It could be a sneer, grunt, or scowl, but oftentimes it’s verbalized in the form of continual low-grade criticism also known as nagging. If you’ve been around Asian parents, you know what I mean. While there’s shaming on one end of the spectrum ("You’re no good, just give up!") that will eviscerate your ego, on the milder end is nagging meant to grind your patience.
The nagging encompasses a host of areas: your parenting, your driving, your weight (gaining or losing weight), your job, your relationships (or lack thereof), your grades, or your overall health to name a few. For myself, as a relatively new parent, I see this most often when my parents nag about me or my wife’s parenting style. "Eww, you don’t feed him the right foods, that’s why he loses weight!" "Eww, it’s too cold, how come you don’t put more clothes on him?" "Eww, it’s raining why is he playing outside?!"
When it comes to marital issues, my mom becomes a therapist overnight. "Eww, why do you argue with your wife?!" "Eww, you should stop disagreeing with her!" When it comes to driving, my dad feels the need to pick me apart. "You think you’re a good driver but that’s your weakness. You’re too confident!"
Asian parents’ nagging also reveals that think they’re medical experts. "You don’t drink enough water. That’s why you’re always tired!" "You use too much soy sauce. That’s why you have headaches!" When my parents recently found out I injured a finger playing basketball, my dad quipped, "Eww, what’s a grown man doing playing basketball?!"
Regardless of the specific situation, why do traditional Asian parents nag? My belief as a psychotherapist specializing in Asian cultural issues has to do with the legacy of indirect communication. Traditional Asian parents for generations did not communicate love and affection directly to their children due to a host of cultural reasons. In therapy, we call this the "transmission of generational patterns," when one generation passes down relational patterns to another. To communicate love, traditional Asian parents under this influence will often "show" their love by cooking, cleaning, providing, buying, or paying for material goods and services (college tuition, etc.). In addition, due to the indirect nature of how they were raised, Asian parents will indirectly communicate their love and care for you through nagging.
Yes, it’s counterintuitive for Western-educated folks and I’d dare say counterproductive as most of these messages get misinterpreted as parents coming off bossy, lacking empathy, and over-bearing. I myself have to remind myself when my parents go into "nagging" mode that this is sadly their only means of telling me how much they love me and my family since they never learned how to truly be emotionally intimate, vulnerable, and open with their feelings of care and warmth. It’s a protective layer for them but, as my own mother has even acknowledged, "Even though we don’t say it, deep, deep, deep, down in my heart it’s there (her love for us)."