Investing in your mental health has an impact that echoes through generations. Read on for reflections on my dad's journey and my own as a new parent.

The other day, I was scrolling on TikTok for probably the second hour in a row when a little boy who couldn’t have been more than four years old popped up on my feed. In the sweetest voice, he said to his mom, “I couldn’t go outside, so I was a little bit sad. But after I was a little sad, I was a little bit upset – more than a little upset…” And he proceeded to dialogue with his mom in what was the most emotionally intelligent conversation I have ever witnessed between a mother and young child. 

In my own family, I feel so lucky to have had the space and safety to express and process my feelings. Frequent conversations and opportunities for connection made it that much more accessible to share. It isn’t lost on me that many Asians and Asian-Americans have not had the same experience. In fact, my dad is just now beginning to unpack years of unresolved trauma from his childhood. His therapist had been recommending a week-long “therapy intensive” in Arizona for ages, but he never had the time or money. This year was the year he finally had the chance to invest in his mental health in this way. 

He called me on his drive back from Arizona, and it was almost like he couldn’t contain himself. He spilled everything — stories of his time there, apologies for past wrongdoings, and revelations of self that he had unpacked. Though I couldn’t see his face, I could hear the smile in his voice as he excitedly recalled the many different exercises he did during his intensive. From “playtime” where the participants had the freedom to make up games to therapy sessions where he got to “speak” to his younger self during past ordeals, it sounded truly incredible. To have an entire week completely dedicated to healing is something I wish was accessible to people of all ages and walks of life. 

As he continued on, he casually dropped the most impactful few words of his recap: “I get it now.” In the day-to-day hustle and bustle that life inevitably fills itself with, it takes intention to sift through all your “stuff”. Like a pile of laundry that grows by the day, it sits in the corner until you can’t ignore it any longer. And sometimes even when you do take the time to sort through it all, it feels incredibly frustrating to know that you’re hurt or angry or resentful, yet not understand why. 

Why did I completely lose it with the driver who accidentally cut me off today? Why did I take my spouse’s comment so personally? Why am I getting so defensive all the time? 

When it finally clicks, the relief is immediate. The problems aren’t necessarily gone, and there’s rarely an instant solution. But to know: “I’m not crazy. There is nothing wrong with me. I have the power to change and heal and mend my relationships.” That is everything.

My husband and I became parents ourselves, just shy of a year ago. As many will tell you, the extraordinary way that your heart expands in such an expedited timeline is both magical and painful. It’s as if the world bursts with color as you imagine all the possibilities this new life will bring…tempered with the worry of all the pain they will inevitably endure. Every milestone, however big or small, is celebrated with delight. On the other hand, every tumble they take makes your stomach drop, no matter how unfazed they are. Everyday, the decisions that I make with my husband seem endless. From what we serve for lunch to how much screen time should be allowed to the bigger questions of how we’re going to discipline and whether we will send him to school… It’s honestly daunting. 

How do you teach lessons of compassion and kindness? How do we model empathy in a way that our kids will emulate it all on their own? How do we cultivate confidence and creativity? 

It is frighteningly easy to give in to the anxiety of it all and become paralyzed, and easier still to imagine the worst case scenarios. To know that mistakes are guaranteed is terrifying, especially when it comes to your own children and the next generation. For my husband, whose father wasn’t very physically or emotionally present, the fear of not being capable of nurturing our son has been suffocating. 

But hearing my dad’s words wash over me brought me great comfort. To listen to him both acknowledge his shortcomings and also speak about his dreams for the future healed the inner child in me more than he probably realized. The revelation for myself was that while we will undoubtedly fail and fumble our way through our parenting journey, we will also have the opportunity to repair. In seeking out his own healing, my dad unwittingly reminded me of the power of taking my own mental health seriously. After all, it doesn’t just affect me anymore — it impacts my kids and even their kids (should they choose to have any). And while it’s true that sometimes hurt people hurt people, it’s also true that healed people heal people.

They say that the first step is always the hardest, and I’ve found that to be true most of the time. When it comes to the journey of generational healing that many are on (or pursuing), I’d argue that every step is pretty freaking hard. It takes a tender balance of courage and softness to face your demons. Harder still is cultivating compassion for yourself and others day in and day out. In my personal Asian American experience, pride is the biggest obstacle to this. It’s difficult for anyone to admit weakness or fault, but I’ve found the difficulty to be exponentially multiplied in many Asian American families. In an effort to preserve image or keep the peace, things too often get swept under the proverbial rug. The hurt gets compounded over time and then suddenly, you’re in your 40s and just now beginning to heal. The good news is that it’s truly never too late to start – first with forgiving ourselves, and then others. 

The last few years have been difficult for all of us. Instead of seeing the good in humanity, it’s been much easier to see the ugly. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I had pretty much resigned myself to a life where I’d be constantly wary of what’s to come. But lately, I’ve been taking my son outside and watering the seeds we planted together weeks ago…and my heart has allowed itself to hope again. Motherhood has softened me around the edges and given me new lenses to see. Watching a little one experience the world with nothing but wonder will do that for you. There’s no guarantee that our seeds will sprout, but my hope is that with a little nurturing and love, life will bloom. It really does feel like spring is finally here, and with it — healing. I feel it in my husband’s determination to be a present and devoted father. I feel it in my parents’ laughter as they watch our son discover the world. I feel it in myself as the ice of cynicism is melting away. The best is yet to come. For us all.

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