty stinkin’ cute and uses those 3 little words to get out of trouble a little too often!

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      • How lovely! Your family sounds like a very close-knit and cozy one. Saying “I love you” can be the first step to understanding our love for one another. A lot of us say it so often, there’s just bound to be some point in our lives where we will realise that we say this phrase so much – and so learn what it means and show love. I hope your seven year old learns to bake you some cookies or helps you with the shopping some day 🙂

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  2. Interesting blog Mabel 🙂 It’s true you rarely hear an Asian (East Asians I am talking about) say “I love you” to their parents. Some people might find it odd, but I don’t at all because (forgive me for saying this) sometimes talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words. Some people say “I love you” and they don’t even mean it. And “I love you” in Chinese (which is ‘wo ai ni’) usually denotes romantic love, whereas in English it is used interchangeably between family, friendship and romantic love.

    I have to question that author who alleged that Confucian teachings have negative language components. Confucius teaches us to respect our elders and parents, but I don’t think he said parents can rule their children with an iron-fist – I think a lot of people these days have misinterpreted Confucius’ philosophies and teachings – especially the West who have very limited, naive and provincial understanding of Chinese philosophy.

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    • Yeah, East Asians. I should have made that more clear in the post (was rushing this one this week!). Yes, “I love you” is used rather loosely today. Sometimes it’s just a repetitive phrase some people (Westerners mostly) say to their parents when they leave the house in the morning for school or work. It’s as if some say the three words because, well, it’s such an ingrained greeting or parting words. But I suppose if you can genuinely show love and affection in unspoken means, then I think that’s the most important thing and shows you have good character.

      I was under the impression that the author in the post I linked to was talking about Confucian teachings and negative language exclusively, as two separate things. Which was why I didn’t exactly touch upon the Confucian bit as I wasn’t convinced this was true. So I just blabbed on about the iron-fist thing 🙂

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      • I think the author suggested that Confucian teaching is the reason why Asian parents are strict or do not have the ability to convey love to their children. Love can be conveyed in different ways, not just talk. And in Chinese there’s no specific word or something that is for family to say they love each other, but ‘Wo Ai Ni’ is actually for romantic love

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        • Yeah, in Chinese there isn’t a specific I love you respected phrase for family. In Cantonese, sometimes you’ll here couples say, “Ngo Oi Lei” to each other, but personally I’ve always felt that this phrase is a bit weird.

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  3. Actually you make a point, even I myself don’t say “I love you” face to face but I do say it through text if that makes a diff? haha! But yeah, I’m more comfortable with expressing my love through actions. It was mean though that your dad just ignored the gift you made. 😦 I remember, I used to make things taught to me by Art Attack, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it but I used to love making artsy stuff for my parents since I didn’t have any cash yet. Hehe 🙂

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    • So nice of you to tell your parents that you love them by text! 🙂 Though I must say I’ve seen people tend to use the more informal “love you” as opposed to “I love you” when texting. Quite a few of the commentors have also said they express love through actions. Love is a feeling, a feeling I presume starts from the heart and spreads through the rest of the body, and so maybe for a lot of us it is natural to “act out” love as opposed to saying it…which usually takes some effort especially when we are nervous.

      I don’t think my dad was being mean. I think he was reading the paper in his down time and I had the naughty nerve to disturb him! I loved Art Attack as a kid. Being a person who is bad at crafts, I was fascinated by how lovely the art works turned out on the kids show.

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        • Yeah, definitely! We’re all raised differently. Each parent has a different style of bringing up their kids; one Asian parent might teach their kids to say, “I love you”, while another Asian parent might not. This could be due to the Asian parents’ education, personality and understanding of culture and life in general.

          Haha, shows like Art Attack make art look fun. I was inspired by the guy’s creations to try my hand at art when I was little…but that didn’t turn out too well 🙂

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  5. Reading through this reminded me of the stories my wife told me about her mother. Usually nothing was ever really good enough, when she was one of the top students in her high school later her mom asked “Why are you not the best?” and so forth.
    Usually her mother always had something to critizise but nowadays everything she does is perfect. So her mom showed two very different extremes within few years in between.

    Now my wife is not worrying anymore to “please” her mother and she is rather proud that she has won every argument since she moved abroad. When I asked her if she ever said “I love you” to her parents she was just looking at me “I have never, no one in China does that after they go through hell with their parents!”. But in the end she still “loves” her parents even if she does not say so aloud 🙂

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    • Wow…your wife has “won every argument since she moved abroad” 🙂 My mum was quite similar to your mother-in-law as I was growing up and it was a challenging time for me then – positive emotion wasn’t floating around too much. So I completely understand why your wife told you what she told you. I guess this kind of upbringing has taught us to be tough, to be strong-minded, to think for ourselves (in terms of going about doing something and achieving something) and to be thoughtful. Thoughtful enough to express our love through our actions.

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  6. Interesting, I could say it freely to my mom…but a son to a dad, never. As for a cultural thing with Asians, I have had many of my Chinese friends mention that they never say I love you to their parents (or spouses) because it is the way they were brought up. The Confucian history/culture gets my vote… 🙂 Really an interesting topic, and great post.

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    • Interesting, some of your Chinese friends don’t say “I love you” to their spouses, assuming their spouses are of Asian descent (I’m really just assuming!). As you said, it can be due to upbringing. Maybe it’s really ingrained in them that “I love you” should be an unspoken verbal phrase between family. A cultural thing.

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  7. Interesting article. I am American-born Chinese and converse in both Chinese and English with my parents. My mother possesses a fierce love for me and my two brothers, but she rarely displays her true feelings. As a result, I am not always comfortable discussing my feelings with her. I’ve observed that Western families generally aren’t afraid to say, “I love you.” Asians and Asian Americans, on the other hand, express love through food and gifts, particularly during traditional holidays and weddings. This is not to say that other cultures don’t do the same, but rather that this is a widely accepted practice among Asians used to demonstrate their love toward family and friends.

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    • Interesting comment. I was intrigued when you said you mother “rarely displays her true feelings” and as such you’re not comfortable doing so. Normally, if we don’t share secrets with someone, most likely they won’t share secrets with us. If we don’t tell someone about our true feelings, most likely they won’t share theirs as well. Of course, I’m sure your mother loves you and your brothers, and that the three of you love her too.

      Yeah, love is expressed through food in many cultures. Effort, time and sacrifice always go into preparing a single dish, all the time 🙂

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  9. That’s quite untrue, I’ve known lots of asians who said I love you to their moms, hug and kiss them. Dads on the other hand are given a thank you with the Buddha clap raise to the head. I’m lao Though, don’t know about other asians, I assume it would be the same.

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    • I suppose in some parts of the world (maybe in the Western corners of the world) Asians do say “I love you” to their parents and show physical affection towards them. Depends on upbringing and the community around them. Thanks for stopping by, Remy.

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  10. A great topic, Mabel. I was always surprised by Asian parenting styles and that Asian parents don’t tell their children they love them, either. My parents tell me they love me all the time, and I tell them the same. To me, to not say I love you would feel weird. But it’s all cultural. What your dad did to your bird sculpture at nine years old was harsh, but it all goes along with other standards put in place, which you mentioned. “Keep your eye on the prize,” etc. If you’re too soft, how can you do those things? I read the book “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” a while back, and I was shocked by how harsh she was with her children. But some of her criticisms of Western parenting really do ring true. A society that wants to make sure everyone gets a prize just for participating leads to a mediocre people and expectations. There are too many examples of that here in the States.

    I guess my question for you is: Will you tell your children you love them? My Taiwanese friends told me that their parents had never said “I love you” but that they were planning to tell their own children those three sacred words. I really do think certain traditions are changing in Asia.

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    • I think you’re right in that it’s all cultural. I think many Asian parents expect their children to be hard and tough, hard and tough just like them growing up in dilapidated shop houses or bending over in the hot sun planting rice in paddy fields. I hope to have some time to read that book you mentioned, always wanted too. Something tells me I will be nodding along with what is said in the book. But there are parts of the general Western parenting style that I like – like encouraging their children to be creative and experiment to their hearts desire.

      Your question to me is an interesting one. If I ever do have children either biologically or through adoption, I won’t rule out saying the three words to them completely. Won’t really be certain until the time comes. I see myself as a very creative person who expresses myself through actions, writing and music. Naturally I prefer to “show” rather than “tell” and in my whole life I have found saying “I love you”, to anyone, weird.

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      • Why should western ways of being so expressive in saying “I love you” matter so much when they are the ones with the highest number of divorces & breakups in relationship. Love is much deeper than words, hugs & kisses!

        I’m sure you know Chinese have four ways and different words to express “love” – 1. love between husband and wife. 2. love between parent, children, uncles, aunties 3. love between brothers, sisters, friends 4. love between students and teachers. If English words are less ambiguous and more specific, perhaps their family and personal life will be more orderly, respectful (to elderly) and less scandalous (eg sex between uncle & niece).

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        • Definitely agree love is more than just words. It’s also about hugs, kisses, cooking, cleaning and doing the little things for each other. Yes, there are different ways in Chinese culture when it comes to expressing love, though I think when it comes to student-teacher relationships, it’s more about respect towards the other.

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  11. Being Asiam myself, I can guarantee on this too that I feel awkward saying those 3 words to my parents out loud. I hardly hear them say to me too. But I know that they love me from everything they’ve done for me and I believe they realize how much I love them from the things I’ve done for them as well. Actions speak louder?

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    • Completely agree with you, Completely Disappear. Actions speak louder than words. It is easy to say words in a convincing tone. And it is easy to lie. But it is not easy sometimes to do things for others. Because, actions take effort and emotion from the heart 🙂

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    • You’re just like me, never said “I love you” to the family! I’ve hugged family members before, but it’s not that often and I feel awkward doing so. Sometimes I feel embarrassed simply when family members, usually relatives, look at me.

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  13. In Sweden, and I believe the other Nordic countries too, we don’t say ” I love you” to our parents or relatives. ” I love you” is kept mostly for your partner – the one you live with or is in love with. And for our children. We love our parents just as much as everyone else does, but it’s not customary here to say it. We hug much and help each other with chores and bring flowers and….just like others have said: Actions speak louder. A common thinking here is that this phrase is over used, especially in America?

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    • Thanks for sharing, Leya. That is very interesting to hear. Helping out with the chores is definitely one sign of showing that we love our parents, so is running errands here and there for our parents. In America, a lot of daytime sitcoms and dramas show kids saying “I love you” to their parents. Maybe this is part of the American way of life. I hope the phrase isn’t overused – if it is, that would mean the phrase has lost its meaning and we’re just saying it for the sake of saying it with no emotion. But at the end of the day, I agree with you – actions speak louder than words 🙂

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  14. I loved your post….and Being Indian I can totally relate. It might seem weird to some people and we might not understand our parents or elders but our upbringing has been like that, we have a very hard time being expressive like that, and sometimes even though the words are not spelled out, you realize the intensity of love is still there….

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    • Thanks, Sabrina. We’re definitely in the same boat. Thanks for sharing too; I wasn’t too sure if Indians said “I love you” to their parents – but I was thinking no! I think recognising love in the form of actions is a very moving, emotional thing. For instance, in my Chinese family, we like to cook. Or my parents like to more precisely. I sometimes come home stunned to find a big feast on the table for dinner. This is love. I think when our parents grow old and in the future can’t cook for us anymore, I think they’d want us to cook for them as opposed to us just telling them “I love you”. If we truly love our parents, we will show it 🙂

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  15. When I was growing up. the words “I love you” where never spoken. I agree that there definitely is a cultural component to this behavior–though not necessarily Asian. I am American of Polish descent and my mother, like a lot of Polish women, expressed her love with food. I also grew up watching all the sitcoms and used to think that real families did not act that way, saying “I love you,” etc. I was in my late 20s when I was finally able to tell a woman I really loved that I loved her. That broke the ice and it thereafter became easier to utter those seemingly simple words. Today, it really warms my heart when my kids tell me they love me.

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    • You are very lucky that your family show you they love you through food – you will never go hungry 🙂 Yeah, other races might feel the same way and some might not be comfortable saying those three words to their parents. I think for a lot of us, “I love you” is a very emotional, moving phrase, a phrase that means and holds a lot of significance to us. And we will only say it if we really mean it and feel it. So, we don’t say the phrase too often and it feels awkward if we say it – or try to say it. Sometimes it’s hard to say that to your parents if all of you have been through many disagreements with one another.

      I am sure your kids love you and they mean it when they tell it to you 🙂

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  16. Thanks for visiting the QH. Interesting blog you have here. I won’t/can’t speak for other New Yorkers, let alone the rest of the country, but the adults in my family try to say I love you to each other every morning no matter how we are actually feeling be it mad, happy, sad and everything in between. I think it is a protective thing so if something bad happens during the day we are not left feeling that the last thing our partner, or kid, heard from us was nasty. The teenager on the other hand, may use the phrase three times a year with us.

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Robert, and thanks for sharing. It’s never nice to walk away from someone saying a bad or insulting thing to them. “I love you” is an uplifting, loving phrase and for you, what a positive way to start the day with it. I suppose you guys say it when you’re heading for work and going out the door each morning. To me this also seems a selfless act – you do it no matter how you feel. Shows that for a moment you put aside your feelings and take note of those around you. And I bet this makes you feel a bit better if you’re feeling down or angry.

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  17. Even though I was brought up in Australia, I was brought up way more Asian style than Spanish, and no, I can’t say it to my parents, nor them to me. Ok, my mum has “uncultured” herself a bit now and will write it to me.

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  18. Haha I haven’t finished. I also made my mum a mug once for mothers day, proudly in a way to say I love you, also only to be tossed aside, just like with you! I’m glad for reading your post because in Spain all my friends can openly talk about everything and anything to their parents, while I can’t. Most of the time I carefully select what I have to say, its quite sad but thats how I was culturally brought up.

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    • Haha, Sofia, you have too much to say 🙂 That was a bit sad, your mum tossing away the self hand-made jug aside. I’ve seen some children – also grown-up kids – talk to their parents like friends and the other way round too. They seem so comfortable with each other. I suppose with our cultural upbringing with our parents not saying “I love you”, it will be hard for us to understand this, let alone be like this towards our parents. Sometimes I think we wish we are like this, but something is always holding us back.

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  19. Very fascinating. I’ve been aware of many of the things you speak of but I had no idea that it was so uncommon for Asian children to say “I love you” to their parents. I can’t believe it’s never at all. I’m sure that I’ve seen a subtitled Chinese film or two in which a child had said “I love you” to a parental character so it must be there even if ever so slight. I would imagine the opposite is also true, that some Asian parents must tell their children that they love them. I hope so.

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    • I’m one of those Asian kids who’ve never verbally said “I love you” to their parents. Have I considered it? Yes. Have I done so? No. Trying to express my love to my parents in the form of gifts or helping out around the house has often been met with stern words – me being “in the way” or “helping out too slow” – so saying “I love you” doesn’t come naturally to me. Of course, I’m sure not all Asians are like me. I would suppose Asians whose Asian parents are second or third generation Australians/Americans/Britons might be more inclined to say “I love you”, having been (more) exposed to the Western way of life.

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  20. My family was not huggers or I love you types when I was growing up. When I married into a Latino family you could not get in or out of the the door when visiting without many hugs and I love you’s. I made a conscious effort to hug my mother and tell her I love her, because I learned that these were things I needed from her. At first when I hugged her she would tense up, and I think the words I love you were hard for her to say. Overtime she has loosened up a bit, but the I love you or hug always comes from me first. I don’t hold it against her, she was not hugged or told she was loved as a child, so it was something she had to learn. I always felt it, but sometimes you really need to hear it.

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    • That is interesting to hear. It must have been a bit odd for you initially to start hugging and saying “I love yous” when you got together with your Latino partner. Sounds like you have embraced this. You’re right. This is expressing affection verbally and physically is something we have to learn. And not only to learn, but also learn to receive and recognise that this is how quite a number of us perceive love. It’s also important to learn how to hug, in my opinion. There’s the gentle hugs and then the bear hugs…some might not take too well to crushing bear hugs 🙂

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  21. Dont generalize. Its not because you Chinese people are not expressive of your feelings, doesn’t mean all Asian are like you guys. I was raised with so much love. That everyday I used to hear that from my parents with kiss and hug. Now that i have my own family, i do the same thing. My children are growing up with abundant love, saying “i love you” every time they wake until bed time. Our day is not complete without saying ” I love you” with kiss and hug. By the way I’m a Filipino.

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    • You’re right. All of us are different, in terms of our upbringing and background. Some of us are brought up to show our love physically and/or verbally, and some of us through actions. And some of us all of these. No two Asian families are the same, whether in the same or different countries. Sounds like you come from a loving Filipino family, very happy for you.

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  22. I’m Asian too and, yes it would be very awkward to say these words or anything related to that to my parents… My parents never gave me good praises so, it was really awkward when my mom congratulated and hugged me for graduating high school haha. We show no love in our family, in fact It was also very awkward even when my mom texted “happy birthday” to me. I don’t know about your family but pretty much showing any type of affection to one another in my family is super awkward or uncomfortable.

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    • “We show no love in our family.” That’s a very strong statement, and to be honest, that’s how it is in my family. Whenever I came home with a decent mark on a test at school, my parents would make some wow-ing noise and tell me to study harder and do better for the next one. I guess that was their way of encouragement. “I love you” from them, didn’t hear that at all. It doesn’t sound like you’re ashamed of this, though. I’m not ashamed…I guess it’s just the way some cultures are. Thanks for sharing, T.J.

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  23. Interesting read. It does hit close to home since my parents do this too. While they’ve become quite assimilated, they never express their love verbally, but rather, through actions. I remember getting really caught up during my freshman year of college and forgetting to call home frequently. My dad kept calling (we don’t have a good relationship), so I finally picked up and of course he said, “You should call more often and talk to your mom and brother.” I don’t know how other Asian Americans feel, but for me, it’s the actions that matter. I see my other non Asian friends text their parents this common phrase, but it seems almost meaningless. It’s like they are having a casual conversation and I feel like telling someone (especially your parents) that you love them, shouldn’t be done in such an off-handed manner. Sorry if I’ve offended anyone with this. I just wished to express how I felt about this term of endearment. I believe that the majority of ABCs acknowledge that their parents really love them, but are caught in a cultural crossfire between American and Chinese standards. It was easier for me, since my dad is from Taiwan and then practically grew up in California. I just hope that they understand their parents really love them, even if they don’t say it.

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    • It is interesting to hear that you used to call your parents – or your parents calling you – during your time at university/college. Love in the form of actions right there. I reckon a lot of Asian parents would rather have the time and opportunity to have meaningful conversation with their kids no matter how infrequent as opposed to hearing “I love you” from them every day. In general (and quite stereotypically), Westerners tend to have a more laid-back and carefree mindset compared to Asians. So perhaps many Western parents do take a verbal “I love you” as something meaningful, or like to think that their children mean well (and I’m sure the children mean well). Then again, saying a simple “I love you” tends to lack the warm intimacy felt all round during a one-on-one conversation with the folks.

      I love how you say that us Asians in the western world are “caught in a cultural crossfire” between Western and Asian standards. On one hand we want to value and respect our traditional heritage, but on the other we yearn to be progressive as well.

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  25. Thanks for writing this. This is indeed common among Asian families. It really depends on individual families, don’t think it’s essential in the end of the day.

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    • Thanks, Noahsin. Some Asians say “I love you” to their parents and some Asians don’t. You’re right, this does depends on individual families and they way the children are brought up. What’s important at the end of the day are the thoughts that count.

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  26. This is an interesting conversation. I studied Mandarin Chinese in college and lived in Taiwan for a little while.

    I befriended a Taiwanese girl and we did keep touch for a little while. Once we had a discussion whose mother nagged more, my Jewish decent mother or her Taiwanese mother. She won when she stated “My mother nags me so much, she nags me about things I’ve done in past lives!” Hands down, she won that one.

    I am not closed-minded when it comes to other cultures. I am American born. However, it’s disheartening to hear so much animosity towards Americans and our culture.

    You cannot blame divorce rates and problems here on our tendency to say “I love you” more freely than other cultures. It’s not the reality of the source of problems. It’s like saying the price of oranges caused a hurricane. The two really don’t have much to do with one another.

    With that said, every culture and country has their problems.

    However, the thing to keep in mind is that there are as many parenting styles here as there are people. Cultural influences definitely come into play, but there are many more people here who have trouble saying the three words than you think. Many of them wind up in my office.

    We said it in our home growing up. I did not really have the best childhood, not the worst. Physically, we were well cared-for, but emotionally, we were on our own. However, saying “I love you” was not responsible for the lack of closeness I had with my family. Just the opposite, it was the one thing that held me together through my childhood. I don’t even want to know what would have happened if my parents didn’t say it.

    As a parent myself, I say it freely, maybe even a little too much, but I don’t care. When my children were born, I was so happy, I wanted to see if I could say it a million times before I died. And since I am a very sincere person, I mean it every single time I say it.

    It’s quite a challenge, when you think about it. I calculated how many times I would have to say it every day, and I think if I had to say it a thousand times a day, it would be a little tiresome for everyone to hear, and I would not really be able to say anything else. So i resigned myself to say it just enough to make me and them happy. However, this little exercise in my head helped me realize that I didn’t have to stop with words! Everything I did all day long could count towards that million. So I use the verbal WITH the actions, and they go hand in hand really well!

    My son, who was a loveable, huggable little toddler, now a teenager, sometimes tells me in fake amazement, “No! Really?” But then he smiles and gives me the obligatory mom hug.

    My daughter, who is four, just eats it up every day. Sometimes she fishes around for me to say it. She’ll come up to me and state, I don’t know how much you love me, mommum. So I’ll tell her I love her more than the stars, the moon, the sky, rainbows, glitter… she smiles and goes about her day after that.

    My children are not soft or weak. I saw my son put down a thirteen year old bully twice his size when he was only eight! And he is strong emotionally as well. Very level headed, very reasonable, sometimes even more than me!

    Both kids are strong, self-confident kids. And loving!

    And, by the way, my husband told me he loved me the third day after we met. I said it back and it felt like the most natural thing I ever stated. This past month, we have been together as a couple for twenty years. We both forgot our wedding anniversary of sixteen years this past June, but we didn’t even really mind that much! We laughed it off and decided to remember our milestone in August, our twenty years together.

    I hope this post will show you that even when saying I love you seems strange, it’s not a bad thing at all. It just takes being brave and making the first step. Then with practice, it gets easier, like playing the piano. And it won’t make your kids soft and it won’t bring anarchy to society.

    I did not realize that “Wo ai nee” is considered inappropriate between parent and child. If my Taiwanese teacher taught us that, I completely forgot!

    Your article generated some great discussion, and you are so gracious when you respond.

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    • You’ve stated a very important point here: “there are as many parenting styles here as there are people”. If we bring up kids in a loving, verbal and physical “I love you” household, there is every chance that they will genuinely feel comfortable expressing love this way to their parents and might even continue this tradition with their kids. Then again, each of us have our own personalities and experiences that can affect our attitude towards a verbal “I love you”. Growing up, my parents always told me crying over something gone wrong was something we should not do – that it shows we’re weak or soft. My dad would shout at me to stop crying whenever I did and told me to get on with fixing things to make him proud. Maybe this is one reason why I don’t say “I love you” to my parents til this day.

      It’s great that you have kids that are both outgoing, confident and loving, especially knowing how to show affection verbally and physically. And meaning it. Love is such a great emotion, but it is an emotion that (may) takes time to develop and grows stronger over time if you work at it. So maybe you are right: being brave and making the effort to say “I love you”, we might not only get used to it but learn to express it with feeling too. No reason why we – and I – can’t try.

      Those three words tend to grab people’s attention (and make people stop) a lot of the time they are uttered (in my opinion)…as cliched as this sounds, love makes the world go round, whether it’s expressed verbally or in the form of actions, or both.

      You must be in a great relationships with your husband, he sounds like a great one. Very happy for you and your family, and I hope many more loving years to come. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to say a few words, Kirsten. It was a very insightful comment to read the whole way through. Hope to see you around soon.

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  27. this is very simple. our parents were never loved themselves hence they never had love to give. and without imparting that onto us, why would we ever say or express love back to them (or anybody else)?

    let me be clear, the love they gave us as did their parents onto them were conditional; the means towards conditional love were based on survival. our parents and grandparents grew up in war-torn environments–times of instability–and secondary and tertiary levels of living (i.e. loving one another and especially expressing that did not see much light and) couldn’t permeate into the notion of even saying ‘i love you’. i’ve heard stories from my grandmother scurrying for cockroaches, gutting them, and stuffing them with grass or fruits as a meal. hence survival was undoubtedly a primal and primary concern; so long as they lived to see the next day that was an achievement of success.

    fast forward into current times success, in terms of survival, is a job that provides security, e.g. spending years in school to become a doctor–even if in the long-term doctors are killing us with toxic pharmaceutical prescriptions–is perceived to ensure survival because it provides high income and puts food on the immediate and short-term table.

    still old paradigms and beliefs are dying and are dying hard to this day.

    the conditional love imparted on my generation to achieve achieve achieve in order to receive any positive rewards or perceived success is the same old means of surviving but spun into a modernized civilization.

    thriving, on the other hand, is a relatively new concept yet something we are now stepping into as a global community. the basic tenet of thriving is self-love. because what we’re now waking up to is the reality that achievements don’t inherently mean anything. they may ensure survival (which is still an important primal accomplishment) but it’s what we attribute to it that matters. what does it mean to you if you accomplish a ton but don’t have true love or unconditional love–self-love?

    there is only one path to self-love and that is to surrender. surrender everything you think you know. surrender everything you think you need to do. surrendering is, in fact, the only thing to do.

    most of us operate with 5% of conscious awareness in our everyday desires and creativity. and though we may have notions of peace, love, equality, compassion and equanimity why do they not manifest? the other 95% is based on subconscious thinking programmed into us from ages 0-7 and inherited from parents, preachers, teachers and leaders taught the same old things from past progenitors limiting us from our conscious wishes. so who wins? the 5%? or 95%? duh. hence the juxtaposition of same survival mentality but different generational time periods.

    surrender this 95%. give it up. be present to every thought, emotion and physical sensation–all that chitter chatter going on inside you. surrendering allows you to be present with yourself. being present with yourself allows you to know thy self. and self-knowledge leads to self-love.

    self-love ultimately provides fulfillment. with self-love one has a true understanding of what success means and how they choose to define it. if you love yourself then you have love to give.

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    • Very interesting comment, many layers there. Thank you, Jay. “the conditional love imparted on my generation to achieve achieve achieve in order to receive any positive rewards or perceived success is the same old means of surviving but spun into a modernized civilization.” Brilliant way of putting it.

      Our parents’ generation did go through hard times just to survive, a far cry from our cushy and privileged lives today. No surprise love and intimacy was the last thing on their minds. Working and making a living is all that they come to know and what they do best, and naturally they’d want to teach that to us.

      I agree that we have to love ourselves first before we can love others and show love to others. When we come to accept ourselves, we have a better understanding of our emotions and thus the emotions of others to an extent.

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  28. Did you suffer that wound long, how your dad tossed your gift aside? Heard of the Tiger Mom? Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, The Yale professor who decided to raise her half-Jewish, half-Chinese girls the (superior) Chinese way (as opposed to the careless American), rejected the bday card her little girls scrawled her. She said she worked hard to give them the best and deserved better, not a last-minute slap job. LOL.

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    • I’ve always remembered my dad tossing my gift aside. Don’t remember crying over it…I suppose part of me wasn’t surprised since my dad was never a big softie with his constant poker face.

      I’ve heard of Amy Chua, have yet to read her book. It’s always the thought that counts, no matter how much time you put into getting something done 🙂

      Like

      • To her, the last-minute thought evidenced by the slap job of a scrawl wasn’t enough. (Not talking about your gift.) She felt she deserved more and that her girls needed to be more self-aware in their appreciation for their mom. Yeah, she’s something.

        Liked by 1 person

  29. From experiences with my parents, this is very true. All of the trinkets little me made for my mother and father were discarded long ago. My siblings and I weren’t given rewards for good grades, no, we were told to get “120% or higher”. My family is mainly Filipino, but mixes with British, Chinese and Puerto-Rican traditions, so my entire family consists of teachers, nurses or members of military. I aim, well I say I but its for my family’s sake, to become a surgeon, but even so I have to follow strict guidelines and morals which have caused me to withdraw from any conversation with my parents about nonacademic activities.

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    • Thanks for sharing, Jade. Sometimes I think our parents discard little things we give our parents because of practicality reasons – those material objects won’t last, but memories will. If we love our parents, then why not show it and we’ll be able to carry the feeling in our hearts forever.

      That is a very interesting heritage you have there. I’m sorry to hear that relations between you and your parents are a bit strained. There is a fine line between giving someone sound advice and telling them how to live their life. Love can manifest itself in ugly ways too. I hope things get better for you soon 🙂

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  30. Yes, we rarely say “I love you mum/dad”. Because, they feel our love for them without saying a word. You know, action speaks louder than a word. 😊

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  31. Something that I have recently encountered is my own unfamiliarity with saying “I’m sorry” when being scolded. Maybe this is just my family specifically, but I have never heard anyone in my family say sorry to each other. Usually, a moment of silence and reflection (with the head down) and then “I won’t do that again” is how things end. This has seriously affected relationships I’ve had as an Asian-American, since I’m so used to just personally reflecting and trying my best to never repeat the same mistake again. It’s something I’m fixing about myself, but I have no idea if this is something specific to my family or if culture had anything to do with it.

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    • Thanks, Soje, for sharing that. That is so interesting to hear – when do we say the words “I’m sorry”. An idea for a future post perhaps…

      Truth be told, I don’t remember saying sorry to my parents when they reprimanded me. Like you, I’d go silent and then sit still, trying not to do anything and get in the way of my parents. In a sense, it sort of seems that if we are in the wrong, we do not deserve to speak and do not deserve a voice. Like you, I wonder if this applies generally to Asian cultures and families, or if it’s a personality trait.

      It also reminds me: as a kid, sometimes my dad would shout at me for doing something wrong (e.g break something at home). I would start crying, and immediately my dad always said, “Stop crying. Stop it.” And I always did, holding the sobs back. Crying, and maybe also saying “I’m sorry”, perhaps is a sign of showing weakness – and maybe our parents simply want us to stand up for what we have done and be accountable for it, and then move on.

      Once again, thank you for sharing. Very insightful 🙂

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  32. This is really interesting, as someone who is used to hugging and saying “I love you” to my family it took me a long time to see the ways my Chinese fiance’s parents show their love for him. Like you describe, they scold him a lot (even though he is 33!) but I notice that his mother will cook his favourite foods when she is happy with him or will (very occasionally) briefly touch his neck or adjust his jacket or something – usually when he is about to go away for a long time.

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    • Such an interesting point – that Chinese mums love cooking for their adult children when they are in a good mood. Then again, family and being a part of a team – as opposed to individualism, is valued in Chinese cultures. Really is a different way of expression love; if I can provide you a meal, then that’s love 😀

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  33. I think the use of these three very important words, are more used in america than anywhere else. I grew up in Sweden, and yes, I believe I have heard my mom have said I love you (in Swedish.) I am not 100% sure, even though I know she did (she’s no longer with us.) I’ve never hear day dad say it. I say it to my daughter every day. I guess I am Americanized now, after living here a few years. I don’t think I’ve said those words to my dad, even though I most certainly love him. I use them frequently to a few very important people in my life. It’s not something I take lightly upon. They kind of comes with a promise, to be there for one another.

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  34. Interesting topic, and very true for the most part I’d say. In my family (though we are are Koreans), we say I love you to each other all the time. And my dad, very unstereotypically, is probably the most emotional of us all…constantly telling us how much he loves us. Lucky I guess. 🙂 However, I do have a Korean friend here in Seoul, who’s only heard “i love you,” from her father once…and it was the day after all the students drowned in that horrific ferry accident here. 😦

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    • Thanks for sharing, Shelley. Most Koreans I know do not seem very affectionate with their parents, but perhaps this is just the context I’m in. Your family sounds very close knit, very lovely.

      So sad to hear about your Korean friend and lucky she wasn’t caught up in that incident. I hope your she feels more love from her parents 🙂

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  35. Wow, this article hit Homerun. I’m currently a design student at nanyang academy of fine arts (nafa). I find your article very intriguing and I have some questions regarding your research. Do you mind me just asking you a few questions regarding this topic privately?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe just a short intro of myself. I’m actually graduating this year. My final project is actually about mothers. Or to put it more specifically, realising how much they have done for us children and how much we’ve taken from them. I feel that Mother and child relationship is the most fundamental bond of mankind. Hence, this project is actually quite personal although this would be open to public viewing in a few weeks time

      Like

      • That is an interesting project you are working on there. When I lived in Singapore and went to school there, I got the feeling family was very important within the culture there. Happy to have a chat if you drop me an email via the ‘Contact’ page 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and reading.

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  36. Well said Mabel. As an assimilated Chinese person living within a region with dominant Western values, I think it is a common experience to feel that something is remiss when we are surrounded by a community where open affection is often norm. If one is not aware of the roots of negative language as you describe it so well in this post,I think it is easy to internalize and take personally cultural influences that are not meant to be personal. In this regard we sometimes live our lives past one another even although we may share the same space.

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    • Great point in that sometimes we might not feel fully present around others when we share the same space due to cultural differences. Open affection can also be hard for some of us because perhaps our culture simply doesn’t favour this. In certain countries, it is best to keep to yourself or risk getting hurt, be it physically or emotionally.

      Glad to have connected with another Chinese person with similar experiences 🙂

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  37. Excellent post …
    So interesting to learn about the Confucian teachings and the presumably dictator-esque verbal instructions… It makes much sense to me, too.
    I understand what you mean about being “restrictive” as to saying I Love you…
    In Spanish there are two ways to say I love you: one is Te amo (which is a phrase you´d reserve for a lover or partner) the other one is Te quiero which is more light so to speak and one could use more easily in the case of friends, family, etc- However, when we say any of those two expressions it is cause we mean it … I fell that anglophones use I Love you in a more relaxed way… Like you say: on the phone, before saying good bye or even in text messages. I guess as argentine; I´d have to stick to your asiatic cultural background/legacy too 😀 😉
    Love & best wishes, my friend! ❤

    Like

    • Now I know the difference between Te amo and te quiero 😀 Two differnet phrases that mean the same thing but they can be taken the wrong way if used in different situations, lol. Agree with you some cultures say “I love you” more loosely. Like you, that is not me and I don’t take that phrase likely. Say it like you mean it, love like you mean it ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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