I greatly enjoyed the intelligence and wisdom of a recent interview with actor Steve Yeon on CBS Sunday Morning, February 7th 2021. He is a Korean-American actor, age 37, who weathered the influence of heavy parental pressure, and then transformed that character-building experience into an amazing career for himself. I especially related to his observations, because I have been a front seat observer of this process in my own family for over 65 years.
Steve’s response to boatloads of pressure to become a doctor from his first generation American parents was to take a few biology classes and in that way, show them that this just wasn’t going to work. I suppose I did the same thing, just a lot less consciously, failing a few classes at Colorado College where my Dad taught in the 1970s. My siblings tried other responses to my Dad’s pressure to become a scientist of some sort. My brother John told my Dad (a college professor!) “There’s no future in college!” after high school and then disappeared from our lives for decades at a time. My sister Diane rebelled at first, but then found ways to work within my Dad’s parameters of success. She has been quite stellar in her chosen field of nursing and Long-Term Care.
I found the research on this topic fascinating. It seems that when we relentlessly demand certain career choices from our kids, some may become compliant, but this apparent “compliance replaces the development of problem solving, judgment and autonomous thinking… Without the space to find their own way, teens fail to develop an inner-directed sense of self to anchor them” (Levine, 2006). “Alternatively, encouraging teens to think and advocate for themselves, make their own choices, and experience natural consequences of their decisions fosters the development of identity, values, responsibility, and competence.” “The Paradox of Pushing Kids to Succeed” by Lynn Margolies, Ph.D.
This was true for me. With so much pressure from my Dad, I felt inadequate to make my own choices, and boy did I make some bad ones in my teens and twenties! I especially did not develop the ability to “advocate for myself” until much later in life, when I had no one else to advocate for me.
I don’t recall my mother ever pressuring me to become anything in particular. She just wanted me to be a good person. I guess that is the way she saw her role as mother. Her mother, a career woman most of her life, finally became quite supportive of my career goals when I started working on my M.A. in Librarianship. I believe she decided since I wasn’t getting married, she should help me get a good job. She also gave me my homemade quilt at age 24, something she would normally give to me at marriage.
My parents were teachers and did support my choice of librarianship, but I always said I would be a librarian until I knew what I really wanted to be. That turned out to be a writer, which I began in my early 50s. I enjoy writing so much that I couldn’t care less if nobody reads it! I will continue to write until the end of my life… Did I mention stubbornness is our strongest family trait?
Some more wisdom from Steve Yeon: “Generations miss each other right now.”
As a middle boomer (born in 1955), this pandemic hit as my father was on his death bed. This experience last March threw my Mom, his wife of 69 years, into depression and confusion. As she put it, “My leader is gone.” His death threw me into many thoughts about my upbringing and how that process develops over a lifetime. I see it now as first trying to live up to what your parents want you to become — a process of letting go of all that in your middle years, and then a return to re-connect with your parents as they prepare to leave us.
My Dad was first and foremost a renowned botanist, naturalist and teacher. That was his life’s work. I was reminded of that fact this week when I learned that the third edition of Dad’s book: Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico just came out, edited and printed by the Gila Native Plant Society of New Mexico. He always hoped that his kids would get as excited about nature as he was his whole life. And, as it turns out, my older sister Diane became a nationally renowned Elder Care expert, my brother became a high school science teacher eventually, and I became a writer, photographer and gardener of Colorado native plants.
See, sometimes it all works out in the end…