Grow tender in the face of their fear.
April 14, 2018 10:14 PM   Subscribe

 
Of all the woes I hear from other Asians, I feel like the tiger parent thing is one that I just don’t relate to. my mom was a Korean immigrant and my dad came from a jewish family, and both were lawyers, so you think I’d have some kind of extreme double tiger pressure, and yet they were so lax and had this “do whatever makes you happy!” attitude. Though in hindsight, I’ve been thinking maybe they were actually the ones fighting against their own tiger parents—it would explain why they always dreaded talking to my grandparents on the phone and seemed to run away from them as much as possible.
posted by picklenickle at 12:21 AM on April 15 [28 favorites]


Just read this, while traveling in Asia with my cousin. We were talking this morning about how surprised she was at how "obedient" I was when I made my choice to go to the professional school they chose for me, instead of what I desired (bc I was American-born). They were paying the tuition, so they made the call. I was disappointed in myself. But I never looked back once I started making the money they chose for me. This still smarts >25 years later. Then there's who you marry, where you live, when you see them.... Do they see you? Indeed, it's a long game.
posted by honey badger at 12:25 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]


I thought Hasan Minhaj's "Homecoming King" to be the most relatable take on the subject. "Let's face it, their [the tiger parents'] love was totally conditional."
posted by honey badger at 12:30 AM on April 15 [18 favorites]


Has anyone written something like this for younger children?

Asking for a friend...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:56 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


This is way more apologetic to tiger parenting than I was expecting from the first paragraph.

You’ll thank them some day.

This is the classic line tiger parents always use to justify their 'tough love'. It's also what classically abusive parents say to their kids.

They feel, rather, that it is you who have hurt them.

This is also what tiger parents say to their kids. I intimately know the guilt trips, manipulation, crocodile tears, power plays. They're overstating this 'hurt' you've caused them. It's more like an emotional chess game to them. They're masters at it, and you don't even realize it's a game.

Have faith. There is a long game.

Or maybe you do. Personally, I stopped playing the game. It grew exhausting and I have too much of my own life to live to give even a second's thought to living theirs.
posted by naju at 1:49 AM on April 15 [45 favorites]


(p.s., I know people are understandably leery of Reddit around here, but I found Raised By Narcissists to be useful in reframing this sort of parental behavior and not buying into excuses or justifications for it)
posted by naju at 2:06 AM on April 15 [21 favorites]


There’s an overlap between abusive parenting and parental panic when you make a choice that feels non-traditional to them, but it’s not a perfect overlap. Quiet panic is a thing. Parents who do a lot of careful, careful “are you sure? What if...(I can always bail you out)... of course you should do what you want, but...” are not really being abusive, only anxious and fallible human beings. Their fear reaction still needs managing, and of course you’re a lot safer being tender and understanding with them than with the ones who throw things and scream and threaten.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:24 AM on April 15 [11 favorites]


Parents who do a lot of careful, careful “are you sure? What if...(I can always bail you out)... of course you should do what you want, but...” are not really being abusive, only anxious and fallible human beings.

All well and good, but that's not the way immigrant tiger parents talk. It's the way mostly nurturing, supportive, compassionate, and fairly liberal parents talk in their moments of doubt or hesitation. Tiger parents are harsh, strict, unyielding, and didactic practically by definition, and when they're not, they're telling you how much you hurt them with your selfishness in your life choices. It's all about unwillingness to give you agency. They don't say things like "of course you should do what you want".
posted by naju at 2:51 AM on April 15 [18 favorites]


I'm a white Canadian middle class middle aged guy and my experience was the opposite end of the spectrum from tiger parenting. Seventies upbringing, laissez faire, "if you want to fight, go outside". I watched Florida Project and thought it was not so different from what my middle class childhood was like.

I'm jealous of some of the things that tiger children get, experience and achieve. I wish I had more structure, guidance and pressure growing up. Tiger children have to rebel to get away from their parents' control. My childhood was instead a battle against the boredom and lassitude of total freedom to such an extant that going back to school in September was a huge relief.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we all resent the choices our parents make for us no matter what those choices are. All upbringings are imperfect. All parents and children fail in hundreds of ways.

It took about 40 years for me to learn this.
posted by srboisvert at 5:39 AM on April 15 [37 favorites]


Canadians are pretty behind on knowledge about Asian American issues. Studies show that tiger parenting harms Asian American children, so coming into this and saying "oh there's a silver lining I'm envious of" reinforces a discussion free of empiricism and lived experience. It's a power move that works by reinforcing white ideology: the idea that intergenerational conflict is universal is a way to distract from white privilege and ignore Asian American narratives. It's also gaslighting, to suggest that we somehow aren't aware of intergenerational conflict—as if this is not a predominant narrative in popular Asian language media and literature already. The effect of conflating these two issues serves racist narratives.

Real learning comes from keeping updated and that includes awareness and actively looking at psychology and social sciences, paying attention to what Asian American scholars are saying, and so forth.

"All lives matter" as a racist rejoinder to "Black lives matter"—it's the same thought process.
posted by polymodus at 6:22 AM on April 15 [62 favorites]


I dunno man, I feel like my parents did a great job. Not a perfect job of course, but a really good one and I'm eternally grateful to them for that. Not everybody resents their parents.

Anyway, this thread is about a pretty different phenomenon here from the sort of benign neglect you're talking about. Maybe your totally opposite problems are not really relevant to a discussion about overbearing immigrant parents. I feel like yours is the sort of comment that takes a discussion that's meant to be about some aspect of a minority experience and derails it into yet another discussion about white guys. I say this as a fellow white guy: our perspective is not always relevant and valuable in every discussion.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:22 AM on April 15 [40 favorites]


Hmm. I respect your perspective and agree with the substance of your comment polymodus, but as someone who has actually been gaslighted by an abusive partner I really wish you wouldn't throw that particular term around so casually.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:30 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


What really fucks me up is trying to reconcile the expectations that I have about parents that come from growing up in the States with my own parents' pretty radically different experiences and expectations with their own parents and back home.

I want parents who are curious and nonjudgmental about who I am as a person and my personal interests, and are supportive and understanding when I'm not at my best and doing poorly. But is that fair to my dad, who constantly starved as a child and whose mother specifically didn't like him because she believed that his birth brought bad luck? To my mom, who was physically abused by her dad and had to stop schooling after middle school because they couldn't afford it?

Transcendent perfect understanding, as a goal, is out of the question. Maybe you’re thinking, but I know a family like that! They’re the nicest! Consider: Doesn’t the child seem weirdly lacking in edge? A little too well adjusted and cheerful? (Note: These are the perfect people to marry; marry them.) Your parents gave you this edge. Because of your relationship, you know how to fight — you know how to articulate what you believe and withstand skepticism. You’ll thank them some day.

Take this edge away. I don't want it.
posted by coolname at 7:02 AM on April 15 [18 favorites]


I'm currently mostly estranged from my parent, and this was both hard to read and enlightening. My mother wasn't a traditional Tiger Parent--and Jewish, not Asian American--but the impossibly high standards and prevailing sense of disappointment in my choices was omnipresent. I remember, for example, my high school alumni scholarship ceremony, where I had not been awarded the same exclusive scholarship my sibling had received five years earlier (but had received a different, much more modest scholarship) and how my parent's anger and disappointment clouded over pretty much everything else about that night. My sibling takes a different view of her treatment--she thinks it made her strong that we were expected to attend college but not helped in paying for it. Me? I don't know. I had to unravel a lot of toxic beliefs about how I was worthless and terrible in order to be able to advocate for myself in my creative career. Self doubt really poisons the well in creative exchanges and even monetary situations like having to negotiate yourself.

On some profound level, they know they can’t argue with the fact that you’re happy.

I wish this was true for me. :(
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:12 AM on April 15 [22 favorites]


Same, picklenickle. Well, they were both Taiwanese and neither Jewish, but the broader strokes. But I don't think in their case they were rebelling against "tiger parents" of their own -- my mother for instance was the nth daughter of poor farmers and wasn't encouraged to even go to school, which you'd think the rebel version of would be to emphasize academia. Which she did, but she placed the highest priority on staying healthy and happy, and all of the academia or career related pushing was only to the point of "be able to have a stable job and not suffer" (e.g., I was verbally discouraged from pursuing a creative career as my first choice, but not otherwise pushed toward anything -- I was the one picking all my classes and extracurriculars as a kid as long as I had an opinion).
posted by inconstant at 7:16 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


I wish I had more structure, guidance and pressure growing up.

When my Asian mother decided that my youngest sister wasn’t finding an Asian husband fast enough for her taste, she lured her to our native land and tried to trick her into getting plastic surgery against her will. Luckily, my sister realized something was wrong and ran out of the room before they got too far.

This isn’t about structure, guidance, and support. It’s about a complete refusal to allow your children any autonomy, or see them as anything but extensions of yourself. It’s about using every tool possible, from threats to shame to guilt and physical and mental abuse in order to exert control over your children. About being called lazy and worthless and terrible for wanting any sort of agency in your life. It’s succeeding but never feeling good enough, and your inner voice being filled with crippling self-doubt and fear and inadequacy.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:23 AM on April 15 [51 favorites]


"All lives matter" as a racist rejoinder to "Black lives matter"—it's the same thought process.

I get what you mean and it is why I made sure to state explicitly where I was coming from.
posted by srboisvert at 7:23 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I don't think I'll ever forgive my parents for the tiger parenting. I also wish the term tiger parent would go away because a tiger, while fierce, also conveys a sense of majesty. There is absolutely no majesty in this type of parenting. It is absolutely just a fucked up game of emotional chess they're playing.

It's still a struggle for me sometimes to remember that I'll never get affirmations of any sort from them. Growing up, I could do no right. According to them, my grades weren't good enough ever. I never did well enough in extra curriculars. They thought I was wasting my time by volunteering. They constantly said how shitty where I went to university was (they wanted me to go to somewhere east coast and Ivy League, but I went to UChicago). They kept telling me how good my brother was (he fit their mold better since he was quieter, is really fan-fucking-tastic at math, went to MIT). It seems like they purposely tried to divide me and my brother against each other. They'd give him more emotional validation while they gave me more money to do things.

After years and years of constant put downs, the weirdest things then started to happened. They started saying, "I love you," at the end of phone calls. They'd give me a hug (a hug!! Physical affection?!?!) when they would pick me up at the airport. They started saying that they were proud of me in public.

I so erroneously thought that hey, maybe they've turned over a new leaf and realized how shitty they had been before. I so desperately wanted to finally have parents who were a little more understanding.

Turns out it was just another move in this long game of emotional chess. Eventually, they started saying how they no longer depend on my brother to excel in life (no idea why they said this to me at the time because I was underemployed by choice while working on taking pre-requisites for my current graduate program while he had been in well paying positions since graduating from college). They told me how they now all have their hopes pinned on me to help them when they're older.

They only started being nicer to me so that I would be more inclined to help them in their dotage. They were only nicer because they wanted something from me.

The end result of all this is no one in my family knows what I'm really up to beyond what I would write in generic holiday cards/my highly curated social media presence. It's probably better for everyone that way.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:48 AM on April 15 [34 favorites]


It's also funny with the gendered part, my aunts and uncles are always (proudly) relaying what my male cousins are up to and less what the female cousins are doing.

At the heart of the issue is, how do you disentangle cultural values from race and ethnicity. It says a lot about society in which, on the face of it, multicultural diversity and freedom from oppression are espoused but conflicting values, and yet the burden of solving this conflict falls to the vulnerable minority, in this case the role of the PoC child as opposed to the parent (who is not anywhere as acculturated/assimilated) or dominant society (which has not come to terms with its white supremacist legacy).
posted by polymodus at 8:03 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


astapasta24: I also wish the term tiger parent would go away because a tiger, while fierce, also conveys a sense of majesty.

(There are some parts of actual tiger parenting that are pretty shitty, like newly dominant males trying to kill off all the children of their predecessor. I wouldn't nobilify their parenting too much.)
posted by clawsoon at 8:10 AM on April 15 [9 favorites]


I was the child of immigrants. My husband, an immigrant who was raised in a white evangelical family, has always been somewhat jealous of the pressure and high expectations of my upbringing. His childhood was a tyranny of enforced mediocrity and he has never forgiven that. I have only be able to forgive my parents because I understood, from a very young age, that they were terrified. It was not until I demonstrated that I was good parent that they finally chilled out. It’s a long, long game.

I have a confidence that comes from knowing my children can navigate this country with an ease that my parents could not have dreamt of. I do not have to be a tiger parent but my children are higher achieving than I and my husband were as children. The problem is no one believes I am not a tiger mom.

My husband’s white evangelical family is deeply suspicious of me and my child rearing techniques. They’re certain that I’m engaging in all manner of nefarious tricks, probably amounting to child abuse - because how else could a child forced to be so high achieving? I encountered the same attitiude from neighbors in the white evangelical community in which I lived for a few years. It’s really kind of exhausting.

They don’t get that as a second generation American I get to do all those fun parenting things I saw on TV as a child. Constantly tell my kids I love them, encourage them to go out and have fun with their friends, tell them not to worry so much about that test grade, spend lots of money on their hobbies. It’s so much fun to be an American parent!!!
posted by GliblyKronor at 8:51 AM on April 15 [36 favorites]



I'm jealous of some of the things that tiger children get, experience and achieve. I wish I had more structure, guidance and pressure growing up.


I'm jealous of them as well - sometimes. Other times, not. I also grew up white and Canadian, but with a single parent in social housing, and from a largely working class background. The culture of working class non-immigrants is something that I find a lot of children of immigrants just don't understand. I had friends whose immigrant parents worked in factories, but who had previously been teachers or landowners, with education and (of course) a great deal of determination that brought them to a new country. Whereas my dad was the first in his family to complete high school, and my mom didn't. We had generations of people living in the same place, leaving school early to go to work, never knowing any different. When I hit 18 and managed to a) not be pregnant and b) get a high school diploma, I was a raging success. Of course, my family had no idea how to apply to university, what I should study when there. They were just happy that I was, but it was a foreign world to them - their idea of a good professional program was DeVry.

So yeah, part of me is jealous of the structure, the expectations, frankly, the educational privilege that my first generation friends have had. Not all of them - some were the children of immigrants who also happened to have little educational background. But a lot did - and also had healthy, two-parent families who had more time and energy to support them as well as drive them.
posted by jb at 8:58 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


For those who think they're missing out on some valuable effects of this controlling, self-centered style of parenting, I hope you're also aware of the very real damage it does to the personality of the child. I'm the other parent, and I do everything I can to protect and nurture our truly amazing daughter, but I can still see a loss of confidence and self-esteem. Don't wish this on yourself or your children.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:21 AM on April 15 [23 favorites]


I think it's important to distinguish between "structure" and abuse. Pushing a kid to practice piano and get good math grades is one thing. But constant put-downs, telling a child they are a disappointment, pitting siblings against each other -- these are not even in the same ballpark.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:22 AM on April 15 [27 favorites]


Regardless of intention, it's a pretty standard, "modern racist" tactic itself to introduce classism as a way to suggest that racial issues are a manifestation of "privileged" entitlement. Like, I get that these feelings of envy are genuine, but consider that there's something to process in the idea of not substituting one extreme for another. The article is very much about the harms of tiger, or authoritarian, parenting styles as it disproportionately impacts PoC immigrants. It's this disproportionateness that matters. It's not race-blindedly about the problems of authoritarian parenting in general, or about intergenerational parent-child conflicts in general.

And speaking of class, there are papers on how working class vs white-collar Asian American families are theorized to acculturate differently. People have already thought of those issues.
posted by polymodus at 9:28 AM on April 15 [11 favorites]


polymodus--There are a number of assumptions/statements in your response to srboisvert without any empirical back up or specific external references: While I may agree with some of them they are written as facts (with additional judgement implied) when for all I know they are opinions or guesses.
"Canadians are pretty behind on knowledge about Asian American"
issues. "Studies show that tigerparenting harms Asian American children", so coming into this and saying "oh there's a silver lining I'm envious of" "reinforces a discussion free of empiricism" and lived experience". It's a power move that works by reinforcing white ideology: the idea that intergenerational conflict is universal is a way to distract from white privilege and ignore Asian American narratives. It's also gaslighting, to suggest that we somehow aren't aware of intergenerational conflict—as if this is not a predominant narrative in popular Asian language media and literature already. The effect of conflating these two issues serves racist narratives. It seems a pretty harsh reply to a relatively innocuous personal response to a post
posted by rmhsinc at 9:43 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


In theory, parents know you most intimately. In practice, they often have no idea how much they hurt you. They feel, rather, that it is you who have hurt them. And this impasse is painful, because in a battle where both feel betrayed, victory is Pyrrhic.

Yeah...I feel like one complication of the "tiger parenting" discussion is that it has been used as much for marketing ("Tiger parent your child into the Ivy League!") as it is to describe abusive relationships. It isn't a bad thing to have high standards for your kid. My immigrant dad yelled at me for my disappointing math grades. I definitely cried over it. He made me feel like a stupid failure, and I know his belligerent approach wasn't helpful in the short-term. But also, he was kind of right! He wasn't yelling at me because he thought I was a stupid failure -- in fact, it was the opposite. The first time I got bad grades in a subject it was because I didn't understand it, and actually needed to study it. I was grounded until I pulled my grades up in that subject. (My dad stopped yelling over bad grades. He's not a naturally cruel person, and understood that making your child cry over their performance wouldn't actually result in improvement. But I also never did worse than a B average for my worst subjects, along with As in the rest, and that was because of his insistence that I do well in school.)

Every parent-child relationship is emotionally fraught is some way. I think it helps if a child is old enough (and secure enough in their family's regard) to evaluate if a parent means well, and if they are just being clumsy about expressing their expectations. A healthy family relationship can involve parental pressure to do better in school, to pursue lucrative career paths, to marry the "right" person, etc. That's considered "tiger parenting" stuff, especially if one or both parents is Asian. The break-point on "good" tiger parenting versus "bad" tiger parenting comes when the child diverges from what their parents see as the right path. I feel like that's what the NYT piece is getting at. Parents don't have to rejoice in every decision their child makes, but can they respect it and move on? Can they be supportive? Can the kids communicate how and why they've made certain choices? Some parents drive their children away because they can't accept them. But a lot of the pressure in immigrant families is the quiet weight of mutual expectation, a sort of mutual tethering. Children will never know how much slack they have if they refuse to test it.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:51 AM on April 15 [6 favorites]


There's a huge selection bias in the narratives of tiger parenting. Surgeons and investment bankers and congressmen aren't writing publicly about how much they hate their mom for insisting they get high grades and not letting them date in high school. That this parenting strategy produces losers and rebels doesn't devalue it: every parenting strategy does that. If tiger parenting were a particularly bad strategy, you would see it in the demographics of young adults of tiger-parent-prevalent immigrant parents: more prison, more illegitimacy, more substance abuse, more divorce ... and you quite simply don't.
posted by MattD at 9:54 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


If tiger parenting were a particularly bad strategy, you would see it in the demographics of young adults of tiger-parent-prevalent immigrant parents: more prison, more illegitimacy, more substance abuse, more divorce ... and you quite simply don't.

Except you do, amongst plenty of immigrant groups. Asians aren’t monolithic. The children of landowners and doctors would have done well regardless, most likely. The children of poor Vietnamese boat people can tell you all about the substance abuse, gambling and other mental health disorders, and other issues draconian tactics produce.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:06 AM on April 15 [20 favorites]


naju's link to the Raised By Narcissists subreddit is on point. Here's another: Asian Parent Stories
posted by panhopticon at 10:17 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Frankly, doctors and investment bankers both have pretty high rates of substance abuse, and divorce is so common in both professions that it's a beyond-tired popular culture trope. That type of adult success is no insulation from such problems, and the stress of obtaining such success is pretty highly correlated with precisely the ills you're citing, MattD.
posted by halation at 10:20 AM on April 15 [17 favorites]


Canadians are pretty behind on knowledge about Asian American issues.

Maybe amend this to say "non-POC Canadians," because trust me, Asian Canadians exist and we are well aware of issues like tiger parents.

However, I agree with you on this:

Studies show that tiger parenting harms Asian American children, so coming into this and saying "oh there's a silver lining I'm envious of" reinforces a discussion free of empiricism and lived experience. It's a power move that works by reinforcing white ideology: the idea that intergenerational conflict is universal is a way to distract from white privilege and ignore Asian American narratives.

I've seen the consequences of tiger parenting in my family and friend circle. It's not pretty. I am now able to have these discussions with my Chinese immigrant mother because (fortunately) she never became full blown tiger mom and she is grateful for that, since as a result she still has a good relationship with both her kids and grandkids. In the case of one of my cousins, however, her tiger parents have caused lifelong damage. It's abuse, not a motivating parenting style.

Even those of us with milder tiger parents have some not-great issues as adults. And yes, it is cultural and it is specific.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:23 AM on April 15 [14 favorites]


(Putting entirely aside the issues that not all immigrant parents are 'tiger parents,' that figuring out definitions and methodologies for figuring out what proportion of parents we want to count as 'tiger parents' would be a massive headache, let alone figuring out to what extent negative adult outcomes can be traced to parenting, how pressures from other effects like racism might be in play, the issue that substance abuse rates can be difficult to assess -- do you rely on self-reporting? on numbers of people who seek help? -- and that we'd have to manage those basic parameters before even beginning to make the assertion that this parenting style isn't 'particularly damaging.')
posted by halation at 10:26 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


If tiger parenting were a particularly bad strategy, you would see it in the demographics of young adults of tiger-parent-prevalent immigrant parents: more prison, more illegitimacy, more substance abuse, more divorce ... and you quite simply don't.
I just don't accept that the only possible bad parenting outcomes are prison or "illegitimacy" (which frankly is kind of a retrograde concept anyway.) If people are conforming to social expectations but have high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, that's still a problem.
Frankly, doctors and investment bankers both have pretty high rates of substance abuse, and divorce is so common in both professions that it's a beyond-tired popular culture trope.
Are Asian-Americans even that well represented among investment bankers? My sense is that there's a lot of discrimination in that profession, and there aren't a ton of East-Asian-Americans in the highest echelons. And I do, in fact, know highly-successful Asian-Americans who are ambivalent about their parents' parenting styles and are raising their own kids differently.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:26 AM on April 15 [12 favorites]


It’s so much fun to be an American parent!!!

I appreciate that you have a good relationship with your kids, but that last sentence hit me in a weird way and stung me a bit too. I guess I interpreted that somehow being an Asian parent means you (not you specifically, but "you" in general) can't have fun or a good relationship with your kids. Or if you are having fun, you're an American parent and not Asian.
posted by FJT at 10:29 AM on April 15 [7 favorites]


I think it's important to distinguish between "structure" and abuse.

I agree. I also think it's important to distinguish between "freedom" and neglect. I think I would rather have grown up free neglected than abused (lucky me, then!), but both have consequences to which people from the other side of that fence can't relate. That is to say, I think it might be a bit premature to point polymodus' white-supremacy canon at people who maybe indelicately chime in to say, "yeah my childhood was shit, too." It's not a goddamn contest.
posted by klanawa at 10:36 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
     And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
     By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
     And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
     It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
     And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin, "This Be the Verse" from Collected Poems.

The best we can hope for as parents is to mean well by our parenting and to do the best we can, in the knowledge that it won't be enough; it can't be enough; that we will fail; that we will disappoint; and that we may never get the chance to communicate the terrible ambivalent ambiguous nature of parental love to our own children.
posted by Fraxas at 10:38 AM on April 15 [25 favorites]


My parents never quite fit the bill of tiger parents, but they never really had to. I felt the conditional love in all the ways it was expressed - praise for saying I wanted to be an engineer and (what seemed like) scorn for other professions, getting a 98 on a test and the response being "great job! Where did those other two points go?", restricting me from doing activities I loved in lieu of study time.

I had a stress breakdown at fifteen and have suffered from depression since. Now, at 23, I can't finish a semester of school because I'm not afraid of them anymore and that's the only thing that drove me for years. I knew the right answer whenever anyone asked me, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I didn't even bother applying to any non-engineering schools or really considering what I wanted to do.

So I'm a little baffled at the people in this thread saying they'd want this. My parents weren't even total authoritarian jerks, I was just scared of them. We're doing lots of family therapy and I'm just beginning to realize that they never meant to make me feel that way. They never wanted to mold me into a mirror image of themselves, they just wanted me to have a successful path. I can't even imagine how much worse it would be if they really didn't care about what I wanted. I honestly might have killed myself by now if I had to deal with yet another source of rejection and criticism.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 10:58 AM on April 15 [20 favorites]


I'm curious --- Asian mefites, if you had a tiger parent, how much do you think the tiger parenting was driven by fear? That is an aspect I hadn't considered before this article.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:58 AM on April 15


there are papers on how working class vs white-collar Asian American families are theorized to acculturate differently

polymodus do you have a link to these?
posted by airmail at 11:02 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Interesting, thought-provoking link, and as a parent I've learned a lot from the comments here.

I think it's important to listen to what Asian-Americans and PoC here have to say about their experiences. But I wonder how useful "tiger mom" or "tiger dad" is as a label, since it sort of indicates that "Asians" and "Asian culture" in America are monolithic in nature. The parenting style (identity foreclosure) is common across cultures in the US, I would say.

Abusive, controlling parents are abusive and controlling, and there is no particular cultural explanation or rationale for such parenting behavior. In the same way, "good parents" are generally going to be good in the same ways across cultures, whether or American or "Asian". We're all the same at heart, although we experience the world differently.

That said, I also wonder where culture comes into the conversation. I've lived for about 25 years, off-and-on, in Japan. Right now I am in Canada. My partner (my wife) is Japanese. The Japanese education system is very good. But you're expected to study. The way to secure a stable and safe future is to study like hell. You also have to study like hell to master the 2000-or-so Chinese characters you need for basic literacy.

It's cultural, and it's based on 3000+ years of history, beginning in China, where the key to a safe and stable future was to join a bureaucracy (the state or the church), and the only way to get into the bureaucracy was by passing tests. This system has been in place in China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and other countries for a long time.

My partner, now in her late forties, is currently studying computer science, so she can get a job. She works like hell, sweating blood to get good grades. She explains that it's unthinkable for her to so otherwise.

She's one of two daughters, and her parents were shopkeepers. Her father was a noted calligrapher, as was her grandfather, and her mother has a huge library. Her uncle studied hard and became a VP at Nissan. Another uncle studied hard and became a senior manager at Sumitomo Metals. Her sister graduated from a prestigious law school and now is a senior manager in state government. These are all people who are from a small town in rural Japan.

The parents and the uncles all grew up during and after the war, and witnessed the total devastation, and what it took to rebuild the country.

So, while I don't think "tiger parenting" (abusive parenting) is specifically Asian, I do think there can often be cultural attitudes and expectations towards education. We don't focus on the grades and the percentages, but we do focus on the effort being made.

If our kids are not making an effort at school, we try to figure out why (edit: but we don't expect they will sweat blood; we don't like homework). But we have high expectations for how our kids do in school. Is that a culture thing? I don't know.

I honestly think all parents (with abusers being outliers) have the same hopes and goals, no matter where you're from. You want your kids to be happy, you want your kids to succeed, you want your kids to have fulfilling lives.
posted by JamesBay at 11:04 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


Are tiger mothers even a Chinese thing? I'd never heard of this term until Amy Chua wrote her book. And when it was published in China it was called "Wo zai mei guo zuo ma ma": "In American I became a mother".

I wonder if we've just incorporated abusive parenting into the usual Orientalist stereotypes about book-smart automata children.

Wikipedia compares the terms "stage mother," "tiger mother," "kyoiku mama" (Japanese "education mother"), and "Jewish mother". We have four specific terms for roughly the same behavior, and they all reference some sort of low-prestige background (theatre being, I think, not traditionally a reputable industry in the U.S.). Is there any equivalently pejorative term for, like, WASPy old money New England women who make their kids join the polo team?

It's also interesting how gendered this is. My father was, if anything, both more concerned with my academic success and more self-sacrificing in helping me to achieve it, but we do not typically speak of tiger fathers.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:13 AM on April 15 [20 favorites]


> My father was, if anything, both more concerned with my academic success and more self-sacrificing in helping me to achieve it, but we do not typically speak of tiger fathers.

A friend of mine (about 15 years older than me) traveled to London, UK, to cook and keep house for his son while his son studied for various securities examinations. My friend is from Toronto, originally, and his parents were stage performers. So he came from a fairly lower middle-class background. He says he got into York himself, got some scholarships. He eventually became a research economist for a big bank, and went on to run another bank's Asia operation.

I had always thought he'd be into "identity foreclosure" parenting, because of his personality and intense drive, but he says he just wanted his son to be happy -- his son originally studied fine arts or whatever he was interested in. Later on the son decided to go into finance. And his father was there for him.
posted by JamesBay at 11:24 AM on April 15


Eep, Amy Chua's book was "In America I became a mother." Not "In American."
posted by d. z. wang at 11:32 AM on April 15


I have a really hard time with this - as a child of an immigrant family with a lot of expectations for me, I don’t feel like it was ever for my parents, so much as for the future generations. For the family.

Where this becomes a problem is in your own children, who didn’t absorb all that culture and are basically white Americans whether they are really or not. My daughter gives no fucks about her future children and it really fucks with my head constantly, all the time, like how can she not be considering the continuation of the family? But she’s totally white acculturated. So does it make sense for me to be telling her to sacrifice for her family that she may not even have? But then what have I been doing all my life if she’s not carrying it on, has it all been for nothing? It’s this crazy mindfuck that definitely informs how you parent. If there will be children then how can you follow your dreams, it’s selfish. But if there aren’t going to be children then why not? And I don’t have enough children to let some do it one way and some do it another way. I don’t really know how to reconcile this.
posted by corb at 11:34 AM on April 15 [28 favorites]


I appreciate that you have a good relationship with your kids, but that last sentence hit me in a weird way and stung me a bit too. I guess I interpreted that somehow being an Asian parent means you (not you specifically, but "you" in general) can't have fun or a good relationship with your kids. Or if you are having fun, you're an American parent and not Asian.

What I meant, I think, was that I associate being able to enjoy things with being American. And I’m expressing my happiness at being assimilated enough to be able to enjoy my relationship with my kids without feeling any fear that if I’m not strict enough (in whatever sense), they will not succeed in life, and it will be because I have failed them.

There was something I noticed when I was at Stuyvesant in NYC: some of the Asian kids who did very well had a pretty good relationship with their parents, a relationship that I sensed was very different than the type of relationship I had with my parents. I craved that ease. They were Asian just like me but had a different way of thinking and of doing things.

For most of my adult life I’ve lived among “real Americans” so I guess it’s just simpler for me to think about the level of relaxation I’ve achieved in my parenting style as being American. But those methods could just as well be Asian.
posted by GliblyKronor at 11:45 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


Are tiger mothers even a Chinese thing?

Hmm, I don't know about mothers specifically, but I remember growing up and having peers tell each other stories about overly strict parents and stories on rare occasions where certain kids would rebel against such parenting. It was always East Asian or South Asian kids (or -descent kids) I heard these stories from, and they kind of took on an element of both trying to see who could top the last story and also "in the trenches"-type of sharing.

However, I do add that this can be partly due to the neighborhood I grew up in and the schools I attended.
posted by FJT at 11:57 AM on April 15


I say this as a fellow white guy: our perspective is not always relevant and valuable in every discussion.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The


Thank you for stating this, and I appreciate this.

But I wonder how useful "tiger mom" or "tiger dad" is as a label, since it sort of indicates that "Asians" and "Asian culture" in America are monolithic in nature.

JamesBay, perhaps you should ask some of the Asian-Americans in this thread about it. It's unclear how your story about Asians in Asia, while itself being a specific experience, is relevant to being an immigrant in the US with Asian parents?

Unless, of course, you are conflating the continent of Asia, Asian countries, Asians living in Asia, first-generation Asian-Americans, second-generation Asian-Americans.

For most of my adult life I’ve lived among “real Americans”

GliblyKronor, Is this code for White Americans, or white-adjacent Americans? Or 'fully-assimilated' immigrants? Americans without an accent? As an Asian-American myself, I'm recoiling at this phrasing.
posted by suedehead at 11:58 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Corb: I don’t really know how to reconcile this.

corb: Thank you for that comment. That was really illuminating for me personally.
posted by suedehead at 12:00 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I grew up in an Asian immigrant enclave in Canada. Parenting styles ran the gamut from supportive to neglectful to classic tiger parenting, but regardless, most of our parents expected us to become white-collar professionals, so Asian parenting jokes were popular ("High Expectations Asian Father" memes, etc.) even with the kids whose parents weren't exactly like that. It was an Asian-Canadian identity thing. But looking back, I wonder how much of it was because of "Asian culture" and how much of it was really about class - I mean, there were maybe two white kids in the school we could compare ourselves to. Of course our parents expected us to become white-collar professionals - that's what they were.
posted by airmail at 12:13 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


GliblyKronor, Is this code for White Americans, or white-adjacent Americans? Or 'fully-assimilated' immigrants? Americans without an accent? As an Asian-American myself, I'm recoiling at this phrasing.

It’s code for Americans whose families have been in America so long that they don’t know how long they’ve been here. They are white, and America belongs to them.
posted by GliblyKronor at 12:21 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


But she’s totally white acculturated. So does it make sense for me to be telling her to sacrifice for her family that she may not even have?

...what? Do...white people not believe in having kids?

I mean, I know some white people do not have children, but some people from every group don't have children. I didn't realize it was some kind of white value to not have kids.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:01 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I don't know. I had a conversation yesterday about my experiences with immigrant parenting and that by somehow embracing the immigrant part of my identity, while also attending inner city schools, I missed out on the white acculturation memo (thanks corb for that term) and viewed myself as on par with my POC peers.

Having somehow missed out on that part of the immigrant experience, and the subsequent work I've done to understand it, really accentuates to me these aren't really the conversations we should have surrounding a discussion of "tiger parenting". My intersections soo aren't the same, that it seems to me that the parts I can relate to can only be superficial at best.
posted by bindr at 1:03 PM on April 15


And when it was published in China it was called "Wo zai mei guo zuo ma ma": "In America I became a mother".

This is fascinating and I'm so glad you mentioned it. It really highlights how first and second generation Asian Americans (and even the rest of us, to some extent) are caught in this weird in-between space where various personality traits are chalked up to being Asian by Americans, and to being American by Asians.

I don't have a lot to add to this discussion because my mother isn't one, but the concept of the tiger mother (not just the practice) really haunts us all and it's interesting to see that come out in the comments. A lot of people think they can explain away my troubled relationship with my mother by slapping that "tiger mother" label on it, simply because we are both Asian. But... she is third generation and I am fourth, she never once expressed a desire for me to go into a particular profession, she didn't blink when I majored in creative writing. It's like we're not given the chance to be individual in our failures and unhappinesses, it has to fit in to this tiger parent narrative. (Even when one does have a tiger parent, there's often a lot of pain and darkness that goes into that, as others have pointed out in this thread. But it's like "Oh, okay, so your parent is Asian and forced you to get all A's and become a doctor. Typical. I have understood you. Next.")
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:05 PM on April 15 [18 favorites]


d. z. wang: Are tiger mothers even a Chinese thing? I'd never heard of this term until Amy Chua wrote her book. And when it was published in China it was called "Wo zai mei guo zuo ma ma": "In American I became a mother".

I'd be curious to find out if there's a regional (Fujian? Guangdong?) or socioeconomic (engineers and doctors? labourers?) locus for "tiger parenting" in China, or if it developed as an Asian-American practise that newcomers learn when they arrive.
posted by clawsoon at 1:32 PM on April 15



Are tiger mothers even a Chinese thing? I wonder if we've just incorporated abusive parenting into the usual Orientalist stereotypes about book-smart automata children.


it's a variably Asian-American thing and that's specifically because the modern US immigration system is strongly biased towards admitting the most highly-educated or the richest for entry (see the demographics for H-1B or the F1 visas, for ex, though this is becoming much less true under Trump's nativism)

I remember reading somewhere about how over 60 percent of the Chinese-Americans living in the Bay Area had bachelor's degrees or above compared to something like the 10-20 percent in China

a Tiger Mom is just a systems-ignorant understanding of a sociocultural phenomena that is probably better predicted by class and education than anything else. and one of the most perniucious products of this systems-ignorant reduction is a marginalization, esp at the level of college admittance, of lower-income and refugee populations of Asian-Americans

white supremacy and centering in a nutshell
posted by runt at 1:35 PM on April 15 [13 favorites]


It’s code for Americans whose families have been in America so long that they don’t know how long they’ve been here. They are white, and America belongs to them.

It looks like you just created an account today. Either you are a white supremacist troll, or an asian-american sufficiently brainwashed by white supremacy.

Either way, your white supremacist bullshit has no place here.
posted by suedehead at 1:43 PM on April 15 [8 favorites]


Yeah my brother and I grew up with many of the stereotypical tiger parent markers (we both got good grades, are both engineers, hold multiple graduate degrees, took piano lessons as a kid), but we grew up working class and my parents were sort of like "hey, we love you and want you to do what makes you happy - but maybe pick something practical because we sure as shit can't pay for college, lol" and are kind of pleasantly baffled that both of us ended up the way we did.

It's amazing how many people think they know everything about me and my background because of the tiger parent cliche - I've found myself reflexively using it to deflect attention from myself in a self-deprecating way ("haha yeah I play piano, Asian parents yanno, etc etc") and it works every time. People like their boxes and they like fitting us into the box they designated for us before we can even manage to get a word in.

The music thing we were sort of more pushed into, but that was because my dad grew up literally forbidden to learn anything musical in his household. We groused about it as kids but now as adults my brother still gets paying gigs semi-regularly and I hang out with my dad wailing through Neil Young's greatest hits, so uh, still not fitting into your box, sorry.
posted by btfreek at 1:51 PM on April 15 [13 favorites]


suedehead: Either way, your white supremacist bullshit has no place here.

I took "real Americans" (with scare quotes in the original) - and the explanation - as pure sarcasm.
posted by clawsoon at 1:53 PM on April 15 [19 favorites]


It looks like you just created an account today. Either you are a white supremacist troll, or an asian-american sufficiently brainwashed by white supremacy.

I am the white child of an immigrant parent and their comments felt awfully true to me, though I might quibble that there are certainly plenty of white people with that assured feeling of being a "real American" whose family's immigration has not been lost to the sands of time. I know viscerally I will never be "good" enough to be a "real" American. I cannot call myself American without thinking someone will try and take it from me because that's been my experience my entire life.
posted by hoyland at 1:58 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


I'm curious --- Asian mefites, if you had a tiger parent, how much do you think the tiger parenting was driven by fear? That is an aspect I hadn't considered before this article.

I've known since I was a small child that it was about fear. They had traumatic lives, they saw education/financial success as a way to gain status and security, and they valued that status above all else. But that fear was theirs to deal with. They were the adults in the room. It was not my job as a child to fix that for them. It still isn't.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:07 PM on April 15 [7 favorites]


It’s code for Americans whose families have been in America so long that they don’t know how long they’ve been here. They are white, and America belongs to them.

It looks like you just created an account today. Either you are a white supremacist troll, or an asian-american sufficiently brainwashed by white supremacy.

Either way, your white supremacist bullshit has no place here.

—————————
I’m new to internet commenting and I did a poor job of indicating my tone. My words don’t convey my inner eyeroll at all. I apologize.
posted by GliblyKronor at 2:20 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


I think people were being a little unfair in their assumptions, considering that your first comment was lamenting being stereotyped by white Americans - though I think the confusion has to do with focusing on the passage where you associate the more "fun, relaxed" parenting style with being assimilated to American culture.
posted by atoxyl at 2:24 PM on April 15


[I think this is a "tone is hard in writing" thing, yeah; it's hard to land sarcasm sometimes in text, and it's an unlucky case where the non-sarcastic read comes off as eye-popping enough that folks might fail to back up and re-read it for context. I think we're okay, let's all just try and be kind to each other in here if we can.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:28 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


I have a really hard time with this - as a child of an immigrant family with a lot of expectations for me, I don’t feel like it was ever for my parents, so much as for the future generations. For the family.

Where this becomes a problem is in your own children, who didn’t absorb all that culture and are basically white Americans whether they are really or not.

If there will be children then how can you follow your dreams, it’s selfish. But if there aren’t going to be children then why not? And I don’t have enough children to let some do it one way and some do it another way. I don’t really know how to reconcile this.


Both of my kids feel like white Americans as well. I think I have made my peace with it by understanding that it’s not their role to fulfill whatever “life mission” was assigned to me by my immigrant parents. That’s my burden to bear, not my children’s. The next generation has to do what is best for them.

I disagree that it is necessarily selfish to follow your dreams if you have children. Depends on the dream, perhaps?
posted by GliblyKronor at 2:33 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


a Tiger Mom is just a systems-ignorant understanding of a sociocultural phenomena that is probably better predicted by class and education than anything else. and one of the most perniucious products of this systems-ignorant reduction is a marginalization, esp at the level of college admittance, of lower-income and refugee populations of Asian-Americans

I feel like one problem with "tiger parenting" as a sociological descriptor is that people can't decide whether it means working/lower-middle class immigrants who want their kids to get up to the next socioeconomic rung versus "you're going to be a doctor, like your father."
posted by atoxyl at 2:36 PM on April 15 [8 favorites]


I’m new to internet commenting and I did a poor job of indicating my tone. My words don’t convey my inner eyeroll at all. I apologize.

Thank you (sincerely) for your apology, GliblyKronor.
posted by suedehead at 2:43 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I think there's definitely a "white American" culture, but I hesitate to label the "follow your dreams" attitude as a "white American" thing. Yes, the cultures many non-white American immigrants come from are more collectivist than mainstream American culture, and the second gen might very well have gotten their more individualistic mindsets from American culture, but individualistic outlooks can also arise organically in the origin culture. Like, I know young Chinese women who grew up in China who went off backpacking around the world by themselves. Were they "Westernized"? To some extent, yes, because modern backpacking culture arose in the wealthy West. But maybe it arose where it did because the "West" achieved economic stability earlier in history, and young people were free to go and do their own thing without worrying about the survival of their families. Now that more and more people in China are wealthier, they're finding the same thing.

It's a common phenomenon where immigrants are way more conservative than their relatives who stayed behind because their idea of their culture is frozen in the time they left. Are their children becoming more "white American", or just growing up in a different time?
posted by airmail at 3:26 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


Actually and bluntly, there's nothing premature about referring to white supremacy legacy as a context needed for critical perspective. Pointing out the relevance of legacy is completely different than personalizing i.e. accusing individuals of being such, which would indeed be using such a concept as cannon with which to browbeat others. And conflating the two enables white fragility. This is from 2004:

The color of supremacy: Beyond the discourse of 'white privilege' (Z Leonardo - Educational Philosophy and Theory, 2004 - Taylor & Francis). In the last decade, the study of white privilege has reached currency in the educational and social science literature. In April 2002, the city of Pella, Iowa, hosted the Third Annual Conference on White Privilege. Concerned with the circuits and meanings of whiteness in everyday life, scholars have exposed the codes of white culture, worldview of the white imaginary, and assumptions of the invisible marker that depends on the racial other for its own identity (Frankenberg, 1993, 1997; Hurtado, 1996; Kidder, 1997; Rothenberg, 2002). In …
Cited by 529 Related articles All 6 versions

This distinction was pointed out 15 years ago. The first 3 paragraphs of that paper is instructive regarding this.
posted by polymodus at 3:42 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


> JamesBay, perhaps you should ask some of the Asian-Americans in this thread about it. It's unclear how your story about Asians in Asia, while itself being a specific experience, is relevant to being an immigrant in the US with Asian parents?

While we don't live in the US, we live in Canada, which has a similar immigrant experience, my kids are Asian, one of their parents is an Asian immigrant, and we place high academic expectations on our kids. In a nutshell, my observation is that "tiger moms" or "tiger parents" are not unique to Asian immigrant families, but if there is an emphasis on education it may be cultural, based on my wife's experience, which she has brought to Canada as an immigrant.
posted by JamesBay at 3:55 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


polymodus--There are a number of assumptions/statements in your response to srboisvert without any empirical back up or specific external references: While I may agree with some of them they are written as facts (with additional judgement implied) when for all I know they are opinions or guesses.

That's absurd. If I said that studies exist, they are literally a Google search away. "For all one knows", one may actually use Google Scholar and be a little more proactive about this if they're genuinely curious. Like, don't make me shoulder the burden of that endeavor; I'm just here expressing my opinions too, I'm not writing a scientific treatise on this. It's not unlike the global warming pseudodebates, where people don't actually think to look up the relevant info themselves and instead of occurring to them to actually do that, it's easier to react by nitpicking others and saying their expressions are too "harsh". If you believe in global warming, should I expect you to have citations on hand as well? For I sure hope not. I had written a comment that was about broad issues and questions, and really had nothing to do with srboisvert personally, and helping to personalize it that way is problematic. Not gonna tolerate bullshit.
posted by polymodus at 4:04 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I feel like one problem with "tiger parenting" as a sociological descriptor is that people can't decide whether it means working/lower-middle class immigrants who want their kids to get up to the next socioeconomic rung versus "you're going to be a doctor, like your father."

Why make a decision when you can just collapse the entire Asian American experience into one sensationalistic term and make it apply to everyone?
posted by sunset in snow country at 4:15 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


This article resonated with me on every level. It is so accepting of the central dialectic of this kind of upbringing: love is fear is love is fear is love.

In childhood you feel only fearlove with no safe, separating "is" between. It fucks you up, let me tell you. It is genuine trauma and most of us spend our lifetimes recovering from it in our own ways. There are no good things that come from it. The damage is deep, the lessons are superficial.

In young and early adulthood there is only fear, no love, because the only way to grow is to fear them and escape them, there is no room for anything resembling tenderness in them or within you. In my experience, these are the worst and most bitter years, but also the ones that really teach you something. Here, the damage was superficial and the lessons are deep. This sort of young adulthood forges your identity and teaches you to fight and allows you to know that you can survive on your own heart alone. These lessons have stood me in good stead.

And then, you grow up, and the power balance between you all flips on its head. Especially if you have children - or if there is a whiff of possibility of children (e.g. if you are married to someone of the opposite sex). You watch your parents turn suddenly solicitous, and all their love lies exposed to you as coming from a wellspring of fear. You see, in retrospect, that all they ever meant when they said the word love was fear, fear, fear. When you were small, they were afraid you would embarrass them and that you'd never learn the right lessons. When you were growing up, they were afraid you would dishonor them and that you'd never succeed on their terms. Now they are just afraid you'll abandon them and they will have nobody when they are old.

I resonate so much with every part of this article. The hurt, the anger, the pity, the peace. There are smudges of ash marked between every line, evidence of the rage and struggle of years past. The words were born from these ashes. They could have come from nowhere else.
posted by MiraK at 4:25 PM on April 15 [26 favorites]


My parents never quite fit the bill of tiger parents, but they never really had to. I felt the conditional love in all the ways it was expressed - praise for saying I wanted to be an engineer and (what seemed like) scorn for other professions, getting a 98 on a test and the response being "great job! Where did those other two points go?", restricting me from doing activities I loved in lieu of study time.

I had a stress breakdown at fifteen and have suffered from depression since. Now, at 23, I can't finish a semester of school because I'm not afraid of them anymore and that's the only thing that drove me for years. I knew the right answer whenever anyone asked me, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I didn't even bother applying to any non-engineering schools or really considering what I wanted to do.


Jesus Christ are you me? My immigrant Indian parents* were driven by fear and a desire for me to have opportunities they did not. This combined with the paternalistic certainty that they knew what was best for me meant that I was going to engineering school one way or another. I was the oldest son. I had to succeed. My persistent mood problems and inability to form social relationships were a source of frustration for sure, but it didn't matter as long as I brought home those A's.

I don't think they realized the damage they did until at 23, I turned up three timezones away on four different psychiatric medications and suicide watch. On the plus side, that certainly diffused the drama and hurt feelings from the news that I had dropped out of university and lied to them for years. The autism diagnosis was met with denial than anything else, but I think it helped shift their attitudes towards the more laissez-faire parenting described above. The kind that let their kids pursue happiness (in the professional STEM career of my choice, of course – people don't change overnight). The commentor above who described how jarring it was to suddenly start receiving affection from their parents in adulthood described my experience to a tee. It's since dawned on me that our family damage is a deep-seated pernicious anxiety. Both of them learned to cope by exerting control over every aspect of their lives. I've learned avoidance and withdrawal (hence the previous paragraph).

I'm not angry at my parents. They tried their best with what they had. I was a rather difficult child with problems they were Ill equipped to understand. In hindsight it seems circumstances and timing conspired to fuck up my life. The immediate economic uncertainty following transcontinental migration to an unknown country with little support and my own position as both a son and the oldest child (and my inability to live up to those expectations) meant that my upbringing was rather more stressful than anyone else of my generation in the extended family. My younger brother seems to be generally well adjusted and well prepared for an unremarkable middle class life, as do all my cousins in the old country.

Economic security does wonders. Few of my relatives around my age fit the stereotypes associated with that part of the world. They've fallen in line job-wise while also traveling and creating art. Ironically they'll all remain close to the family and have careers and spouses that meet their parents approval. As for me, I don't know what I'm going to do but it will be on my own terms.

Now would be a good place to close the narrative arc with details of how I took the stubborn determination that brought my parents to North America and carved out a happy and fulfilling life of my own as a gregarious boat captain and published author or w/e. But the disability is real and the world is becoming harder to live in. At 27 I remain more or less as lost as when I first ran away.

*if I had to pick an animal descriptor, it would be "Mule"
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 5:24 PM on April 15 [18 favorites]


It's a common phenomenon where immigrants are way more conservative than their relatives who stayed behind because their idea of their culture is frozen in the time they left

I've been thinking a lot about this with regard to religion lately - it seems that my particular religion has changed a lot over the last forty years, but because the last churches I attended were full of immigrants who still had the same attitude towards it, it seemed like it stayed the same as my parents and grandparents talked about - the same ritual, the same things, the same buildings, the same everything. But now I am learning that all over America, outside of those immigrant enclaves, things have been different for a long time. And - it's a weird feeling. A very weird feeling.

How much of what I am going through, the feeling of loss around tradition and family, isn't because I am unmoored in a white culture but rather because I am frozen in time in another one? I don't know. I can never know - I come from the refugees of a revolution. There will never be a place where the revolution didn't come for me to visit, to look at, to see how things developed.

It's hard to unpack whether you are more collectivist because you come from a collectivist culture or because the world used to be more collectivist and you yourself are frozen in time. I'm not even sure how you figure that out.
posted by corb at 5:28 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


I feel like one problem with "tiger parenting" as a sociological descriptor is that people can't decide whether it means working/lower-middle class immigrants who want their kids to get up to the next socioeconomic rung versus "you're going to be a doctor, like your father."

this is true - but I'm inclined to say that the reduction comes from reducing all As-Am folks to the stereotype of the already middle-class, highly educated group of immigrants. there are plenty of As-Am populations that aren't so practically driven to pursue wealth or have the cultural understanding of education as a tool for upward mobility. there is some truth to the very legalist / Confucius doctrine of schooling (which presented itself in my life as just a lot of rote memorization of things, much like how it was during the Qing Dynasty) but, besides that, the racialization of this view is incorrect and biased heavily towards certain demographics and not others

Maria Hinojosa's excellent documentary series, America By the Numbers, covers a Cambodian guy's perspective of this having grown up in poverty and gang culture. and, for my own experience, there are certainly a lot of middle-class AANHPIs who fit the model minority bill because of their class background but there are also those who don't, who aren't the prestige-class professionals. one dude I knew in college dropped out to be a mechanic - he now happily works on imports all day. another guy I knew graduated college and ended up running a small, Midwestern talent agency after studying engineering

likewise, I also know plenty of white and other PoC folks who would fit the same global model minority profile but for their race. which is to say that upward mobility is very much a wide, popular, culturally broad goal but you just don't hear about it in context of, say, black or Latinx populations. and then there is, of course, the internalization of systemic racist ideas like the model minority - if your friends, teachers, bosses, and professors all see you as academically gifted and focused, then you're more likely to live up to that image of yourself that dozens of others are pressing onto you

the issue, for me, is the racializiation of it, and the white folks who then pronounce to know its causes and explanations that they then turn into a persuasive political tool that aims to show that there are 'good minorities' and there are those skin colors that just aren't as respectable
posted by runt at 6:43 PM on April 15 [11 favorites]


the concept of the tiger mother (not just the practice) really haunts us all

Yeah, even if we restrict it to the group this stereotype is supposed to be based on - "model minority" East Asian professionals - tiger parents are a clear minority. But growing up, we thought of authoritarian styles as "more Asian" - why?

And we think of tiger moms as traditional, but in China, at least, traditionally mothers are supposed to be warm and indulgent, while fathers are supposed to be stern disciplinarians who teach their sons to be men. So where does this reversal of gender roles come from?
posted by airmail at 8:43 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


runt really captured a lot of my thoughts about this, though i'm coming more from an Asia-centred background with its own (incoming ie 2nd/3rd gen) (im)migrant population cultural attitudes in combination with the (outgoing ie becoming their own 1st gen) expatriate/immigrant attitudes. i would say more strongly, that it's absolutely cultural and class-based, and it's absolutely abuse, and class privilege goes a long way in masking the effects of that abuse.

but what makes some parents slightly better at dealing with their children within that cultural framework is that they are not themselves abusive in nature, just in practice, if you understand what i'm trying to say? my parents seem to have shaken themselves out of the habit (that is expected of them) pretty quick as soon as we became young adults, but that's also because in part due to, per the article, my sibling and i, independently discovering the value of pushing the envelope and taking what's due to us (even if in my case, it took actually failing the business degree; and in my sibling's case, acquiescing up to the tertiary education level, and then declaring their independence because as far they were concerned, they've abided by the terms of their contract, as it were, and had gotten themselves a degree. they always did say i didn't act like an older sister at all, because my 'rebellion' contracted their space for movement). we have a much better relationship that we did have when we were growing up, but my sibling and i are still distant with each other, and i certainly don't think to talk to my mother often. but i can take it as water under the bridge, simply because the particulars allowed me to (i have made a decent life for myself; my parent is dependent on her children; we understand the challenges that our parents faced; and there have been a great softening in attitude). this doesn't apply to everyone.

but i'll add that it seems that the seductiveness of the racial explanation isn't just for white commentators, but for the Asian commentators themselves (malaysians and singaporeans, you'll understand more of this, i think). very rarely i hear it described as anything more than some essentially racial reason, and one that one ought to take pride in, in fact. but we're getting slightly better now, or maybe i'm noticing more conversations about mental health.
posted by cendawanita at 8:44 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


a Tiger Mom is just a systems-ignorant understanding of a sociocultural phenomena that is probably better predicted by class and education than anything else

My mother had a lot of the stereotypical Tiger Mom qualities -- she saw me entirely as an extension of herself, never expressed sympathy, praise or affection, constantly expressed disappointment and disapproval, punished me for B+s, forced me into a trillion extracurricular activities, made me constantly aware of her sacrifices for me. I literally felt guilty for being born, especially for being born luckier than she was.

She was a 1st generation immigrant from a Caribbean island who came to this country at age 7 speaking no English. She was raised by her mother, a widow with 8 children, several of whom had special needs. Her mother had been pulled out of school in 4th grade to work on a farm and married off to a 60 year old man when she was 19. They were peasants and then they were poverty-stricken immigrants.

I say this not to imply that Tiger parenting is not culture-specific. People who describe it are talking about a specific thing I did not experience.

My point is that you don't need a middle class background to relentlessly push your kids to succeed in financial and professional terms.

Poverty is brutal and traumatic and it's not uncommon to respond to it by giving up. It's also not uncommon to respond to it by pushing your kids far beyond what is reasonable or necessary to escape it.
posted by mrmurbles at 10:22 PM on April 15 [8 favorites]


I often joke that my mother is not a tiger mom. All a tiger mom can do is tear your still-beating heart from your chest and devour it whole in front of you. My mother would never do that; she loves me too much, I believe, to kill me like that.

I've maintained instead that she's a housecat mom. She is loved by everyone else, and often gentle and personable, until you cross her, at which point she will shit on your dreams, shred everything you love, and vomit on your carefully curated life, and you know it's your fault somehow. A tiger mom will wounds, maims. A housecat mom will make you feel guilty for being somehow wrong and scar your soul.

Even though I'm pretty sure by this time next year our already frayed relationship will be in complete tatters, attenuated like the neck of a wormhole, I can't bring myself to hate her. I spent all of last year angry at her, arguing with myself over the limits of filial piety and whether I should try holding up my half of the sky; over the winter holidays when I visited her last, I let most of that go. I know she's afraid of a lot of things. It's led her mind down some unfortunate paths.

I'm still holding up my half of the sky, and I'm certain she is too. It's just I think she's expecting her son to be at the other end, and as a daughter our heavens might not actually be connected.

I'm certain almost all of the conflict I have with her came from both her being a single mother struggling to keep my brother and me above the poverty line and the marked difference in the cultures we grew up in. She was from the old country, where our blood was from, but our hearts started to beat here, and so we grew up drinking Coke instead of choking down barley when rice was scarce (and post-war, it always was).

She told us we could be anything, and wanted us to be presidents or astronauts or whatever, and she tried raising us all without any real support. Our extended family was back in her hometown half a world away, where they were Korea-rich (which over the decades became actual-rich (cf. Fresh Off the Boat S03E01 - Coming from America)), and she didn't try to enforce upon us any career goals, not exactly.

I don't know if I really am happy with how I grew up, but I also don't know if I would trade it, exactly? I know that the fear (of her, of failure) and self-loathing (of being a failure, for not measuring up) she instilled in me coupled with other, more personal issues (i.e., gender/sexuality) definitely led me on one unpleasant attempt in high school and led to a complete breakdown in college, and maybe I wouldn't repeat that. I can't say that my brother's experience, which led him to want to flee into the Marines for a loving family is one he'd want to change, either.

But we're both comfortable now. We're not i-Bankers, or doctors or lawyers, but we're comfortable. We've got health insurance. We help her how we can, even if she's disappointed she still doesn't have grandkids. She did the best she can for her two children.
posted by anem0ne at 10:44 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


« Older they don't love you like I love you   |   La Piscine: Wow! First of all, do not kiss my ass.... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.