Hong Thanh was once the pride of her family, but now she is afraid to visit her hometown and face her parents.
The 25-year-old was the only one of four siblings in her family to pass the national university entrance exams. His parents then worked as street vendors during the day and as motorcycle taxi drivers at night to pay for his studies.
Feeling indebted to his parents’ hard work, Thanh studied hard to ensure he had the opportunity to find a well-paying job and send plenty of money home.
She thought it would be easy, given that she was always top of her class and had won various scholarships and competitions during her college years.
“At family gatherings, parents would always talk about my academic performance and how they expected me to do even better in the future,” Thanh said.
But she started experiencing difficulties after graduation.
She struggled for a long time to find a great job. She was exhausted and considered returning to work in her hometown.
“There is nothing wrong with returning to my hometown and staying with my parents after graduation,” she thought.
But she put that idea to rest when her younger sister told her that her father had stayed up all night smoking the day she announced she would be quitting her job and coming back.
“You have to think carefully every time you say something,” Thanh’s younger sister said. “Our father had a lot of expectations of you, so he became very sad when you said that.”
Thanh resumed his job search and has since stopped thinking about returning to his hometown.
She also plans to stay in Hanoi instead of visiting her parents in neighboring Ha Nam province during this year’s National Day.
Hong Thanh during a trip to a mountainous northern province in March 2023. Photo courtesy of Hong Thanh
She is not the only young person who does not want to return home because of family pressure.
A 2021 international study by US polling firm Barna Group and the Impact 360 Institute found that two in five Gen Zers, defined as those born from 1997 onwards, said they were under pressure. The causes of pressure can be divided into two groups: external factors – including expectations set by parents and opinions of previous generations, and internal factors – including self-imposed stress to succeed and be perfect, which is potentially the result of external pressure.
A similar trend was observed in Vietnam.
A study conducted between 2019 and 2020 by Dr. Duong Minh Tam, head of the stress-related disorders department at the Institute of Mental Health at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, showed that about 55% of young Vietnamese suffer from psychological trauma, the most common cause of which is pressure from their family.
This kind of pressure leads to an inner sense of shame for not meeting their family’s expectations, according to psychology expert Hong Huong. Therefore, they are reluctant to return home and face their parents.
“They dare not visit their families because they have not acquired the ability to take care of their parents and therefore feel that they do not deserve their parents’ affection,” the expert said.
Huong adds that psychologically speaking, “home” is widely seen as a place that heals people’s wounds. This is why people often feel the need to return home. If this need is not met due to their inability to meet their parents’ expectations, they are likely to feel sad and lonely.
In the worst cases, the relationship between parents and children deteriorates when children blame their parents for setting high expectations that they cannot meet.
Duy Tung, 22, from the central province of Nghe An, is one example.
To trick his parents into thinking he was living well, Tung borrowed money from loan sharks to buy an automobile, clothes, and other gifts for his parents when he visited them during the New Year’s holiday. Lunar year 2023.
“I wanted to be at my best in front of them,” he said.
He had to leave Hanoi and hide in HCMC when debt collectors arrived at his rented room in the capital.
The young man’s attitude towards his parents also deteriorated as he blamed them for his current situation.
Dr Pham Thi Thuy, a professor at the National Academy of Public Administration, disagrees.
She said young people have complete control over whether or not their parents’ expectations are met. So if they do it with hatred, they should blame themselves instead of their parents, she said.
On the other hand, according to Thuy, the generation gap between parents and children can cause conflicts of views and priorities. The older generation may define “success” as making a lot of money, while the younger generation may prioritize a job they love over a higher salary. The two generations must discuss each other’s points of view to achieve mutual and respectful understanding.
Psychologist Hong Huong also advised parents to monitor their children when they have not heard from them for a long time. Parents should also show their children that they are always willing to support and help them instead of just criticizing, she said.
Thanh knows that her parents will always care about her whether she visits them or not. But she only wants to see them when she can confidently share some accomplishments.
Meanwhile, Tung is still trying to earn money in HCMC to pay off his debts. He does not intend to contact any member of his family.
“My parents pushed me into this situation,” he said. “I don’t want to see them anymore.”