In Search of Love and Hope --
How I Became Counselor to Couples and Parents of ABCs
Click here for the story of Winnis Chiang in Chinese
Born and raised in Hong Kong, I came to the United States for college in 1973. I met my
husband (from Taiwan) at U.C. Berkeley in the department of Electrical Engineering and
Computer Science (EECS). I was a college senior and he was getting his masters degree.
We started dating after doing a project with two other guys. I admired his intelligence and
confidence but it was his loving attention that touched my heart, I could told him things that
I did not feel comfortable telling others. I also liked his parents. The first time I saw them,
they were holding hands walking towards a restaurant in San Francisco. They were in their
One day, he said, “If everything turns out fine, I would like to marry you.”
“But I do not know how to cook!”
“You don't have to, we could eat out every day.”
So we were married in July 1975, after only three months of dating! His parents hosted a
Chinese banquet for 100 people in the Golden Dragon in early August. The following day,
we moved to Santa Clara close to his first full-time job as a hardware engineer.
I eagerly decorated our one-bedroom apartment. I surprised myself for cooking three meals
for him everyday. I used to live with an old Caucasian lady for free room and board, so I knew
how to fix meals like ham and egg breakfast and tuna sandwich lunch. Instead of shake-and-
bake chicken and boiled broccoli, I now spent hours cutting, mincing and stir-frying in my new
iron wok. I diligently fixed the few Chinese dishes I knew. One day, I asked how he liked my
cooking. After some silence he replied, “Good but can we have more varieties?” I was
speechless and heart broken. So I was not good enough. It was a nightmare from the past.
As a little girl, I lived with my mom, dad, older sister and many relatives. Our four-story house
belonged to grandmother who had ten children. Her youngest five kids lived with her even
after they became adults, got married, and had their own children. I remembered being told
very young that I was the trouble maker for my mom and dad. Apparently, after I was born,
grandmother made this comment, "Two girls in a row! If you want a son, go somewhere else.”
By the time I was one, my dad already had an illegitimate son. Mom cried, yelled, and
threatened to leave, but dad did not yield. Eventually, mom accepted her "fate" and the other
woman. I became mom's confidante. With no education and life skills, mom feared that she
would never make a good living for her two girls. My mom loved me. She encouraged me to
study and be independent. I excelled in school to honor her. Deep down inside, I feared that
I was never good enough as a girl. That is why I studied science and technology and played
sports even in Hong Kong.
After that incident, I still cooked but I lost my motivation and excitement. Although we never
argued before marriage, now I often felt irritated as we found little things to argue about.
What irritated me the most? He would even correct my words. For example, pointing out we
were disagreeing, not arguing. He said he wanted to learn Cantonese, but often time when
I used my native tongue instead of English, he said I was scolding him.
After the summer, I returned to Berkeley to finish my degree while he worked in Santa Clara.
Finally I could do something I was good at once again. In November, I received a long
distance phone call from my sister. Our mom died at age 48. Paying foreign student tuition
with his salary, I did not attend the funeral in Hong Kong. I buried my grief and loss.
Graduated with honors in March 1976. I soon began my career as a software engineer in
Palo Alto as the sixth (and the first woman) programmer in this start-up subsidiary of a big
company. In the beginning, I went home after work, cooked dinner, and waited when he had
to work late. Then, I decided to do the same. It suited me well to call each other, go out for
dinner, and return to work separately. He liked it calm. As long as I was not having emotional
outbursts, we got along quite well. I focused on my work. Soon I was addicted to recognitions,
raises, and promotions.
Our son was born in 1983 and brought great joy. Although I returned to work when he was
only two months old, I pumped milk in the locker room and nursed him for eight months.
Whenever I had the urge to stay home with my baby, I could almost hear the voice of my
mother in my mind, "Study hard. Work hard. Make a good living. Don't depend on your
husband." It was wise to have my own career and income. My husband was now busy with
work and his M.B.A. studies.
By 1985, I was managing an engineering department with around fifty software engineers
and managers. I always had important meetings to attend so he took time from work to drive
our young son to preschool, doctor appointments and the like. On the weekend, they would
spend time with his parents in San Francisco while I worked. Secretly, I feared that my baby
would not need me. Calm and objective at work, I was easily irritated and frustrated at home.
I found it harder and harder to share feelings with my husband. Every time we fretted over
small stuff, I felt more distant from him and more sorry for myself. Even the closeness of his
family had become a source of irritation. I used work demands to avoid family gatherings.
When we went to SF together, I often retreated into a guest room with a headache or backache.
It was too painful to watch them talked and laughed.
So there I was in 1986. After gaining everything, I felt like a failure. Both my parents had
passed away and I felt alone in the United States. Money and material things no longer
satisfied me. Career successes came with more responsibilities and heavier burdens. I
had employees, projects, reorganization, and budgets to worry about. My husband and I
spent less and less time together. If we did, we frequently ended up arguing about child
rearing. He talked about homework and Chinese school, and I talked about getting ahead
and people skills. When he rationalized things, I got mad. When I attacked and blamed, he
withdrew. Our interactions were a negative downward spiral. We were stuck in a vicious cycle!
There was a scenario that repeated itself. After a long week of work, I took our little boy
shopping at Toys-R-Us. We returned home and daddy immediately pointed out, “Another toy.
You're spoiling him.” Angry at his matter-of-fact tone of voice, I raised my voice and sho
back, “It is MY money!” We went back and forth (with him being calm and I escalated) until he
shook his head and walked away. Instead of triumphant, I often felt defeated. Those
arguments left me devastated, feeling sorry for myself. I thought about getting a divorce, but
I did not want the world to know my life was not perfect. I was anxious about my future and
worried about our son. I wondered, “Is this what life is all about?”
My turning point came in January 1989 when I became a Christian. Believing the
unconditional love of God, I tasted inner peace and joy. Gaining new inner strength and
security, I no longer yelled at my husband as often and as loud. I started listening to him for
understanding before jumping to conclusion. Our home atmosphere changed and the
feeling of love returned. One by one, my husband and son place their trust in Jesus.
I enjoyed the company of other believers and started teaching children Sunday School.
In 1994, I became a deaconess in our church in charge of the ministries to children. I was
still in my high-tech management career. Trying to be the best for my family, church and
work, I became physically tired and emotionally stressed.
One long weekend in February 1995, there was a ski accident that left a thirteen years old
boy in coma. We visited him in the hospital. Afterwards, I could not help but think This could
happen to anyone. There were always things to do and people to help, but I was the only
mother for our son. He would leave for college in a few years. My husband and I talked about
our priority in life and calculated the cost. Before summer of 1995, I became a stay-at-home
mom for our twelve years old son. All I did was to put our son ahead of my career, but God
had other plans. By Fall 1995, I was a seminary student learning about Marriage, Family
and Child Counseling. During our son's junior high and high school years, I had the
opportunities to attend seminary, counsel children and youths at public schools for a
community agency, and serve as a minister in our home church.
My passion for helping children deepened. The more I tried to help kids and teenagers, the
more I realized that the keys are with their parents. Rearing a helpless infant into a mature
adult is no easy task but it is extremely rewarding for couples to function as a team. God has
used conflicts and struggles to teach me how to love and to live with healthy choices. I know
there is hope when people dare to feel, think, share, and look for help and support. That is
why I am dedicating my professional life to couples therapy, parent coaching, and play therapy.
After I obtained my state license as a Marriage & Family Therapist in 2003, I started my private
practice part-time and worked with more and more Chinese Americans and Asian Americans.
By 2004, my husband graduated from seminary with his Master of Divinity degree and started
to serve full-time as a minister. One day we were reflecting on our journey and calling, and he
suggested the name "Parenting ABC" for what I love to do.
I am empathetic to the struggles and pains of couples and parents. Living with and loving
someone is not easy. Not only do we have interpersonal conflicts, there are often inner anxiety
and frustration as we desire both our togetherness and separateness. When I became a
young mother, the discord between my parents became the backdrop of every conflict in my
marriage and I got triggered easily. Thank God that my midlife crisis has turned a dangerous
situation into an opportunity for change. My personal and professional journey has equipped
me to examine my past wounds and rediscover fully who I am. From a state of feeling
hopeless and helpless (in spite of earthly successes), I have found my true identity, life
purpose and calling. The struggles in my family of origin have helped me understand human
darkness and suffering. My Christian faith has helped me find love and hope. The more I
understand how I have recovered and grown, the more wisdom I can pass along to clients
and workshop participants.
To make the long story short, my husband and I have worked through our differences and
challenges with renewed teamwork as couple and parents. We have resolved our issues,
overcome our difficulties, and created a very strong marital relationship and parenting team.
By the grace of God, and a brief period of therapy, we have built an intimate and vital
relationship by being truthful to self and one another. As lovers and best friends, we
celebrated our 32nd anniversary in July 2007, one month before our only son married a
wonderful Christian lady. Facing my pain led me to recovery and a new life, as well as renewed
intimate relationships with the people I love. My dream has come true. My husband and I are
still holding hands.
Helping Couples and Parents of American Born Chinese
Winnis Chiang, MA, LMFT (California License # LMFT 39732)
Winnis Chiang 蔣吳蘊蘭