Young adults fleeing parents' high expectations

By Pham Nga   August 31, 2023 | 10:31 pm PT
A large part of young people in Vietnam are reluctant to visit their families because they are ashamed they have not met their parents' high expectations.

Hong Thanh used to be her family's pride, but she is now afraid to visit her hometown and face her parents.

The 25-year-old woman was the only one of the four siblings in her family to pass the national university entrance exams. Her parents then worked as street vendors during the day and as motorbike taxi drivers at night to pay for her studies.

Feeling indebted to her parents' hard work, Thanh studied hard to ensure she would have the opportunity to find a high-paying job and send lots of money home.

She thought it would be easy, given that she was always at the top of her class, and won various scholarships and contests during her university years.

"At family gatherings, parents always talked about my academic performance and how they expected me to be even more successful in the future," Thanh said.

But she started to encounter hardships after graduation.

She struggled for a long time to find an excellent job. She got exhausted and thought about returning to her hometown to work.

"There's nothing wrong with returning to my hometown and staying with my parents after graduation," she thought to herself.

But she shut the idea down when her younger sister told her that her father stayed up all night smoking on the day she said she would quit her job and return.

"You have to carefully think everything through whenever you say anything," Thanh's younger sister said. "Our father put a lot of expectations on you, so he got very sad when you said that."

Thanh resumed her job search and has not dared think about returning to her hometown ever since.

She also intends to stay in Hanoi instead of visiting her parents in the neighboring province of Ha Nam during this year's National Day holiday.

Thanh during a trip to a northern mountainous province in March, 2023. Photo courtesy of Thanh

Hong Thanh during a trip to a northern mountainous province in March 2023. Photo courtesy of Hong Thanh

She is not the only young person who does not want to visit home because of familial pressure.

A 2021 international study conducted by American polling firm Barna Group and the Impact 360 Institute pointed out that two out of every five Gen Z-ers, defined as people born from 1997 onwards, reported that they were under pressure. Their causes for pressure could be divided into two groups: external factors - including expectations set by parents and views from precedent generations, and internal factors - including self-imposed stress to be successful and perfect, which is potentially the result of external pressure.

A similar pattern has been observed in Vietnam.

A study conducted between 2019 and 2020 by Dr. Duong Minh Tam, head of the department of stress-related disorders at Bach Mai Hospital’s Institute of Mental Health in Hanoi, showed that around 55% of Vietnamese youth suffer from psychological trauma, of which the most common cause is pressure from their families.

This type of pressure leads to an inner feeling of shame for not meeting their families' expectations, according to psychology expert Hong Huong. Consequently, they are reluctant to go home and face their parents.

"They don't dare visit their families as they have not achieved the ability to take care of their parents and thus, feel they do not deserve their parents' affection," the expert said.

Huong adds that psychologically speaking, "home" is largely considered a place that heals people’s wounds. Because of that, people often feel the urge to go home. If that urge is not fulfilled due to their inability to come up to their parents’ expectations, they are likely to feel sad and lonely.

In worse scenarios, the relationship between parents and children is injured when children blame their parents for setting elevated expectations they cannot meet.

Duy Tung, 22, of the central province of Nghe An, is an example of this.

To make his parents think he lives well, Tung borrowed money from loan sharks to purchase an automobile, clothes, and other gifts for his parents when he visited them during the 2023 Lunar New Year holiday.

"I wanted to appear at my finest in front of them," he said.

He had to sneak out of Hanoi and hideout in HCMC when debt collectors arrived at his rented room in the capital.

The young man’s attitude towards his parents also soured as he blamed them for his current situation.

Dr. Pham Thi Thuy, professor at the National Academy of Public Administration, begged to differ.

She claimed that young people have total control over whether or not to fulfill their parents’ expectations. So, if they do so with hatred, they should blame themselves instead of their parents, she said.

On the other hand, according to Thuy, the generation gap between parents and children can cause clashes in viewpoints and priorities. The older generation can define "success" as earning a lot of money, while the younger generation may prioritize doing a job they love over a higher salary. The two generations should discuss each other’s views to reach a mutual and respectful understanding.

Psychologist Hong Huong also advised parents to check up on their children when they are not heard from for a long time. Parents should also show their children that they are always willing to support and help instead of only offering criticism, she said.

Thanh knows that her parents will still care about her regardless of whether she visits them or not. But she only wants to see them once she can confidently share some achievements.

Meanwhile, Tung is still trying to make money in HCMC to pay off his debts. He has no intention of contacting any member of his family.

"My parents pushed me into this situation," he said. "I don’t want to see them anymore."

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