In 2011, Yale Law School professor Amy Chua’s autobiographical book, Battle Hymns of the Tiger Mother, made huge splashes, sparking controversy and creating debates all over the Internet and between psychologists. Chua writes of “[her] family’s journey in two cultures”, how her parents had immigrated to America from China as graduate students, and painstakingly made a living to support her and to raise her with a firm yet loving hand.
Believing that it was her parents’ efforts and discipline that attributed to her success in life, Chua enforced the same parenting tactics on her own children. Her daughters, Sophia and Louisa were never allowed to, among other things, “have a playdate…watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, [or] get any grade less than an A,” (Chua, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”).
Of course, in Western cultures, this is ridiculous, far too over-the-top, and as the nickname “Tiger Mom” suggests, even brutal. Raising children in this way would leave them no room whatsoever for individuality, creative expression, and other traits deemed less important in Asian cultures. Being a 1.5th-generation Korean-American myself, I also struggled with my parents when it came to academics, because although they were never as hardcore as Chua, I always felt like they just didn’t understand.
The younger, “fresh off the boat” version of me was smart, driven, and focused–the perfect tiger cub. However, as I got older, my social, emotional, and spiritual life became of utmost importance to me, and the more I strived to fulfill my teenage hormone-driven desires, the less I studied, the more my once perfect standardized testing scores dropped, the lower my class rank got, until–gasp–I was no longer a single digit amongst the something-hundred other students in my grade. For the entirety of the school year, when I was out and about hanging out with friends, volunteering at church, or holing myself up in my room to blog the day away, my parents were biding their time, waiting to strike once report cards were out.
By this time, I had come to terms with my utter normality as a student, accepting that I wouldn’t be going a prestigious college on the east coast, and realizing that it was all okay. However, my parents had a harder time letting go of the kid that “had so much potential” that “could have gone places.” Now, hearing them tell me what a disappointment I was, how far I had strayed from the way they raised me was, without a doubt, upsetting. The self-esteem I’d barely managed to build up came crumbling down, because I felt as if I was trying my best, and if it wasn’t good enough for my own parents, who in the world would accept me?
My church became my safe haven (shoutout to GCC!), and since many Asian families are religious, they encourage their children to attend church, mass, or other religious services regularly, almost as much as another extracurricular activity. Having attended the same church for a while, I found that there was rarely a middle ground between the people who clocked in every Sunday, 11:30 to 1:00, and the people who were very involved in the ministry, serving as Student Leaders or members of the praise band. I fit in with the latter group.
Although my parents loved that my faith was growing, they seemed to constantly blame the time and commitment I put into church for my slide in grades. One of my fellow leaders noted that his parents “prioritize education over church activities,” telling him that “God gave [him] a duty to study.” After my parents finally told me to give up my positions at church, the only thing I could enjoy in my life, I finally broke down. Before, I’d never bothered to explain calmly and thoroughly how I felt, expecting them to snub me for my weakness. I never expected them to sympathize with me at all. However, once I told them how much I was struggling, I got to hear their side of it. Like Amy Chua, they had seen their parents struggle to raise them, and they only wanted a better upbringing and future for me than they had gotten themselves. Their hurtful words and tyrannic ways were all meant to show love for me, and they hadn’t a clue how much of a negative impact they would have on me, having been raised that way all their lives.
In the end, my first talk with my parents led to more, as I got more comfortable with sharing different aspects of my life with them. We’re all still learning how to deal with each other, but the seemingly endless sea of misunderstandings has been bridged, at least part of the way. After all, if they crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the most literal way possible, what’s a little culture gap, anyways?