Mother’s Day in Vietnam  

Your future is shaped by every word and deed you see, hear and watch her do over the first two decades of your life

Love your mum when she is still around! Photo: Tuoi Tre

What’s the first wonderful thing you think about your mother?

With my mum, she introduced me to sausages, roast lamb and reading. How about you?

We’ve all got our blissful childhood memories of our mum and thankfully we don’t remember the punishments! It was my mum’s encouragement that set me on the ultimate path of living in Vietnam.

For most of us expats and foreigners, it will be a day of visits, emails, Facebook messages and bargaining with the flower vendors. It will be a little bit lower key around Vietnamese culture as they also have a festival called Vu Lan, or Vietnamese Mother’s Day, which happens in August and combines celebrating their parents as well as those who have died. It’s also not to be confused with Vietnamese Women’s Day, which happens in October.

We have a rosy picture of motherhood in a decent house with plenty of food, comfortable furniture and with a few motorbikes or a car out the front. Just like the advertising. Yet reality is far tougher in this land of golden beaches and stunningly green mountains. I was thinking of this when I went to the market this morning and watched the ladies selling food. 

They are probably all mums helping the family by trudging a fair few miles from the outlying areas heavily laden with food on bamboo sticks. Imagine earning a living sitting out in the hot air, competing with other vendors and going home with not that much money. I looked at their hands, hard-skinned, weather-beaten, and wrinkled by never-ending harvest work. Vietnam is an education in how far we Westerners live so comfortably apart from the majority of the population still living on the land.

Up in the mountains, among the mist and no electricity and a small land plot, there’ll be no flowers, no breakfast in bed, no romantic dinner – just another day surviving. There are mothers still thinking of their kids, worrying when they get sick, pushing them to study and keeping the family’s peace and perhaps bullied by the husband.

For the sake of the people they love, mums hide their fears and just as often their anger. It’s a strange balancing act between being strong for the family but meek, kind and considerate for the outside world. The opportunity to show their true heart and personality is rare, fragile and frustrating, I’m sure. In a culture vastly male-dominated by tradition, history and status, being a mum in Vietnam without much education or family income can be one of the toughest jobs on the planet.

Thankfully as more kids go to school and learn of the outside world, customs and manners will adjust to raise women’s status beyond the customary roles most have no other choice to play. Indeed, the young modern university-educated women of Vietnam will transform this county in ways that most cannot yet imagine, staying longer in the workforce, owning their own businesses and having the economic power to delay marriage and explore their own dreams.

However, times do change and for the better off, Western-style Vietnamese Women’s Day celebrations are growing more popular and will hopefully educate men to be just that bit more appreciative of the role of the women in their lives.

Your mother knows you better than anyone in the world. No matter how much trouble you give her, she still reaches out to you. She’s a nurse, a cook, an educator, an entertainer and judge. She doesn’t abandon you or step on your dreams. She thinks more about what you will do next than probably you do. Your happiness is tied to hers. Your future is shaped by every word and deed you see, hear and watch her do over the first two decades of your life…and she knows that. Although your freedom might depend on obeying her, she’s not going to stop you taking your own steps into the future.

Yep, mothering is the toughest job in the world that remarkably produces relatively sane and sensible adults (in their millions) worldwide year after year. Amazing, hey?

Everyone has their own way to celebrate their mums. For me, I say a silent thank you to my mum in the stars every time I have a beer. If it wasn’t for her, you wouldn’t be reading this!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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