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Chinese daughter reflects on living with her grandmother

By Beth and Deb Liu

(Editor Note: A Tiger Mom and Her Cub is a monthly column co-written by a teenage daughter and her tiger mom)

Both my grandmothers and my paternal grandfather passed in the past eight months. My parents were building a home so that we could all live together under one roof and take care of their parents. Inspired by that set of events, I wanted to write about the differences in expectations between Tiger Moms and their Cubs who grew up in America. My parents were born and grew up here, but they always understood they would one day live with and care for their parents. My maternal grandmother lived with us for almost as long as I can remember, moving in after my maternal grandpa died in 2012.  

What are our obligations to the previous generations?


I don’t remember a time before my maternal grandmother, whom I called Popo, lived in our home. I grew up hearing her many stories of life with Grandpa, Gonggong. She passed only a week ago, and the house feels so empty without her here. Even when you, Dad, Jon, and Dani were out of the house, Popo was always there, even if just quietly in her room. When I was a young child, I thought it was weird that some families lived in a house without their grandparents. When I told my friends, they disagreed with me. Even my cousins (who live in Texas in a much bigger house than ours) only have their nuclear family at home. Turns out our family is the weird one. 

As I grew older, the family dynamics involved in my parents caring for the grandparents became clearer. I heard stories about how my parents felt an obligation to them, and living with them was just a natural continuation of their relationship. This is just how my parents taught me their relationships work. But I’ve also been given more time to examine the relationship, especially as Popo’s health began declining. Is it really fair to place an obligation of care for grandparents and parents on future generations? 

There was a point in time in which I was jealous of people who got to live with just their parents and siblings. Particularly of my cousins, whose other grandparents are from a tradition that doesn’t prioritize living with family. I was envious of the fact that they didn’t have to always spend time figuring out how to accommodate our Popo, who for more than half a decade experienced serious mental and physical decline.

Tiger Mom:

I know you and your siblings had to miss out on a lot of things because we had to take care of my mom and your other grandparents in the past few years. We moved your other grandparents down the street, but they called on us to help them manage their household. Since Yeye and Nainai’s moved here in 2016 from North Carolina, their health has declined pretty quickly, and we had to change our lives, especially during COVID and afterward to accommodate their needs. 

We had to juggle taking care of them and all of you without making it feel unfair or a burden. We appreciated that your grandparents had a chance to see you grow up, instead of us visiting once or twice a year, but we also know you had to make many compromises to make things work. 


I feel like such a jerk complaining about my grandparents like this especially since we just lost them. I loved having them close by, but at the same time, it was sometimes very hard, especially with Popo. I feel that having them around made it hard for us to do family time. A lot of your and Dad’s attention was spent taking care of them, especially in the past couple of years when all three were in and out of hospitals and needed so much care. Even before that, we couldn’t do things like taking day trips without having someone to stay with them or look in on them to make sure they were okay. 

This past summer when my siblings and I wanted to go to camp in North Carolina, you spent months deliberating on whether or not one of you could stay there with us. Yeye was in and out of the ICU, and Nainai was struggling. Eventually, you and Dad decided to fly out with us and spend time in NC, but I saw the whole ordeal take a toll on both of you. 

We had planned a trip so Jon could go to Baylor for camp, and we could spend time with our cousins in Texas together.  In a last-minute decision, Dad chose not to go, and it turns out Yeye passed during that trip. It’s always impressed me that Dad chose without hesitation to remain in California to take care of Yeye, and I’m glad that he got to spend Yeye’s final moments together. 

Tiger Mom:

Your dad is an only child and he always knew his obligation was to care for his parents, and he never resented that. I also knew that one day my parents would likely live with me. As my mother once said, you are our Chinese daughter and your aunt was their American daughter.

Your dad and I started dating when I was 19, and he was 21. Early on in our relationship, we talked about how our parents would one day live with us someday. And in 2012, that day came. My dad passed, and my mom could not be alone in a home far away from my sister and me. It was much earlier than expected, and for several years, the six of us lived in a home for 4. We made it work, but it got harder as you and your siblings grew up. 

While it is an obligation and commitment, we never considered it a burden. They sacrificed a lot to give us the opportunities we had in life, and we honored that by caring for them when it was needed. It was not always easy, nor was it smooth sailing. But I am glad they had their final years with us rather than living far away in NC and GA. 


I know one day the obligation to take care of you guys will fall on one of us, probably me. Never mind, Jonathan and Danielle are probably more Asian than me. I still don’t entirely look forward to the day when I have to slowly wheel you to the dinner table while my kids impatiently wait, but I think I understand more this tenant of Chinese culture. It is clearly an important cornerstone of our culture and grandparents and older people need to find a place of community. And I understand it’s place in our family. But Mom, I hope that you work out a lot and try to stay as healthy as far as long as possible so that you can make this a whole lot easier on both of us.

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