Conservative Asian Family

Ah, families. We either love them or love them, there’s no way around it. In our conservative Asian culture, we’ve all met our fair share of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” lest it brings dishonor on your whole family, dishonour on you, dishonour on your cow—okay I’m straight out quoting Mushu from Mulan, but you get what I mean.

Coming from a conservative Muslim background, sometimes I struggle with accepting my stricter-than-usual parents and balancing my social life. But once I surpassed teenagehood, I learnt through interaction that I’m not alone and in retrospect, it might not be all that bad afterall…

1. Sleep(NO)vers

It’s not like you don’t have any friends. You do, and you’re more than welcome to join your ‘galpals’ for sleepovers. The problem only arises with the parental front.

Me: Oh mum, you know Cheryl, my best friend from kindergarten?
Mum: You mean the sweet girl who always does better than you in school
Me: Yes…that Cheryl… anyway, she’s having a small party at her house and I was thinking that maybe, if you could allow me to, sleepover at her house?
Mum: Oh that’s cute, you can have sleepovers, just that you’ll be sleeping over at your own houses. Fun eh?

I guess that’s a no then… but #datshadetho


2. You’re the master of sweet-talking

You may have heard of the phrase, ‘Beast-Mode’ activated. But for people like me, you need to unleash the inner sweet talker. For those who aren’t privy to such a concept, here’s a simplified model you can follow.

Step 1: Offer your parents a massage, key here is make them relaxed
Step 2: Buffer with safe topics. Talk about your friends, highlight their role-modelesque qualities.
Step 3: And then drop it: “By the way there’s this thing at my friends house and was wondering if I could go for it.”
Step 4: If their response is not immediate, pull a passive-aggressive card: “I know you won’t allow me to go, it’s okay. I’ll just tell my friend I can’t make it, just to make you happy.”

And then you wait.
“Alright fine, but you can stay for only 2hours.”

Mission: Accomplished.

3. You know the 48-hour rule

Whenever you plan an outing, and need your parent’s permission, you need to strategise.

Conservative Asian Family

4. You had to fill in an invisible form just to go out

Fun fact: I know a friend who had to literally fill in a physical form. Yep, you read that right. Her parents thought it was a good way to build trust between them.
Here’s how mine was like:

Conservative Asian Family

5. Your definition of BFF is Best Faking Friends

These people are the special group of friends who’re ready cover for you when you sneak out of the house. And somehow, your parents trust your friends more than they trust you.

In fact, Justin Bieber’s song lyrics should be changed to, “My mama don’t trust me, she trusts everyone.”

6. Your second major is in white lies

The key is to be vague. Over time you’ve learnt to manipulate your words by walking the fine line between ‘truths’ and ‘lies’.

What you say: “Oh there’s gonna be no guy friends going there with us, so don’t worry!”

What you don’t say: “They’ll just meet us there instead.”

Conservative Asian Family

7. The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is real

This is especially upsetting if you were the one who had painstakingly organised the event.

Like when I planned my class outing for weeks, only to end up not going because I didn’t clean my room. I had to call my friends and tell them to have fun without me, smiling through the pain like:


8. Your parents always be lurking

And when you do get to go out, the parents are always lurking; via texts, offering to drop you off/pick you up.

Also, if take a sneak peek at my parents’ phone, you’ll find all my friends’ contact numbers there, you know, “just in case there’s an emergency”.

9. You’re Cinderella…at sunset


Going out after sunset implies a higher risk of getting robbed/raped/run over by cars. But that’s not all…in Singapore, I also have to deal with the burden of superstition.*touch wood*

As my mum, her mum and her mum’s mum always say, “Don’t stay out past sunset if not Shaitan (devil)/Hantu (ghost) will follow you home!!!”

Well, if the fear of the devil is not enough to get me home by my curfew, the fear of my mother is definitely more than enough.

10. Your romantic life is more limited than 2G network

When choosing a movie to watch, there can’t be intense sexual scenes. If an on-screen kiss sneaks past their extensive foolproofing, there’d be disgruntled noises for the rest of the movie unless I look away.

Same goes for books. As a child, my parents never let me borrow books that heavily featured romance. So yes, the only Fifty Shades of Grey my (innocent) eyes have seen, is the pitch-black darkness of my own hands.

Oh and dating? Don’t even bother because that’s not gonna happen. In fact, I’ve created my own motto: no d8ing, only w8ing to m8ing.

Also read:

8 Ways Typical Asian Dads Indirectly Say “I Love You”

11. You were never explicitly told what a period was.

So when I first became of age, it went something like this:

Me: Ma I’m bleeding
Mum: Ya now you’re a woman
Me: o…

12. You’re still waiting for ‘The Talk’

I’m still waiting for mine and I’m already 19. It’s just not within our culture to openly talk about *whispers* sex. Perhaps they feel that if they don’t speak about it, it won’t exist?

Although we learn about the three letter word in our school’s sex-ed class, it would be nice to have a mature conversation about it with our parents.

13. You’d be disowned if you accessorise your body


You can’t dye your hair because “you’ll damage your hair”.
You can’t have any funky piercings because only “bad girls do it”.
And Tattoos? Your soul needs to be cleansed ASAP.

14. You’ve 10 similar shades of natural-looking lip colours

You avoided brighter shades of makeup to avoid  attracting “too much unwanted attention”. So your extensive collection of makeup included one eyeliner (black) and 59 shades of nude lipsticks.

15. You’ve been threatened to be married off at some point of your life

Ever been particularly uncooperative or rude to your parents?

If your fam is anything like mine, your parents might have pulled the classic “I’m gonna ship you off to your native country to marry so-and-so”. In my case, said person was a farmer from India, and that never failed to shut me up.

16. M18 things only apply once you’re married

As long as you live under their roof and/or are unmarried, you’re still a kid.

I distinctly remember my reply to birthday wishes when I turned 18:
Friend: Happy legal Naeha!! Don’t do anything haram (forbidden in Islam)
Me: Oh don’t worry, according to my family, I’m only legal when I’m married.

17. You’ve learnt to take the blame…for everything

You got sick? Well who told you drink all those cold drinks?
You fell down? Who told you to run so fast?
You feel sad? Who told you to become sad?

And you probably have heard this empty threat: I told you not to do all those things but you never listened to me?! All your fault. Next time you get hurt/sick don’t come to me?

But you’ll always go back to your mother no matter what.

18. You’re allergic to wasting food

Every. Single. Day. You ate rice like as if it was an unwritten rule.

And heaven forbid if you waste rice because “you’ll have pimples if you don’t”. You’ll also have to sit through an hour of your parents ranting about the kids in Africa with no food and how ungrateful you’ve become.


19. You know how to transform your house into a showflat in 1 hour


Every time guests came over to visit, you had to race against time to make your house look impeccable.

You had to take on the impossible task of cleaning up the pigsty to resemble a showflat while listening to your mom complaining about how “no one’s going to marry you”, “you’re always so messy” and “when I was your age, I knew how to cook, wash and clean.”

Overtime you’re thankful to your mom for instilling in you good cleaning habits and the ability to chuck everything under the bed in record time.

20. No ‘A’ no bae

As with every Asian family, grades were heavily emphasised.

Hence the expression: “No ‘A’, no bAe.”
To which the sassy-21st-century kid would reply: “No ‘E’ also no baE”



Gotta love them

Despite my list of complaints against conservative parents, from deepest darkest corners of my heart, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

This particular upbringing I got has shaped who I am today. Now I’m able to rationally negotiate with my parents, be responsible for my own actions and learn how to be respectful.

As I mature day by day, I’m able to understand my parent’s’ perspective better and be grateful for it. And to all those in similar situations, here’s my 2 cents: hang in there buddy, it’ll get better with time. It may not seem like it, but your family always has your best interest at heart.

After all, family stands for…*cues cheesy quote* fam, ily <3

This article was first published on 20 January 2017 and last updated on 17 May 2024. 

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