Mother's Day is not for everyone
Mother's Day in Thailand has come and gone, and to those who felt a sense of unease throughout the jubilant day, you are not alone.
On Mother's Day, Thais young and old pay their respects to whom they consider the most important person in their lives. School children are encouraged to bring their moms on campus to be kowtowed to, presented with flower garlands and even a shy hug. Adults may continue this tradition at home or demonstrate their gratitude by taking their mothers out for a delicious meal. Social media, from Facebook to Instagram, will be filled with sentimental words and pictures, and every public space from malls to subway trains will blare classic songs about the power of a mother's love and sacrifice.
It may be considered to be one of the most tender and touching holidays of the year (along with Father's Day), yet, for some, the well-meaning holiday, and the days leading up to it can come as a truly distressing time.
Yes, most mothers are amazing and should be celebrated. But as the media promotes the idea that every single mother is a saint that can do no wrong, daughters and sons who were -- or are -- regularly abused or neglected are subject to a roller-coaster of unwanted emotions and guilt.
Take former singer Gulyakorn "Earn" Naksompob, for instance. Recently interviewed on Channel 9 for raising awareness about depression, one of the main factors contributing to her illness was in fact her mother. Since middle school, Gulyakorn's mother would weigh her on a scale every day. If the needle moved, all hell would break loose. She was forced to ingest only diet pills for weeks -- the same kind that had her older sister collapse from malnutrition. She was forced to give all her hard-earned money to her mother, and when finally having the courage to ask to keep some money of her own, her mother claimed she was indebted to her, and within this lifetime, she will never pay off her debts. She believed her mother's words, that she was a bad person. She blamed herself for not being able to make her mother happy. She couldn't talk to anyone, because society wasn't ready to accept that a mother can do any wrong. So she contemplated suicide. Thankfully, she was able to escape her abusive home before it came to that, seeking professional help and creating a better life of her own.
It's complicated in a country like Thailand, where the concept of nee boon khun, or "debt of gratitude", is shoved down our throats from a very young age. Children are expected to be grateful to their parents and dutiful no matter what, and those of us who have been physically, verbally and emotionally abused are still shamed by society if they don't explicitly pay back their "debt". With abuse, there's a huge sense of shame and guilt involved, and we end up blaming ourselves for the pain inflicted upon us by someone who's supposed to protect us. All mothers are supposed to be loving and nurturing, right? So it must have been I who did something wrong.
Apart from the abused, there are those who have been abandoned as well. Thailand has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the region, so no doubt, many mothers are unable to take care of their own child.
Two years ago I visited the Baan Nokkamin Foundation foster home in Khlong Kum, Bangkok. The words and actions of an 11-year old boy discarded by his mother stayed with me for a long time.
"I'm going to watch my friends pay respect to their mums [at school]," he said, while indifferently writing "I love mum" in English on a notepad he was doodling on. "I'm going to watch my friends cry. My friends would ask me 'Why aren't you crying?' And I tell them 'I don't know'."
According to Mahidol University's Institute for Population and Social Research, that boy is one of the 800,000 plus orphans and abandoned children in Thailand. And this doesn't take into account another 3 million or so children separated from their parents due to internal migration.
Many of the children centres tread very carefully on days like these, knowing full well how sensitive the topic is for the children. Baan Kanchanapisek -- a centre for troubled boys, even turns a deaf ear to orders from the government to celebrate Mother's Day so as to not create more wounds for the children in their care.
Yes, Mother's (and Father's) Day are ultimately well-meaning holidays, but respect should be paid to those who truly deserve it. Feelings of shame and guilt should not be the motivating factors for anyone to show love and gratitude. There should be no pressure for someone to show their gratefulness to someone else.
To the children and adults who experience loneliness, isolation and abandonment during these holidays, just know that it's OK to feel this way, and again, that you are not alone.
Apipar Norapoompipat is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Apipar Norapoompipat is a features writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.