Friday, October 14, 2016

Powerful essay by the daughter of a Tiger Mom

In his acceptance speech at the Emmy Awards this year, Master of None writer Alan Yang ended by saying, "Asian parents out there, if you could just do me a favor: If just a couple of you can get your kids cameras instead of violins, we'll be all good." It got me thinking — if my mom had applied her tiger zeal toward supporting me in what I wanted to do in life, what could I have achieved? If my friends, some of whom express ambivalence over their career paths, were given more choices, where would they be? Could we live the elusive immigrant dream, but on our own terms?

If you asked me 20 years ago how I expected my life trajectory to go, I would have told you college, med school, become a doctor. But that's not how things went. I am not the rich medical professional my mother hoped for, though I am economically more secure than my parents, and I am able to enjoy life more than she was. I'd like to say we have a good relationship, but we don't. Something broke between us when I declared my independence. She still believes I could become a doctor and berates me every so often because she thinks I work too much for too little money. When I ended her dream and began my own, we endured a fraught cold war over the course of the first two years where she'd go from screaming and threatening to not speak to me again to calling me like nothing happened. It could be days or weeks between calls; the longest was two months. All I could do was turn the other cheek because I knew that therapy, the best way to solve this problem, was not in the picture. It would trigger another blowout, because the last thing my mother wanted was for others to hear our dirty laundry. Plus, in her mind, she wasn't doing anything wrong.

I think a lot about what I would do if I choose to have children, and I'm deeply ambivalent about becoming a parent. Besides the fact that my mother would command a presence in their life, I'm terrified of turning into her. I look at my internal monologue and the offhand comments I make to friends, and I see the effects of her parenting. I worry I'll be as overly involved, demanding, and strict. But then I think about what I'd truly want: for my kids to work hard toward their happiness, whatever that may be, even if there are unpleasant bumps along the road. And maybe this self-awareness is how you survive growing up a tiger cub.

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