I didn't grow up with a true tiger mother. I was allowed to visit friend's houses and participate in theatre. I was allowed to choose which instrument to play and how much I wanted to practice. If you follow the news, or listen to NPR, or even read Entertainment Weekly, you've heard of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by now. Perhaps you've even read the Wall Street Journal excerpt that got such a polarizing response. To recap: it's a memoir about being a parent and about driving your kids to perfection through strict control and demanding routine.
Reading the excerpt made me think about my childhood and about my role as a father to Simon. Like I said, I wasn't a child of super-strict parenting, though I believe that my parents, having had a Chinese upbringing themselves, were stricter than those of most of my schoolmates and friends.
To be honest, I don't remember much of my childhood. I'm not sure if this is unique to my experiences, but a lot of my elementary and middle school years are a bit of a blur. While I remember certain teachers or moments in and out of school with my friends or particular vacations with my parents, I don't actually have a great grasp of what my life was like day-to-day during that time. I don't remember my parents being like dictators, but I also don't remember doing much outside of what they suggested either. Was I an unimaginative child with no aspirations beyond learning math? Were my parents good at silently guiding my expectations and desires of what a child should want to do with his free time?
As I've grown, my relationship with my parents has always felt a bit strained. At the heart of it, for me, is the fact that I have felt that the independence I need to feel as my own person has always been too much for them to handle. There's a sentiment I get when talking to them that I'm still a child and need their rules and guidance - or who knows where I may end up.
I don't think it was always this way. I know that my parents love me and respect me, and that has become only more certain as I've aged and matured. But certainly, when I was younger, before high school, I think that I was a more obedient child. Growing up in a household with a father-knows-best mentality means that you believe it from a young age. And that's not a bad thing. After all, if we let Simon do everything he wanted, he'd stick his fingers in electrical sockets and his entire diet would consist of strawberry puffs.
The real trick is that hazy line when a child begins to turn into an adult; at some point, that person that you've had to care for his entire life and who has always looked to you as the voice of wisdom and reason will have to begin making his own decisions.
In some ways, I wish my transition had gone more smoothly. I wish I could have expressed my need for independence without being as caustic, but hey - I was a teenager. And I wish my parents could have expressed their need to be a part of my life as mentors and guides without being as condescending, but hey - they're parents.
Life for me, academically, has always been rather easy. And while I'd like to attribute part of that to my innate intelligence, I would be lying if I said that my parents had nothing to do with it as well. I heartily believe that my early years, when the value of hard work and practice and putting off "fun" activities was driven into me, helped me breeze through high school and college with stellar grades. Even now, as I write "stellar," I hesitated for a moment to consider the Bs that I received. I consider them missteps and that in itself should tell you enough.
There is one line from the excerpt that sticks with me: "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it." I really do agree with this and while I could never see myself calling Simon "garbage" or refusing him the right to be in a school play (things my parents never did as well), I do consider how to best get him to practice and stick with things he may not like yet, just because he isn't as good as he could be.
Maybe it's not possible to do while still fostering a relationship that doesn't have underlying strains of resentment or a feeling of constantly disappointing your parents. Then again, maybe it is.