I have had a diverse group of friends throughout my life, friends of all different races and religions. Growing up, I always knew that compared to my non-Asian friends, life seemed more of a struggle. My mother and I fought incessantly, from the day my beautiful sister was born. I was a stubborn and strong-willed child and struggled for independence starting at a young age. I was curious and adventurous in spirit which was not appreciated. My mother is also stubborn and she commanded power. We would push each other to our limits. Shouting matches were the norm and the now illegal spanking was routine. I remember I was having an off day. I had spilled my juice in the morning and then later that afternoon, I had spilled another drink – one that was in my ice-cream shaped cup. As the cup toppled, I knew I was in big trouble.
The spanking finally stopped as soon as I became the same size as my mother, but the hurtful words continued to escalate. I’ve never fully understood how a parent can say such horrible things to their child – someone that never asked to be born. I’m not sure I fully believe it, but author and professor Amy Chua has an explanation in her excerpt from her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Basically she says that Chinese mothers can say the most unimaginable things to their children because they do not see it as damaging to the child’s self esteem, but rather, it’s motivation. I think she is implying that putting your kids down will only make them stronger.
The article continues on, displaying the differences in the Chinese model of parenting versus the “Western” parenting style. I’m sure it will shock many, but for me and my Asian friends, it simply brings us back to our childhood. We kind of laugh about now, and we’re all glad we’re not kids anymore, though I’m certain our parents still view us that way. Amy Chua was much harder on her kids, or her kids were just not as fierce as I was when it came to battle, and I think this is because only my mother is Chinese. My father is too, but he didn’t cross the ocean to get here. He believed in the Western style of raising children. I feared disappointing my father as I was growing up, whereas I simply feared my mother’s wrath. I always wanted to do things so that my father would be proud of me. I didn’t care if my mother was proud of me, I just wanted her to like me.
Having said all this, there is some good in a Chinese upbringing. Chinese mothers are relentless and they push and push but it’s made me a fighter and not a quitter. How’s my self-esteem? It could be better, but I wouldn’t consider myself as “damaged”. As the article also points out, Chinese kids never get to choose their extra-curricular activities. I wouldn’t say this has made me more studious (Gasp! A Chinese girl that doesn’t get A’s in school!) but in the work force, I’m reliable and get the job done. My adventurous spirit and my love for laughing comes from the Western part of my upbringing. My father allowed creativity. He’s a kind person and he always made me feel so loved, even in my darkest hours. Without him, maybe I would have gotten straight A’s, but I’d also be in therapy today because I’d be under the impression that I’m just not good enough.
As an adult, I still seek out my parent’s approval, but at the same time I’ve managed to move on and continue to live my life the way I want to. They’ve both done a good job and now they just have to trust that we’ll continue down the right path. And when I say ‘right’, I mean right for their daughters and not just for them.
February 4, 2011 Update
I’d like to add something that might not have been made clear in my post. Although my mother and I were in a huge war for a long time, I absolutely love my mother. Her iron fist taught me discipline and that hard work pays off. Obviously as a young person, you cannot appreciate these types of lessons. And unlike in Amy Chua’s article, I still had a childhood. I rode my bike, tobogganed in the winters, went on camping trips in the summers, built Lego castles and did lots of other normal childhood things. But there was also a lot of pressure placed on my sister and I and we were punished if we could not measure up. As an adult looking back, I know this behaviour was supposed to be out of love and wanting only the best for us. I don’t necessarily agree with all of her parenting methods, but I understanding the reasoning. Although she will never come out and say, “I love you and I’m proud of you”, I sense that we have a good relationship now.
To all Chinese kids out there that feel like their life is hell today, just hang in there. It can be a long, rough ride, but it should hopefully work out in the end. Just remember to keep a sense of humour and find yourself a best friend that can help you stay strong.