“Why Can’t You Be Like Other Parents?”

Two months ago in the cinema, advertisements played before the start of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. This video, made by a major insurance company, came on for the first time.

Locals recognised the setting instantly. It’s a Chinese Wedding Dinner. Everyone is dressed up and gathered in a nice hotel ballroom. The groom is giving a speech about his childhood. He shares with guests how he went from baby to Grown Man because Chinese people only acknowledge your adulthood when you marry.

There’s a twist, however. The groom starts his slideshow with the title, ‘The Worst Parents in the World’.

The more he talks, the more his guests (and viewers) are made to feel uncomfortable. He insults his parents for being poor, for not providing childhood experiences his wealthy peers could afford.

He ends his speech with “Why can’t you be like other parents?”.

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After that, his father gets up to hug him. All that the groom said was meant to be taken positively. He is actually very grateful to his parents for raising him the unique way they did.

The key problem with this ad isn’t that the twist was not really a twist, or that the acting is cringe-worthy, or that the comments section is filled with teary-eyed users who were touched by it.

The key problem is that it creates a twist out of the question “Why can’t you be like other parents?”, trivialising it greatly.

This exact question has been uttered in my family. I was in the car with my younger brother. He was arguing with my parents about something, comparing them with his friend’s parents who were more emotionally supportive. He got angry and shouted, “Why can’t you be like other parents?”. In turn, my mother raged back, telling him to explore adoption options.

Soon after, the car fell silent. I looked out the window feeling somewhat relieved. I now knew for sure that my brother stood in solidarity with me; that I wasn’t the only child who very early on recognised how different our parents are compared to others.

For many of us, our childhoods are shaped by our parents. Additionally, the stories we absorb from TV shows and books drive our understanding of what family is: Mom, dad, me, everyone smiling and feeling happy. The living example of our parents and parental characters are supposed to care about their children. They are supposed to listen to them, take care of them, and love them.

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When we reach our teenage years, self-identity rules. We start figuring out who we are, what kind of clothes we like to wear, and which friends to keep. It is during this period that we take a good look at ourselves.

Yet, throughout these developmental years, never once are we asked to take a good look at our families. When parents are emotionally supportive, home is a place of freedom. When they impose their wishes on us, when they behave badly due to their own poor childhoods and unresolved issues, when they exert control all in the name of ‘love’, family becomes a jail. Some children end up taking their own lives to escape their parents whom they could not choose.

Societal’s first response to youth suicides is always to market Helplines. Some include a paragraph urging youths to reach out through these avenues if they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. In the article above, there’s even mention of an ongoing study on youth suicide by police in Singapore.

Only one sentence in the news coverage was directed to parents: “Parents should also constantly reassure them that they will always be there to help the child through each stumble, winding turn and setback in their (lives),” he added.

There are children who ask “Why can’t you be like other parents?” on a daily basis, in the silence of their hearts.

As adults, we should be asking on behalf of the children why there’s so little attention paid to parents. Why parenting is regarded as an intensely private affair, especially in Asia where physical and emotional abuse are ‘acceptable’ to society?

“Why can’t you be like other parents?” isn’t a line that should be twisted to dramatically reveal a happy family. Instead, it’s a line that we need to listen to and observe daily. Most of the time, children do not verablize it, while parents hide behind thick masks.