The Evolution of Maternal Instinct


Over the course of the last month, I’ve hosted a couple of very distinguished guests in my adoptive hometown of Hong Kong – my mom and stepfather. [Actually, he’s been my mom’s boyfriend for the past decade – they’re not married, but saying ‘boyfriend’ always makes me chuckle, since while my mom is very young in spirit, she’s in her 70s.] People always say that changing where you live changes your perspective, and it’s true. Ever since I moved across the globe last summer,ย I’ve had the opportunity to re-evaluate quite a bit about myself, my life, and others in my life. That includes my mom.


Mom and Gin enjoying a clear afternoon on Victoria Peak


Another somewhat surprisingly sunny day in HK – arriving by Crystal Cabin at the Big Buddha on Lantau Island

Mom and I weren’t always so close. As a young child, of course we were. One of my most distant, but distinct, memories is of my dad consoling me when I was probably 6 or 7 years old, crying uncontrollably because Mom had left for the evening for singing practice. Then adolescence hit – and with the increased objectivity I’ve acquired as an adult, I can honestly say I could be a little bitch back then. I was tough, stubborn, ferocious in my belief that I was unequivocally and always right, rebellious but without the guts to really rebel so just full of angst. Mom wasn’t perfect either – she could be very tough on me, judgmental – and in my recollection, quite relentless with tactics for my self-improvement and ever the disciplinarian. A ‘tiger mom’, I suppose.

Things changed again when I went off to college and especially graduate school. I performed well in school, perhaps better than she expected. When I completed my undergraduate studies as my class salutatorian, I remember Mom beaming with pride and waving from the balcony of the auditorium where the ceremony took place. She had taken on the role of proud parent for 2 – as my dad had just passed away a few months prior.ย That period of time tested both of us – and when I decided to pursue graduate school immediately, I remember Mom being concerned but supportive, and me being guilt-ridden for leaving her alone but knowing I had to go on.

The following few years were a mixed bag, as we both evolved as individuals and didn’t always mesh in our beliefs. But what I did begin to observe was more of a mutual respect for, and patience with, each other. Mom started to relax a bit, and we became more comfortable accepting each other for who we are. A pivotal moment arrived in my late 20s – the one time I came close to having a breakdown from a job I hated. In a moment of particularly high stress, I had gotten into a car accident – I hit a police car! (for the record, it was his fault, and he knew it – they swept that right under the legal rug) – and suffice it so say, I was a wreck. I remember my mom being the one person who was willing to do just about anything to help me escape from my misery. I was deeply touched. And I got a new job and moved on.

Ever since then, our relationship became stronger. We talked every few days, sometimes daily. Now that I’ve moved far away, Skype has become an indispensable tool. And with her here for the massive celebration of Chinese New Year, we had the opportunity to spend time together in a completely different context.

On more than one occasion over the last few weeks, I found myself smiling, as I began to see more clearly how I am my mother’s daughter. She gazes upon delicious food with the same glint in her eyes that I do. She stops to photograph (almost) anything and everything, just as I often do. She relishes the newness of experiences, big (and little) discoveries, celebratory moments, just as I do. She wants to get out, everyday, to do or see something interesting – akin to my recent near-daily aspiration. She keeps a diary of everything we did together – I suppose not so different from my blogging, just less public. And she can be a total goofball (yes, I suppose I inherited a bit of that from her, as well – Mark might say a bit more than a bit!).


Mom and Gin, eagerly eyeing (and they buying) the jerky at a tiny shop in Causeway Bay


Mom stuffing her face with delectable dim sum at Tim Ho Wan (like mother, like daughter!)


Mom, hamming it up outside a restaurant in Stanley

What I really love is that she views most things, most experiences, with the mind of an optimist. She was incredibly grateful for everything I planned for her, for us, even thought she didn’t need to be. And in true mom fashion, she even brought me food from the market downstairs when I was too busy to fetch my own sustenance. Some things never change.

I only wish I had more time to show her around my great new hometown. But hopefully, she’ll be back soon and ready for another mini-adventure together. Maybe I can convince her to move here someday – maybe for me, maybe for the general awesomeness of HK, or maybe at least for the relative weather advantage (she did just return home to a snowstorm after all, while the high today was 70 degrees Fahrenheit in HK!). Time will tell. I only know I missed her as soon as she left.


Mom, contemplating the steep climb to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island (she made it!)

Not surprisingly, this all makes me consider the prospect of my own potential motherhood more deeply. After all, the bond of mother with child can arguably be the strongest, and I’ve been told time and time again that while the ultimate challenge, motherhood is a reward beyond no other.

There’s a glitch in that plan for me, though. I somewhat recently discovered that I cannot have children of my own. And yes, it can be a difficult reality to bear. I disclose this not because I crave sympathy. I made choices, and those choices have generally made me very happy. Perhaps I did sacrifice something very important along the way, but regret is generally a wasted sentiment, as it can be highly unproductive.

One of the most sage pieces of advice my dad ever gave me echoed in my head for years – if I ever decided to have children, but if I doubted that the man in my life would be a great father for any reason, I should pass, or at least wait. And so I waited. One very un-Chinese trait of my mom? She also never pressured me to have children, for which I will always be grateful. Now that I am with the right man, well – it’s too late, at least biologically speaking.

So as I continue to contemplate the prospect of adopting and equivocate on this most important decision until we qualify for the arduous process here in HK, I keep my relationship with my own mom in the back of my mind. I’m certainly very happy that I have her in my life and appreciative of the bond that we share. And maybe that’s just the nudge I need to make up my mind.


Not our best snap – but still capturing the beginning of an afternoon of great fun at Duecento Otto in Sheung Wan

This post is dedicated to my mom and everything she ever did to help me get where I am today…and maybe even the ‘tomorrows’ of my life. Love you, Mom!


Mom, admiring one of HK’s many stunning trees, in Stanley

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Globetrotter based in Hong Kong, travel and street photographer, Getty Images contributor, award-winning blogger of - seeking true beauty in travel and life!

19 thoughts on “The Evolution of Maternal Instinct”

  1. Completely agree with you on how much a daughters relationship with their mother changes over time. It’s only after we have grown up and reflected on our experiences that we come to truly appreciate everything they have done for us and who they are as a person; mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend. I can only hope that I will one day become half the person my mother is.
    All great moms should be acknowledged for all that they do and have done every now and then, even when their children have grown up. I’ll be doing just that the next time I speak with her. Thanks for this post!


    • Thank you for reading and your thoughtful insights. I agree, it’s easy to take them for granted. I feel I have much greater perspective now. I’m so glad my post resonates with you. Best to you and your mom!


  2. What a pleasant surprise to see this timely post! You have such a tremendously busy schedule that we appreciated the time you spent with us….precious moments indeed!

    I often wondered, whether my goal and role as a parent was ever achieved. To say the least, I was very touched and honored to have read this post from my daughter’s perspective.

    We had a fabulous time spent indulging in the delicacies and the many beautiful and historic sights of Hong Kong.

    I must say that I do ham it up a bit, but it’s all about enjoying what life has to offer us. It helps to share these experiences with someone who has a similar outlook.

    As to my “boyfriend”…..Hey, this way I’m on a permanent date!!!

    To everyone…Be young at heart and enjoy life!


    • My dear Mama Fong ๐Ÿ™‚ It was my pleasure and honor to write this (and to spend time with you and your ‘permanent boyfriend’ Gin over the last month). Life is very short, as we know – and it’s important to share how we feel. We’ve had our differences, as all mothers and daughters do, but I think we’ve had a great journey together and appreciate each other very much. Thank you for being you, and come back to HK soon!


  3. Bing Chang says:

    Ann is not only young at heart, but also physically agile as shown in those great pictures.
    Besides being a tiger mom, she is also known as “Mu Lau Hu” (fearless tigress) while playing ping-pong!
    We miss you at the Club.


    • Hi Bing, I have received several comments about how young Mom looks (and acts, in the best way possible!). Thank you for sharing mu lau hu – I will have to add that to my list of nicknames for her :). Thank you also for reading, as always!


  4. Oh my, this is so similar to my relationship with my mum. I grew up here in HK and so much of what you said resonates. Your decision sounds difficult and painful but I hope you find peace. Parenthood is so tough and fraught with anxiety but it IS a great journey. Not the only one though. Great post!


    • Thank you so much! I’m so glad to hear my post resonates with you. And I appreciate your kind words and support. And the reminder that children are not the only path to take in life. Perspective is important. Thank you for reading..


    • Thank you so much! I appreciate you reading and responding – and I’m so glad to hear it touched you. And yes, Mom is still rockin’ after all these years!


  5. Thanks for sharing – I enjoyed reading about your mum (she looks a lot younger than her age!!!) and about the changes in your relationship. I always struggle to write a personal blog post and I admire you for the one you’ve written. Very honest, but also very touching.


    • Thank you so much, Ruth! It was definitely not the easiest post I have written but very meaningful to me (and Mom), and I’m beyond thrilled that it has resonated with readers also. That’s the best feedback I could receive. It’s funny how blogging somehow opens doors for this kind of honesty – therapeutic, satisfying, rewarding. And I think people really do respond to the personal revelation, which is terrific and helpful for me, too. Thank you for reading..


  6. Somehow my previous comment seemed to have disappeared into cyberspace. Beautiful and touching post Deb. Reminded me of my relationship with my mom, which evolved from close during childhood to not so close during my rebellious teens and then close again, especially after I got married. Your mom sounds cool – I loved her “permanent date” remark and also advice on life! And wish you all the best as you navigate through, what must be a tough phase emotionally.


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