Tiger Mom and her cubs. (Photo Credit: chinahearsay.com)
It’s been about six months since Amy Chua and the ‘Tiger Mom’ phenomenon broke into the spotlight. I observed as countless bloggers, journalists and friends dissected Chua and her questionable parenting tactics, preferring to stay on the peripheral of the conversation rather than engage in it. Maybe this was my way of ignoring the relative difficulties of my childhood, who knows, but I chose not to take much part in analyzing ‘Tiger Mom.’ However, now that some time has passed and as I grow older and become a little more adept at understanding the complexities of the relationship between myself and my parents, I realize that a key part in understanding who I am is understanding why my family dynamic is the way that it is and accepting the fact that, to a degree, I was indeed raised by ‘Tiger Parents.’
Through conversations with my older sister, I’ve become cognizant of the fact that our father was not a very nice person. He was, in fact, emotionally abusive to those he claimed to love. I remember instances where he and I would sit down after dinner to go over some homework and if I didn’t understand something right off the bat, he would berate me and ask if I was stupid. Other times when he and my mother would argue, he would scream at her and call her dumb in front of my sister and I. I loathed spending time alone with him for fear that it would end up with him shouting at me to do something better. It was only until his work relocated him to China that I found any sort of relief. Sure, he missed a fair amount of my adolescence but I had gotten to a point that I preferred an absent father than the one I’d grown up with in my childhood.
My mother was not nearly as cruel. There was a period of time when she was somewhat hard on me – yelling at me for grades that didn’t meet her expectations and grounding me so I could study for the SAT’s – but for the most part, she never reached the ‘Tiger Dad’ proportions of my father. But like ‘Tiger Mom,’ getting a compliment from her was a rarity and you can forget about ‘I love you.’ I seriously can’t remember the last time she said this to me.
Relatively speaking though, things weren’t that ‘bad’ and as we all grew older, my parents began to mellow out and refrain from their ‘Tiger Parenting.’ But as I look back and try to make sense of how I’ve become the way that I am today, I realize just how damaging this kind of ‘parenting’ was. That’s not to say that I can attribute my entire being to how I was raised but I do think that it affected me more than I even know. My fear of asking questions for fear of being reprimanded, always wanting to please others, never wanting to burden other people, etc – so many of the stereotypes associated with being Asian, these all have roots in my childhood rearing. For better or for worse, many of these qualities have shown up again and again in my personal and professional lives and at times, have negatively impacted my relationships with others.
I don’t say all of this to garner pity but to give context. This is the environment I grew up in and had a profound impact on shaping who I am and who I might be. While I don’t necessarily agree with how our parents raised my sister and I, things are never black and white. Perhaps this was the only kind of parenting they knew. Perhaps deaths in our family, rather than bringing us closer together, slowly tore us apart. I don’t know. Looking back on things now, I know that part of the reason why my parents were hard on us was because they wanted us to succeed [well, according to what their narrow definition of ‘succeed’ meant] and having a good life in the US. To them, that meant doing well in school, getting a good education, working hard and not causing a ruckus. And if achieving those goals meant being tough on their kids, then so be it. I guess you could say it kind of worked. Until we started tuning them out, that is.
My point is, all of this ‘Tiger Parenting’ and for what? It’s not like I went to an ivy league school or am in a profession where I’ll be making tons of money. I may be able to chuckle and be self-deprecating about it now but truthfully, all that this served to do is put a sizable chip on my shoulder.
I recently started reading ‘All About Love: New Visions’ by bell hooks and she details how current definitions of love largely defined by our patriarchal society, whether it shows itself in justifying hitting our children as a form of discipline, lying to others so as not to hurt others and other negative forms of what we might think are love, are destructive. I thought about this in my own life and in the lives of my friends in similar situations and I have to agree. What good does it do to make your child feel crappy about themselves? All it will do is create resentment. There are better, more effective and non-degrading ways to teach. If you truly love someone, you would never demean and disrespect them. Ever.
Reading hooks’ writing about a love that is honestly about respect, kindness and commitment instead of oppression, control and cruelty was so…refreshing. It gave me hope that things can be different. That children can be raised in an environment that is truly about love, rather than just care. I don’t doubt that my parents cared for us but love? Now I don’t know.
I’ve learned that ‘Tiger Parenting’ may be one way to raise your kids and that’s the path my parents chose for my sister and I, but it’s not the only way. At 24 years old, I continue to grapple with the lasting impact my mother and father have had on me, both positively and negatively. In some subconscious way, I guess I’m glad Amy Chua wrote her piece about ‘Tiger Moms.’ In conjunction with hooks’ writing and conversations with my sister, it forced me to acknowledge that my father was abusive and what this means for me in my adult life. By no means do I have the all the answers now but at least I can begin to reconcile this past and heal.