As the firstborn daughter and granddaughter of the family, much is expected of me. However, my family couldn’t seem to make up their minds on how exactly they wanted me to behave. The knowledge taught to me as a daughter would sometimes contradict what was taught to me as the firstborn. As I grew up, what I learned from both factors only confused me further, and I had to combine and find the most efficient way to keep both sides of the parties at least satisfied. Until finally, it has shaped who I am today.
As the Daughter…
Though I’m glad my family isn’t sexist nor that strict on gender roles at all, I was still taught on how females should act. I assume it was because it was the only way they knew how to teach a girl. Not to sound old, but the talk of gender equality wasn’t as prominent and conspicuous as today.
Physically, I was told to sit up straight with my legs pressed together and make sure I look clean and proper. I should keep the tone of my voice soft and keep a gentle smile on my face. I should keep my limbs to myself and not move as I communicate. I felt like I had to box in my personal space, and if anyone were to get close to me, I had to shrink myself away even further.
Mentally, I needed to be caring. I was taught by the female roles of the family how to be nurturing, think about the house, consider the family, and generally just be kind. It only further increased after my brother and cousin were born. I took part in taking care of them, feeding them, bathing them, educating them. I can practically say I was involved in raising them. Thinking back, it was as if being female meant people expect you to be kind and do what people asked you to.
As the Firstborn…
On the other hand, there are unspoken rules that the firstborn child had to follow. It didn’t matter if I were a daughter or a son, I would still be the most responsible child growing up, so I was also taught strictly on morals, authority, how to speak, and shouldering the baggage if the seniors end up incapable of performing the task. I had to learn how to assist my parents, how to handle adult things maturely if my parents weren’t available, and even observe to determine how I should react. The duty of responsibility is also heavily influenced by my father.
I would also be the face of the family, so I had to keep up a good image in grades, personality, and know how to deal with particular circumstances without ruining the family image. I was taught to be very mature at a young age. I still had time to be my childish self, but that was only when I was in school, and I wasn’t put in any situation where I had to watch myself.
I might have just followed whatever I was told to do when I was young, but I wasn’t clueless. One taught me to be more passive, and the other taught me to be more aggressive. Being the firstborn then expanded to handling and reacting to different people you meet in society, lessons I would have from my father as well, who is a businessman and advisor. He would bring me to his business dinners, and I would watch, learn, and use that knowledge on the responsibilities I needed to take as the firstborn of the family. I liked how in control I felt of myself and would continue to pursue more as I communicate with my father.
However, my mother complained about how I was acting too boorish at times. So, I still kept in mind what was taught to me on being female to keep her happy, retaining some of the “lady-like habits.” Like keeping up the gentle tone of voice and smile for first impressions, subconsciously holding cups and utensils with the pinky up, and the instinctual feeling that I needed to be the one caring for the family and the house.
Even when outside with my father, I would keep those lessons in mind so that people wouldn’t find me too “in their face.” They seemed not to be able to accept a female, much less someone in their teens, taking control of the conversation, especially in events dominated by older men and their sons. I just wanted to learn, not cause trouble for my father, so I sat still and not spoke unless spoken to, something I was also taught to do as the daughter.
I didn’t think this would affect me much until life gave me two challenges.
The first was when I joined another one of my father’s business dinners, and there were three partners father was working with, who brought their wives along. Two of which also brought their sons who were in their twenties. I was seventeen, and my father brought me along because he knows I’m capable of being part of it, but one of the sons suddenly asked me if my father is just showing me off so he would get the deal easier.
To this day, I still didn’t understand what he meant by that specifically, but I knew it had something to do about me being a daughter since those two other male offsprings weren’t asked the same question. I couldn’t act brash, that would risk troubling my father, but I had to speak up regardless of how “rude” it might seem for the youngest female at the table to talk out of turn.
So, I smiled and asked if it was working. I added how I have translated and organized the documents and was in charge of the emails sent overseas. I listed every single thing that I have done to assist my father in this business deal. I ended with a nod in agreement that yes, my father probably would get the deal easier by showing me off because I have proven myself to be a valuable asset. I don’t know what happened in the end besides father getting the deal, and we went out to celebrate, but I considered it handled well.
The second was when I was supposed to go overseas for university, but my mother’s body is slowly getting paralyzed for reasons unknown. My father still needs to work, and my younger brother has his education, so I ended up taking responsibility as the firstborn, and my relatives agreed I would undoubtedly be the nurturing daughter that takes care of the family and the house. I didn’t argue because that instinctual need to care and be responsible was urging me to do it, and the guilt would eat me alive if I didn’t.
I unwillingly took a gap year because Australian universities start their semesters later in the year, and I had to apply for universities in Hong Kong. From that point onwards, I was juggling between taking classes, having jobs, helping my father, and managing my social life while making sure the house isn’t a mess, and my mother has food.
I can’t say I have passed the second challenge yet, but I am handling it the best I can with my father’s help. I have been told by friends how I’m sacrificing myself, but even if I find myself frustrated by how less I can do because of responsibilities, I don’t regret it at all. It could be because of how I was taught, but I am an adult, and I made this decision to take care of the woman who raised me.
In the end, I have combined the education I was taught from a young age to build into the person I am today. I’m able to flexibly lean towards one side when needed as well, like what I’m facing right now requires me to act as the firstborn more than just the daughter. While it’s true the lessons of being nurturing and caring about the family did drive me to take this task, it’s my morals and obligation that kept me going. I’m thankful for the lessons taught to me, and because of that, I can define myself even when society judges me for being too “tough” as a female. I know who I am and why I act this way. I don’t need anyone’s approval for being me.