First-person: My childhood lost to social pressure

By Kim Thuy   March 16, 2016 | 01:25 am PT
I still remember one of the first 'protests' against my parents when I became a teenager: I ran out of the house with tears streaming down my face, telling my parents that I would never come back. 

I did come back, about 15 minutes after I left.

Though it did hurt my pride, I suddenly realized that I had something else more important to save: my family's face and my 'good-record'.

My father once told me he would rather kill his own children than lose face in public.

I was born and grew up in a poor rural area outside Hai Phong, where previous generations had been heavily influenced by Confucianism, a system of philosophy and ethical-sociopolitical teachings in which women are supposed to take a subservient role.


The image is for illustration purpose only - Photo: Do Tuyet Trinh - VnExpress Photo Contest

Girls in my village were raised to behave with obedience and reverence. If they did not, they would be regarded as spoilt and the rumors would spread like wildfire, as my village was like a small company where everyone knew each other whether they were related or not.

My parents etched in my mind that if I wanted to marry a good guy, I must be known as an obedient girl. A girl with a troubled past would never find a good husband. And even if a 'bad' girl married a good man, her parents-in-law and relatives would look down on her.

I was obsessed with that thinking. I assumed it was true as I had been told countless stories about the 'bad girls' in town and the consequences.

I dragged my feet on the way back home, sweating with fear, thinking about a friend of mine who was once beaten by her parents until she fainted.

Her father had torn her clothes and tied her to a coconut tree. She was nearly naked. She groaned in pain. The hysterical father kept beating her without pause. 

Some adult bystanders had to take their children away from the scene. Some covered their children’s eyes. Who knows what would have happened if the locals did not intervene.

She was just 13 years old at that time.

In the village, parents used to teach their children, especially the girls, with rods - or to be more precise - by physical abuse.

Tough love

The reasoning went like this: children would not dare to repeat their mistakes or disobey orders if parents punished them severely, and it seemed to them that humiliation and corporal punishment were the most effective tools for the job.

I was lucky. At least my parents spared me from that humiliation. But they locked me in the bathroom for the whole evening. No dinner for me.

The fight initially broke out after my parents found out I had become addicted to an audition game, an online dancing game, and that I skipped school to hang out at some internet cafes.

My parents thought it was a clear sign of being spoilt, while I had my own reasons.

I was so jealous of the other children I saw on TV who seemed to enjoy an exciting and 'normal' childhood. To me, a normal childhood means a child who spends most of their time each day playing, laughing, yelling and crying on the playground, not falling asleep on the desk studying like I did. Sometimes I imagined I was a totally different person, living in a different family with different parents, someone who would kiss me on my forehead and say goodnight to me after telling me some fairytales. Someone whom I could trust and tell all my secrets to, someone whom I could be friends with .

I wanted everything to be different and the internet world gave me the differences I longed for.

I had a lot of friends in the internet world. Unlike my parents, they talked to me equally. I felt understood and respected. It was an ideal place where I could make my own choices and live how I wanted. A world that was in stark contrast to my reality.

When I was in my teens, my parents forbade me from going out in the evening. I did not have any close male friends. I was not allowed to fall in love till I started university. I was also restricted from extra-curricular activities. My parents wanted me to focus on just studying, and anything that might distract me from that was out of the question.

Social stigma

The worst scenario that my parents could imagine was if I was to fall in love and get pregnant. Nothing could be worst than that: a student who gets pregnant would be like commiting suicide. 

The whole family of the pregnant student would be disgraced and she would be doomed to a gloomy future. She would be forced to leave school and local people would look down on her.

Well, about that, at least, I could understand my parents' worries!

But even my choice of clothes or my hair-cuts were also controlled by my parents, and this was what I could not understand.

I felt like my parents never wanted me to grow up. They hoped to maintain close control over me as long as possible. In their eyes, I was and would always be a small, vulnerable daughter who needed to be protected all times.

But there was one important thing that my parent did not realize: I was lonely.

I had a very simple wish every birthday when I was a child: to have a birthday party. I did not have any close friends and my parents were busy doing business. No one remembered my birthday when the day came.

I did have a best friend, though: a stuffed yellow animal. We slept together, woke up together. I sometimes sang and read for her. I talked to her. I hugged her and cried to sleep when I was sad.

I made clothes for her, cooked for her and helped her 'have a bath' every week. Taking care of her distracted me from my worries.

But most of the time, I was unhappy.

There was a time I wished I had been born a bird so I could fly high and freely. Restrictions suffocated me. I had, for years, tried to do the right thing, although deep down inside I was burning to step out of line, to break all the rules and unleash my energy.

When I was young, I hated my parents.

I could not understand (or maybe I did not want to understand) their extreme protectiveness, so sometimes I thought I would be better off without them. Sometimes I said bad things about them to my friends.

Looking back

But when I grew up, I saw things differently.

I knew they loved me and wanted the best for me. They just did not do it the right way.

And the most important thing is, though my childhood was tough and lonely, I did gain something.

Because I knew how it felt to be lonely, I tried to become a good listener.

And because I wanted to escape from my parents’ control, I worked incredibly hard so that I would no longer need to depend on them.

The unpleasant experiences of my childhood made me a strong woman and unafraid.

And more importantly, I can learn from my own experience to become a good mother in the future.

Someday when I have children, I will tell them “I love you” as regularly as I can, and also “I am sorry” when I do something wrong to them. The two sets of words I longed to hear from my parents, but never did.

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