Hello everyone! Akari’s on the line. Everyone knows that having secure and open relationships with parents can get a little bit difficult as you grow up, right? As teenagers, most of us feel the urge to leave our homes and explore the world at least once in a while. Usually, by the end of the evening, this desire dies down, and we realize that it’s just a fantasy. However, we sometimes get away with either dreaming of it or doing this step because of our academic or professional goals. As a result, we see our parents rarely, which puts a strain on our connection.
If you have a long-distance relationship with your parents, you might feel a whole lot of emotions. Perhaps there’s something you’d want to fix or clarify. If that’s the case, I hope my short text will help you figure it out. By the end of this essay, I hope you’ll understand how to build better relationships with them.
How It All Began
I’m a Japanese student studying in the USA, and it was a real rollercoaster. I’m a pretty active and creative person with a bit of a thing for adventure. My parents have always been more conservative. I guess I didn’t grow entirely up to their expectations because I was a real headache as a kid and teen. Thus, when I intended to try my luck outside of Japan, my mother and father were less than thrilled. Although they tried to be supportive, I understood that they were worried about me.
For those unfamiliar with the family structure and tradition in Japan, it may be striking to learn that our families are the cornerstones of our society. Family or kazoku is seen as the main thing identifying our belonging. Because of the rapidly aging population, most Japanese families have two and more generations of families living under one roof, with older children taking care of their parents.
As you can guess, living somewhere else and leaving your parents behind is not welcome back in Japan.
My father dreams of getting me back home, and while I’m not opposed to the idea, I don’t have such plans in the near future. Traditionally, such an attitude and a search for independence among the Japanese youth are not socially supported. Most children respect hierarchy and know a lot of details about their family history. Despite my respect for traditions, I do not fit into them. It was the most challenging time for our entire family.
As a result, when I first moved to the USA, I was happy, and my parents… were not, to put it mildly.
I’ve already written the article on the stages of cultural shock, so if you’ve read it, you can probably guess that it was my honeymoon stage. Everything seemed so strange, new, and unusual to me. I loved American food and clothes. Every new thing happening around me was impossible yet completely real. Every day I called my parents, and every day they crammed into the screen, faces full of worry. I tried my best to express my happiness, but soon, I realized that my positivity only made them sadder. I think I didn’t realize that parents often suffer even more than their kids. And while we don’t want that, we all get cruel when trying to distance ourselves from our homes. So, in a way, this stage was the hardest for them.
Not As Easy: Adaptation Issues
Despite my dreams of becoming one with other students, I quickly realized that my fascination with the new country was quickly fading away as new problems arose. While I already had strong relationships in college, they weren’t what I had thought they would be all the time. I had a few close friends, but they tended to favor different activities than I did. Because I came to the USA to study, I stayed in the dorm a lot of the time, even though I loved visiting art classes and engaging in a literature reading club for fun. As every day slowly turned into a night, I knew that the sinking feeling in my chest meant something entirely different: I was homesick.
I wrote about my culture shock already, but in short, it was hard. Really hard.
I stopped seeing everything from the perfect perspective. I saw that some cultural differences didn’t make me feel comfortable even though I’m pretty outgoing. I started to miss my home more, and it took a toll on my health and learning. It was something I hadn’t expected. What’s even worse, I avoided calls with my parents because I couldn’t stop tearing up every time they said something nice.
At that moment, every soft phrase my parents told me reminded me of my childhood.
I remembered how unfairly I treated them when I felt enamored with my new life. Undeniably, it was one of the worst times in my life because that’s how it felt like to have no one to ask for support. Before that, it didn’t strike me fully that I lived an ocean away from everything I knew.
Strangely enough, my parents never tried to say something along the lines of “We told you.” Instead, they answered my calls and texted me often, understanding the struggle I was through. I was constantly in touch with my family, even trying to spend nights talking to them, which negatively affected my sleep patterns. Nonetheless, this stage was important for me: my parents supported me a lot. I finally understood that my parents are my friends, not enemies.
It turned out that my parents started to enjoy their new life a little bit. Although it was strange for them to live without me, they finally could visit different places and events that they had previously avoided, such as dance evenings or meetings with friends whom I did not know. Quite often, many students admit that their relationships with parents improve with distance because it helps to build healthy boundaries. As I saw the extent to which my mother and father appreciated me even, despite differences in our generations and the hierarchy of our culture, I felt much better. Nonetheless, I understood their desire to stay in touch, and we started to develop new ideas for us to feel connected.
Strategies to Stay in Touch
After my crisis and my parent’s help, we started to think about how to build relationships in a way that would help both of us feel safe and content. We tried a lot of stuff, and not everything worked, so maybe the things that strengthened our bond won’t be exactly something you look for. Still, perhaps it’ll give you some things to reflect on. Here’s what helps us remain in contact and have a healthy and respectful connection that’s partially even better than before.
While it can seem like a strange thing, when you’re in a long-distance relationship with your parents, you have to do some scheduling to make it right. Why? For starters, you’ve got entirely different time zones that can make it impossible to reach out. Don’t be weirded out by that. In fact, it was the best thing we did for our relationship at the beginning of this complicated journey. As a student, I had a rather hectic schedule, and even more so, we have a huge time difference. That’s why we’ve arranged a schedule to call each other, with weekends being the days with the longest discussions.
My parents aren’t into tech, really, so they wrote their part of the calls on paper and taped it to their PC. I used Google Calendar because it helped me to align my calls with meetings with friends and classes. We’ve used different calling apps and finally decided on Zoom, which my parents also used for their work meetings. In the long-term perspective, we’ve also invested in better cameras and microphones to make sure that our bonding time wasn’t worsened by the grainy images and poorly received messages.
When I talk about recordings, I mean video recordings or audio ones talking about something specific and interesting I do at the moment. For example, I recently made a recording of myself walking along the park; another time, I asked my friend to record me making a fast sketch of a model in the studio. The same goes for my presentations or other things that I think might interest my parents. It helps us build relationships in an open manner and also shows them that I am doing great and doing some things.
Similarly, my parents record themselves choosing a new paint for the living room or even send me everyday videos of them playing with our family cat. It’s all about physical space that they can imagine existing around us. It’s easier for me to lie in my bed and imagine my mom making her favorite soup or planting a new tree with my dad in the garden. We surround people with spaces and give them such virtual tokens of our presence in their lives.
You may be thinking that the last thing your parents can do is play online games because that’s for younger generations, but it isn’t like that. My parents would never get how to play something like League of Legends, but I don’t want them to. You want to have some kind of close relationship with your family, right? Lots of games allow you to do that.
Think about Bingo, Monopoly, or even some virtual mystery games. In most of these, you don’t have to master difficult gameplay.
The main emphasis is on the interactions you’ll have with your parents on the call. You should choose something fun, enjoyable, and honestly hopeful. This game should leave you happy and focused on satisfying interactions that will leave a long-lasting impression on both you and your family. It’s a secret that I have found out the hard way: you may spend more time with your parents at home, but if you use shorter timeframes for quality time, you won’t notice it as much. Essentially, you have quality vs. quantity.
Connect your parents
When I realized that I could not spend all my time with my parents or tell them something about myself they wanted to hear about, I provided my advisor’s and favorite prof’s contact information, who were happy to send them rare emails about my success. I know that not all people would help me, but I found those who did. As a result, my parents were thrilled that I studied well, I didn’t have to update them about my progress all the time, and the school administration knew that my parents were nice people.
Of course, some will view this as a violation of independence or privacy, but simply find those working with the parents and forget about it. Subscribe your parents to useful social media pages or help them meet other families or Asian American (in my case) communities that make them feel part of the group. This way, they won’t think that you’re abandoned and lonely, and they will know whom to ask for advice in case they need it. But make sure not to overdo it here: nothing good will come out of it if you can’t develop healthy boundaries.
Gifts help us feel connected to people far away because they are physical proof that our families love us and care for us. Nothing will remind you of your family’s presence as strongly as something sent directly from them. For example, even a letter, if you don’t have the resources, can be quite pleasant to receive. I try to send my parents something nice at least once every month, though I can get forgetful sometimes, especially when my exams are near.
My parents send me some reminders of my life back home or share a nice thing my dad made from paper or my mom crocheted. Of course, everything depends on how far from your family you are, what you like, and other things. Essentially, just send something that will make them feel happy. It also demonstrates that you care.
What to Make of It
After months of living with such an arrangement, I’ve come to some conclusions that I’ll list below.
- Your parents are the first people in your life. I get it: it’s different for many people, but for those of us who are family-centered, parents and siblings present a small center of the universe. They aren’t our enemies or those to fear.
- Healthy distance is important. Without this small division between yourself and your parents, you won’t be able to grow up. It’s vital for people to respect the need to mature, and your family should keep this in mind.
- Independence can be painful. Don’t dream of being autonomous in a single step. It’s a battle and a hard one. Some people dream of leaving their homes, just like I did, but they still feel homesick. Others take it even harder. It’s even more difficult for our parents: they don’t have anyone but ourselves. Be kind to them.
- In a world of technology, use it. Let’s face it: you don’t have to write a letter and wait for it to be answered for weeks or months now. Even with different time zones, you don’t need to worry much about it. Utilize it for your advantage.
- Invest in quality, not quantity. If you don’t have a connection with your family as often as previously, just make sure that your interactions now are richer in content. With this approach, you’ll have a lot of time to simply process your last meeting.
That’s all. Just be nice to each other and, if you’re feeling like you can’t do it, think about visiting your home. There’s nothing shameful about that. Good luck!