Shifay and her Mother

Baby Shifay and her Mother

According to my two children, Marcus and Lauren, it’s hard to be a mom because she has to pack lunches, cook, tuck her kids into bed, look after them when sick, take them to places and help them with homework. And give them lots of hugs, especially after she’s been cranky with them!

All true, but what my kids don’t see are the things that keep me up at night–how to pay the bills, concerns about their wellbeing and plans for their future.

Until I became a mom, I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of hardship my own mother went through to give me the choices I have today.

My parents were born in Guangzhou, China and lived in Hong Kong, where they faced many hardships, before they immigrated to England in the mid-1960s; my father first and my mother two years later. They arrived, after several weeks on a ship, with no money and little education, but bundles of hope to start a new life.

Working all hours and making the most of every opportunity they were given, despite racism and prejudice, they saved enough to start their own restaurant and went on to raise five children. My childhood was spent helping in the family business. It was drummed into me to do well at school.

That discipline paid off and I set a precedent by being the first in my family to go to college.

Love, marriage and big dreams brought me to the United States. I’m as much a pioneer here as my mother was in England. I’m living new cultural norms, just as my mother did. I feel the responsibility of raising my kids without extended family support, just as she did.

After my first-born came, I had one of those light-bulb moments. I understood why my mom instilled in me the mantra: “To know who you are, you need to know where you come from.”

One day, I’ll be the matriarch and tell my kids and, hopefully, grandkids about their ancestry, and I realized I didn’t know enough. I quizzed my mom on her youth in China and her early married life in England. I wrote down her memories and videotaped her and my father sharing their stories; the good and the bad.

Hopefully, my kids will carry forward a strong sense of their heritage, along with an open-minded attitude.

And what will I be doing on Mothers’ Day? I will be sharing family stories with Marcus and Lauren, of course.

Susan Shifay Cheung

Susan Shifay Cheung

Susan Shifay Cheung has turned her hand to many forms of writing in her various roles, over the years, as corporate trainer, management consultant, journalist and freelance writer. You can contact her at