A letter to my mom to honor her love language
I didn't always have a good relationship with my mom. In fact, for over a decade, the only connection I had with her was when we interacted around food. Instead of trying to understand her love, I often took out my stress and frustration on her. I was a jerk to the person who loved me the most, and there was nothing that caused me more guilt than this.
In August of 2018, I started on a journey to get to know my parents. I owned that I was entirely responsible for our lack of a relationship. I began by asking them meaningful questions to get to know them that eventually made their way into the Parents Are Human card game. I started to learn who they were, one story at a time.
When I asked her the first question in the game, “What was your favorite food growing up?” (你小时候最爱吃什么?), we talked for two hours about her childhood experiences. I began to understand my mom’s love language of food, and it forever changed the way I saw who she was.
Here is the letter I wrote to her this Mother’s Day to honor her beautiful love.
I love you. It’s Mother’s Day today, and this year, I wanted to share with you one of the most important lessons you’ve taught me about love. I can’t believe it took over ten years and a card game for me to understand your love language. I finally get it, and all I want to do is share it with the world.
Growing up, you always showered me with love, but I couldn’t see it. I was too busy running away from my problems to be there for you. But you were always there doing everything you could to support me—cooking, cleaning, serving me with your entire heart. You made sacrifices every chance you could, so I could live the life of my dreams, the one you never got to have.
Instead of making time for you to hear about your life, I kept pushing you away. I thought the way I lived my life was right. I believed so firmly that I was busy making an impact on the world when all I was doing was being selfish and ignoring the one person who loved me more than anyone else. I took your love and actions for granted, and there was nothing I felt more guilty about.
Even though I was the most joyful person around my friends, colleagues, and even strangers, I was cranky, annoyed, and short-tempered at home. I took my stress and frustration out on you for years, making the smallest things that you did excuses for me to be annoyed. I lashed out at you for caring too much about me. You didn’t deserve any of it.
I finally get it, Mom. Behind all of those things that I yelled at you for, you were showing me your tender, selfless, everlasting love.
Whenever you cooked way too much food for us to eat, you were showing us your dearest love. When you were little, food was the most precious thing there was. You ate the same flour and water paste every day until you were fourteen years old. People were so hungry they ate the leaves and bark off of trees. The best days were when your whole family could share a single egg.
When the government unfairly put your dad in prison and took away your family’s rations, you survived only because of the generosity of your neighbors and family friends. People risked their livelihood to make sure you didn’t starve, and that’s why you treasure making food for others so much. You spend countless hours every week baking for other families because that’s the way you get to share your love with the world. It’s the best way you know how to live—to feed the people around you.
I see now that whenever you put too much food on my plate, bring perfectly cut fruit into my room, and give me the freshest food while eating leftovers yourself, you are saying I love you. I know that in our Chinese culture, we almost never say those words out loud. But I know that you’ve been saying that to me every day through your actions.
Food is your love language. It is beautiful beyond words.
I own up to all the moments I didn’t say I love you back by accepting your care and affection with open arms. I am committed to being a son who can love you with my whole heart and accept you for who you are. I know that I can’t undo what I did in the past. I can only choose how I talk to you, respond to your actions, and love you from now on. That is my promise.
Thank you for putting up with me all the times I raised my voice when I didn’t have to, for seeing past my behavior when I didn’t see past yours, and for showing me what it truly means to live a life in service of others.
Thank you for overfilling my plate all those years because it has overfilled my soul. You are the source of my inspiration for the person I want to be. Because of you, I have a lifetime of love to share with others.
So today, I want to celebrate the day you became a mother, the day you almost died for me. I want to celebrate all the overfilled plates, stomachs, and hearts with the boundless love that only a mother could give. I will never forget it.
Thank you for giving me life, Mom. I love you so much.
All my love,
This piece is from a series called Dear Mom, Dear Dad, a collection of stories, letters, poems, and essays that embody the Asian American family experience.
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Published by Parents Are Human ❤️