Now Or Never

BLOG | How I learned to embrace spending the holidays with my Vietnamese parents

Andrew Phung is about to spend Christmas with his parents for the first time in 17 years, and he's freaking out a bit. Luckily his cousin Jenny has some advice.
Andrew Phung is about to spend the holidays with his parents for the first time in 17 years... and he needs some advice! 0:31
As told to Now or Never by contributor Andrew​ Phung

I'm 32, and I've never spent the holidays with my parents as an adult. When I was 15, my parents decided to make their first visit back home to Vietnam since immigrating to Canada many years earlier. They gave me the option of joining them or staying home alone. I took the home alone option (because I wanted the house to myself).

Every year since, they've taken the same trip to Vietnam over the Christmas holidays. I've spent Christmases alone, with friends, with girlfriends, but never with my parents.

Andrew Phung with his parents (left), and with his wife and son (right). He'll be celebrating Christmas with all four of them for the first time this year. (Courtesy Andrew Phung)

Recently they dropped the bombshell that they will forego their trip to Vietnam and stay home this Christmas to be with me, my wife and two-year-old son. I freaked out, because we rarely spend more than an hour together. And when we do, we butt heads. 

I panicked about how we would fill the hours on Christmas. I thought I had to come up with a plan. Without it, we'd get into an argument about something, whether it's my parenting style, or how much money I've saved, or my weight.

Andrew's cousin Jen Vo gave him some great advice for how to navigate the holidays this year. (Courtesy Andrew Phung/Jen Vo)

Advice from an expert

I asked my cousin Jen Vo for advice on how to steer clear of cultural tensions and guarantee a smooth family dynamic. She had two tips for making things less awkward:

  1. Crack open the karaoke (or the Jenga, or the Pictionary). "We played Pictionary with my parents. My mom always ruins the game because she ends up saying the word. But it's fun. It's not stressful. It's not forced conversation. It eases a lot of things."
  2. Reach out. "As kids we wait until they (our parents) come to us. We have to make that effort as well. We as children think they should be still doing this for us. We're adults. We have kids. We know how to love and how to give love to our children. We should be able to do that to our parents too."

Here's what I realized after my conversation with Jenny:

I always thought my mom was trying to get in on my life and control it. I never realized it was her way of reaching out to me, and wanting to be part of my world. 

So maybe it doesn't matter if things go wrong over the holidays. Because that's family. I need to get on this now, and give my mom a phone call.

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