Family and Societal Expectations

Happy Children’s Day.

“The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted.”

– Mance Rayder, Game of Thrones

Family and societal expectations can weigh heavily on the minds of many. What are we supposed to do with our lives? What type of person are we supposed to be?

These questions are common everywhere. Although they may be more of a mental block than anything else (i.e. will the family disown me if I do what I want?), they can have lasting effects on the decision-making of people the world over. China and America both have these for example, though they may vary a bit.

A look at China (written by Duan Lan):

There are family pressures because people have certain expectations on themselves or others. It would be pointless talking about parental pressures without mentioning parental expectations. That being said, what do Chinese parents want from us?

It is universally true that every parent, whether from western or eastern cultures, wants their children to be happy. However, every parent, even within a compact nuclear family has their own definitions about “happiness”. Take an example about expectation: raising children is treated as if parents are playing an RPG — shaping a “product” or a “character” that meets the game settings. Chinese parents are devoted and concentrated players that focus on the game setting itself: the definition of achievement is to perfectly fit into the setting and to complete the missions. They respect the rules and play within them. Chinese parents are defining happiness as successful integration into society. This leads to a balancing act in parenthood between wanting the child to be happy as long as it is within established societal traditions.

It has both bright and dark sides. The dark sides are pretty obvious. You will see many Chinese young adults, like me, who are unhappy and confused when we are supposed to be perfectly happy. Parental and societal pressures to conform have disabled our sensibility of seeking the happiness within ourselves. The changes require bravery to break the walls and step out of our comfort zones of familial and cultural acceptance, which can prove extremely difficult. Or you will see many other Chinese young adults, unlike me, that have accepted the social roles, and are living the “perceived” lifestyle that is told to be right and successful (the possibility that some of those people are naturally fond of the lifestyle is not excluded).

Indeed, I have talked to many Asian kids from China and beyond; we all agree on the lack of diversity of values in Asian cultures. Sticking with the collectively accepted values is the way to success; those holding different world values may not be embraced. For example, what’s wrong with a girl not getting married before 25 or maybe 30? Of course nothing, though be prepared to shield yourself from whispers and ridiculous assumptions. After all, any respectable Chinese girl should be somewhere in the marriage process by 23.

Then, what are the bright sides? Many Asian cultures are running like companies. A key aspect of building a business is the culture. Cultural fit is important for a company when hiring, because you want the people who are growing and developing with the company have the same values and vision. The uniformity in values will create the greatest power, because that’s what motivates and excites people toward a common goal. Our society succeeds in a way that shapes every individual in a similar way and instills us with uniform value system in mind, and we all are achieving the goal that benefits the society.

— — -

The American Perspective (written by Brian)

Parents and society on both sides want their children to be happy; we just go about it in different ways. In America, we tend to value individualism and independent thought. We are taught from a very young age to analyze, interpret, and criticize in order to form our own opinions. Children are generally encouraged to follow their interests and dreams, so long as they are realistic. We believe that anyone has the right to pursue the world they desire, regardless of their physical or economic condition at birth. Whereas China may be the stodgy corporation, America is more like the startup: very fluid, always changing, and encouraging failure.

This attitude can be liberating and very rewarding. Given the ability to create our own paths is like creating an RPG character and learning to utilize those skills to our advantage, rather than working to mold certain characteristics into an ideal shape. We learn to think quickly on our feet, relying and succeeding on our wits, to bend the rules in our favor.

However, it can also come at a cost. If we aren’t told what to do, and have skills in many areas, how do we decide for ourselves? This can lead to analysis paralysis and lack of a stable career, and can create issues related to confidence and assertiveness. We can see proof through the ADD epidemic and a generation on pills. When you are free to choose and free to fail, risks are high and the rewards can be immense. The inability to choose, focus, and rise after falling, however, can humble even the most confident of people.

Even still, we Americans have different family and societal pressures weighing on us, though they may differ depending on region or city size. In my opinion, smaller cities in America may display a stronger sense of conformity. I’ll never forget returning for my 5-year high school reunion. Coming from a city of 3,000 and a graduating class of 100 (only school in town), I was shocked to see roughly 10 married couples — some with kids — from my class. This was by 23 years old. The pressures felt from a town where everybody knows everybody can be pretty daunting. After all, who wants to be the one whispered about for not keeping up with the Joneses? This was part of the reason I felt so compelled to get married at 25. Although we were legally annulled (she went into the marriage under false pretenses), the pressure to conform was there — and I buckled.

In major cities across America, people commonly wait until their 30s and beyond to get married while focusing on their career in earlier years.

Bottom line: families all over the world have certain desires and dreams for their kids. It is the reason parents sacrifice, so their children can have a better life. We all deal with family and societal expectations and pressures, even if they underlying theme (conformity vs. individualism) may be slightly different. — –

If you enjoy this post, please like and share and join in the conversation. Always love a good chat. Cheers! ☺️

Originally published at on June 1, 2015.

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