It’s my Tiger Mom’s birthday this week! So in lieu of part two of Parental Relationship Management 101 (which I’m sure my avid readers are eagerly awaiting), I am writing about Tiger Mom. If you’ve been following this blog, I’m sure you’ve surmised that I have a pretty complex relationship with my Tiger Mom. Having said that, she is the strongest, most bad-ass woman I know.
My Tiger Mom immigrated in the late ’80s with a bunch of debt, the promise of a better future and one humongous suitcase (you know the ones I’m talking about – they look like someone squeezed an entire house into the suitcase). As was often the case, her credentials were not recognized by employers here. She also didn’t speak English fluently, so her employment options were limited.
Tiger Mom saved every penny she could to repay the loan that allowed her to immigrate. Some of these measures were pretty extreme. By Tiger Mom’s own account, once, while out on the job hunt, she got really thirsty. Purchasing a drink was not an option.
So Tiger Mom snuck across a stranger’s lawn and drank from the garden hose/tap.
Ok, so some minor trespassing, but it was an isolated incident, right? Alas …
Eventually Tiger Mom got a job, but it was located far from where she lived. She had the early shift (at the crack of dawn) and no public transportation could easily take her to her work. So Tiger Mom bought a car and learnt to drive.
As you know, when you first start learning to drive, you must indicate that you’re a learner driver and you must have a fully-licensed driver sitting in the front passenger seat. Yeah … tell that to my Tiger Mom.
Tiger Mom took a couple of lessons from a friend and from then on drove to work daily … without any supervision.
God, I hope the statute of limitations has expired …
I have a bunch more stories like these about Tiger Mom, but should probably stop here lest I incriminate her further. Anyway, all this being said, my Tiger Mom went through a lot to provide for her family and I would not be where I am today without her. I am deeply grateful for her sacrifices. This is part of why I am working so hard at a better relationship with her – after all, I owe it to her.
Next week, we go back to critiquing Tiger Moms and how they have psychologically damaged Tiger Cubs for life, but for this week …
We talked a few posts ago about actively managing your relationship with your parents and I had promised a follow-up post about how to decide what kindof relationship you want with your parents. Well, the wait is over! In this two-part series, I’ll share with you my framework for how I think about this knotty question.
In part one, I talk about identifying what type of relationship you currently have with your parents and what type of relationship you may want to have. In part two, I look at some questions to ponder in deciding what kind of relationship you would actually want to have with your parents.
So, onto part one!
Let me tell you about this chart that I made up. Just as there’s nothing in life that can’t be fixed by a box of chocolates, there’s nothing in life that can’t be illustrated by a good diagram.
Full disclaimer: this Tigergram is a very unscientific attempt by yours truly to two-dimensionalize complex relationships.
I think any relationship can be broken down into two key components: emotional and financial, represented by the x and y axes respectively.
On the far right of the x axis is someone who is close to their parents, who feels they have open dialogues, and who is content with the level of involvement their parents have in their life. On the far left is someone who doesn’t feel heard, who feels constantly criticized or who feels their parents are too controlling.
At the bottom of the y axis is someone who is completely financially-dependent on their parents (e.g., they live with their parents, their parents still cook and clean for them, and their ATMs are their parents’ wallets). At the top of the y axis is someone who provides full financial support for their parents (i.e., they cover all of their parents’ living expenses).
I plotted some points on this chart to illustrate:
Point A represents where I was when I was 18. I was completely financially dependent on my parents (as is the case for most 18-year-olds) and my relationship with my Tiger Mom was at an all-time low. I was constantly terrified of being chewed out by Tiger Mom if I didn’t get at least an A- on any given exam/paper and I desperately wanted independence, but I felt financially helpless. I was not in a good place.
Point B is where I think I am right now. I’m largely financially independent (hooray for employment!) and my relationship with my Tiger Mom has improved. I say largely financially independent because although I don’t need it, psychologically I know my parents will backstop me financially if I ever needed it.
My relationship with Tiger Mom has improved in part because Tiger Mom has mellowed out a bit and in part because I myself have made a more concerted effort to understand her perspective. (Side note: Did you know Tiger Moms are fallible and have their own insecurities?! A post on that another time.) But I still get frustrated sometimes with the level of control Tiger Mom exerts over my life (e.g., she wants mini Tiger Cubs and she wants them now!).
Point C is where I would like to be. I want to be able to support my parents financially in their retirement and I want us to be close as a family. I want to be able to ask my parents for advice about important life decisions, without feeling judged or like Tiger Mom’s choice is the only right choice. And I want to feel in control of my life.
Where are you on this chart?
Where do you want to be?
In part two, we’ll discuss some considerations to take into account in deciding what kind of relationship you might want with your parents.
As always, if you’re enjoying the posts, have comments/thoughts on anything I’ve written, or would like me to cover a particular topic in a future post, let me know at CordeliaQ8@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter or Instagram @CordeliaQ888!
Hey guys, sorry it has been a while since my last post. My Approved Profession doesn’t exactly leave much time for anything else, much less my Secret Unsanctioned Side Gig. Do you ever have those days at work where not only do you not have time to pee, you don’t even have time to drink water because that would entail peeing later, which, as we’ve already established, you don’t have time for. Over the top? Perhaps. But accurate description of the last few weeks.
I suspect this doesn’t come as a surprise to many Asian-Americans or anyone with a helicopter parent.
I imagine my mother could have been a Tent ‘Rent. My mother has offered, numerous times, in jest (but not really), to stay with me for a couple of months and cook and clean for me. I’ve always turned down her offers because: (1) my mother would make me eat healthy food; and (2) you know that comes with MAJOR strings attached.
See, the dirty secret of Tiger Moms is that every Tiger Mom is in fact comprised of two Tiger Moms. We’re all familiar with Tiger Mom, The Authoritarian, whose singular goal is her Tiger Cub’s utter domination in every aspect of life: get straight As, pursue an Approved Profession, marry a rich husband / beautiful wife, and raise another generation of Tiger Cubs.
But there’s also Tiger Mom, The Manservant, and there is no length that Tiger Mom, The Manservant, will not go to help her Tiger Cub fulfill his/her destiny. It’s all part of the Tiger Cub Luxury Package: you just focus on your studies/work and I, Tiger Mom, will do everything and anything else to ensure that you achieve your prime directive – I will cook for you, clean for you, and wash your clothes for you. I will even spoon feed you while you study if that’s what it takes.
It’s just … too much. Don’t get me wrong – I admire Tiger Moms’ dedication to their children, and I certainly wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without my parents’ sacrifices. But it seems that many parents don’t practice moderation. They swing from one extreme to the other, from being too demanding on their children to coddling them.
I think it’s fair to say that many Tiger Cubs would rather wash their own laundry, clean their own rooms, and cook their own food if it meant they wouldn’t be scolded for getting a B+ on an exam. Sadly, I don’t think Tiger Moms understand that.
Coming back to the Tent ‘Rents, I really think they are denying their children a critical aspect of the college experience – learning to become an independent human being. College was where I learnt some of my most important life lessons: (1) tequila shots may seem like a good idea, but it never ends well; (2) just because I can eat pizza for every meal doesn’t mean I should, and (3) watch out for bank fees – those guys are barbarians and will rob you blind.
I wouldn’t want my kids to miss out on these experiences. That’s why I say to the Tent ‘Rents: Let go, it’s better they learn these lessons while their livers can still process alcohol, their metabolisms can still digest food and they’re still drawing from the Bank of Mom and Dad.
As always, I would love to hear from you – what extreme parenting behavior have you observed or experienced? Email me at CordeliaQ8@gmail.com or connect with me on Twitter or Instagram @CordeliaQ888.
I get lectured a lot by my Tiger Mom. Like, A LOT. These are usually unsolicited and unprompted lectures and they cover the gamut of possible subjects – why one must find a suitable husband, why x person should be my role model, why news anchors and princesses are good inspirations for appropriate attire, why one must read the newspaper regularly, and so on and so forth.
Sometimes a lecture is prompted by something I did or failed to do, and I genuinely feel remorseful. But I just can’t bring myself to apologize for it.
For example, recently, I forgot to call my parents for an important occasion. I felt terrible about it and wanted to tell my parents that. Instead, as my Tiger Mom berated me, I dug my heels in deeper and refused to acknowledge that it was a big deal.
I should note that this only happens with my parents. I have no problems apologizing to my boss, to my coworkers or to my friends if I am in the wrong. Some of my friends have noted that they also experience this phenomenon.
Why can’t we apologize to our parents for things for which we’re genuinely sorry?
My theory is two-pronged: (1) because Tiger Mom won’t let it go, and (2) because in most Asian families, we don’t know how to talk about emotions.
They Just Won’t Let it Go
if I concede I’m wrong about something, it will go into my permanent record
I find a large part of why I hate to apologize to my Tiger Mom is because Tiger Mom just won’t let it go. Even after I concede that I’m in the wrong, Tiger Mom will continue on, sometimes for another hour, about how I am an unfilial daughter and how other people’s adult children are so filial.
Often Tiger Mom will dredge up a multitude of examples from my past, evidencing my long history of delinquency. So I feel the need to stand my ground. Because if I concede I’m wrong about something, it will go into my permanent record, to be dredged up again, and again, and again.
On top of that, in most Asian families, we don’t talk about emotions. So instead of saying how she feels, my Tiger Mom defaults to guilt-tripping.
“You’ll wish you did xyz when we’re gone.” “When we’re gone, you won’t be able to see us even if you wanted to.” You get the idea.
I plan on writing a whole post on this at a later date, but suffice to say that we Tiger Cubs are not taught to express our emotions in a healthy way because our parents don’t know how to express their emotions in a healthy way.
And as I’ve discussed in my previous post, we have a tendency to revert to our childhood selves when we’re interacting with our parents, even though we may be perfectly functional adults in other contexts. So my ability to have difficult conversations in other contexts is in no way indicative of my ability to talk about serious issues with my parents.
That is to say, in lieu of saying “mom/dad, you are important to me and I’m sorry that I forgot to call you on this important occasion,” I resort to crossing my arms, rolling my eyes and grunting.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So we’re at a cross-road. We can either continue to cross our arms, roll our eyes and grunt, or we can behave like the highly-evolved and articulate humans that we are. But how? Tiger Moms seem to bring out the Neanderthal in us.
In my previous post, I urged you to be a co-pilot. Now, I urge you to be the adult in the relationship. If you feel an apology is warranted, apologize, even if it will go into your permanent record. If your parents are important to you, tell them, even if it feels weird and out of character.
I called my parents and told them that I didn’t mean to forget the important occasion and that I did feel badly about it. Tiger Mom’s lecture was only 5 minutes long this time and the conversation moved onto other matters.
Maybe my approach will backfire horribly and my Tiger Mom will have a long list of crimes to recite back to me upon my next infraction. Then again, Tiger Mom may surprise me.
Will I come to regret this? Will Tiger Mom surprise me? Follow me @CordeliaQ888 on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll keep you posted!
I would also love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comments box or send me an email at CordeliaQ8@gmail.com.
I recently went on a road-trip with a friend’s family. There we were, three adult Tiger Cubs, crammed into the back of a mini-van driven by my friend’s parents. It was pretty much how you’d expect it to go: between the sightseeing, the friend got berated for choosing an Unapproved Profession and lectured about this and that. It drove her nuts.
It got me thinking about Asian-American children’s relationships with their parents.
I used to feel like I was stuck in the parent-child dynamic where my parents gave the instructions/commands and my only choices were to obey or to rebel. It was like my parents drove the bus and I was a mere passenger.
We tend to fall into old roles and patterns with our parents, particularly when we’re thrown back into familiar environments, such as our childhood homes. No matter how old I get, when I visit my parents, I often find myself being treated like, and subsequently behaving like, a teenager.
I would sleep in my old bed surrounded by my childhood furniture. If I go out with friends, it would be the Spanish inquisition: “Who is this friend? Are they a guy or a girl? What do they do? Do they know them? Who are their parents?” My parents were expert interrogators.
My mom also set curfews. Once (not so long ago), my mother required me to be home by sundown. Since this was in June, that meant 6.30pm. I was a twenty-something-year-old for god’s sake!
The thing is – we are culpable. We let it happen to us. We enable them. If we don’t examine the state of our relationship with our parents and don’t actively consider what kind of relationship we want with our parents, we are doomed to default to the relationship we currently have.
We end up feeling like we have no control over the relationship (or for that matter, our own life), like our voice is not heard, like our opinions and views don’t matter. We end up letting the parents drive the bus. And we just sit in the back, feeling helpless, commiserating with our friends about it.
But I’m not a kid anymore and you’re not a kid anymore. Step up to the front of that bus and start co-piloting. Decide what kind of relationship you want with your parents.
Is the relationship irreparable? Do you want to maintain some sort of relationship with your parents but also a bit of distance or space? Do you want to be viewed by your parents as an equal? [I make no comments here about what kind of relationship you should want. I’ll talk about that another day.]
Now look at what kind of relationship you have with your parents right now. What aspect of your relationship needs to change?
A while ago, I realized that I wanted to develop a healthier and closer relationship with my parents. For me, this meant getting them to really see me as an adult. To that end, I’ve become more aware of aspects of my behavior that enable my parents to continue to treat me as a child.
Case in point: A few years ago, there was an imperceptible but seismic shift in my relationship with my mother. I was going out for dinner with friends and just as I was out the door, my mother invoked the Spanish inquisition (as usual). I dutifully answered each question in turn – dinner with a high school friend, yes you’ve met her, yes this is a female friend, and she’s in an Approved Profession. Satisfied, my mother wished me a fun evening and turned to leave.
Immediately, I felt the urge to ask her “what time should I be home by?” but I caught myself just in time. For the first time ever, in the history of this Tiger Cub’s life, Tiger Mom did not set a curfew. And I had almost blown it by voluntarily asking her to set one!
It had become a habit. If my mother didn’t set a curfew, I asked her. I had, over time, acknowledged my mom’s authority to set curfews for my adult self. Only by realizing that I had done that, did I manage to break the cycle.
I’m happy to report that I no longer have a curfew when I visit my parents. Hooray! Achievement unlocked.
Are you letting your parents drive the bus on your relationship with them (or with respect to your life generally)? Did you also have ridiculous curfews or other similar revelations? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comments box or send me an email at CordeliaQ8@gmail.com.
In my experience, there are two types of people in the world – those who believe you’re special and those who don’t. Asian parents tend to fall in the latter category.
That’s not to say they don’t love their children or they’re not proud of their children’s achievements. It’s just they don’t believe in the Special Snowflake theory.
You’re all familiar with this theory: you’re unique because of your specific genetic make-up, there is no one else like you out there, you bring something special to the table, and so on and so forth.
Yeaaaaah … Asian parents don’t believe that. If the Special Snowflake theory is the signature of Western millennial upbringing, then the “Average Graphite” theory is the hallmark of Tiger Cub upbringing.
The Average Graphite theory is the ying to the Special Snowflake theory’s yang. Every snowflake has a distinctive pattern, whereas every piece of graphite has the same molecular structure. A snowflake is unique by nature and one appreciates its beauty for what it is. In contrast, graphite can become a diamond (i.e., special and valuable), but only if compressed under immense pressure.
The Special Snowflake theory believes in a person’s natural talent. The Average Graphite theory believes in hard work.
How does the “Average Graphite” manifest itself? Tell me if any of this sounds familiar: Oh you want to be an artist/writer/[fill in Unapproved Profession]? What makes you think you’re so special? There are millions of works of art / books out there on this subject. What makes you think people will want to buy your painting / read your book? Be realistic. Get your head out of the clouds. Pursue an Approved Profession.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe everyone is a Special Snowflake. Some people are more like Average Graphite and could do with a reality check (those are usually the ones who think they’re Special Snowflakes).
However, I think every Tiger Cub could do with a bit of Special Snowflake therapy. Nobody who ever became somebody did so because they thought they were just Average Graphite. Do you think Beyonce thought she was just Average Graphite? Roger Federer? Any of the Presidents of the United States?
I’m not saying you’ll be the next Beyonce. But maybe there’s something you’ve been thinking about pursuing, an inkling that you may be really good at it, a suspicion that you may bring something unique to the table. Try it. What’s the worst that could happen?
Everybody’s talking about Crazy Rich Asians. It’s a classic rom-com, a feel-good movie, and a step forward for Asians and Asian-Americans in Hollywood. It highlights the cultural gap between Asian Asians and Asian-Americans and informs the ignoramus that, yes indeed, not all Asians are alike.
But Crazy Rich Asians is more than that.
To me, it gives the world a glimpse of the truths that I (and my Asian and Asian-American friends) had always known. This movie is full of details and scenes that incited my mind to exclaim, “Yes! That’s me! That’s sooooo my life!” or “That’s so my mom/dad/auntie/[fill in blank]!”
Crazy Rich Asians is all of us. Here are just a few examples.
*Obligatory disclaimer and spoiler warning: This post may contain spoilers. Proceed at your own peril! Here’s an image just so you have enough time to click the back button. Otherwise, scroll on!*
Your family is a Family, with a capital F
The plot of Crazy Rich Asians may seem par for the course. Boy meets girl. Girl meets family. Family disapproves. Girl runs away in tears. Boy declares his undying love and vows to walk away from massive inheritance. Airport/airplane scene. Engagement. The End.
What is different is the mahjong-showdown wedged between boy’s declaration of love and the airplane scene. Rachel could have chosen to marry Nick over his family’s objections. But she didn’t. Rachel knew that she couldn’t have eloped with Nick because if he defied his family because of her, Nick would eventually come to resent her.
The Asian Family is stern, demanding, and implacable. Because Family is paramount – what you do is a reflection of your Family, your desires must be considered in light of your Family’s wishes, and your individual hopes and dreams must be guided by the needs of the Family.
You can never pack enough food when you’re traveling
Switching gears to something more lighthearted – I was tickled pink when I spotted the meals Rachel’s mom packed for the flight to Singapore. I’m sure this resonates with many Asians out there; it certainly resonated with me.
When I was young, whenever my family went on a road trip, we would pack every type of food imaginable: duck wings, tea eggs, dumplings, chicken feet, you name it. The rule was: if we didn’t pack it, you can’t eat or drink it. Even to this day, I feel a twinge of guilt when I purchase food or beverages on an outing.
Are we bananas?
It’s disorienting when even “your people” don’t accept you as “one of them.”
Here’s another one that will sound familiar to the Asian-American diaspora: one is at once too Asian to be Western and too foreign to be Asian. Both Rachel’s mother and Nick’s mother remind Rachel that, although she looks Chinese and speaks Chinese, she will always be seen as a Foreigner.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
How many of us have struggled with our identities growing up (or perhaps still struggle with our identity)? How many of us lacked (or still lack) a sense of belonging? How many of us are treated like foreigners when we visit the ”motherland”?
When I visit the motherland, I’m not even allowed to go around the city without adult supervision. The adults are afraid I’ll get lost or scammed. Meanwhile, I’ve hiked through the wilderness for 5 days with just a map and a compass …
It’s disorienting when even “your people” don’t accept you as “one of them.” Watching this issue play out in Crazy Rich Asians, I felt validated and relieved that this was not an experience unique to me (or my Asian-American friends) and that perhaps this very experience is a defining characteristic of the Asian-American identity.
Other little red packets of goodies
Alright, enough of this talk-about-The-Issues stuff. I leave you today with a few other fun details from Crazy Rich Asians.
How about how everyone, literally everyone, is called auntie? To this day, I still call my parent’s friends “auntie” and “uncle.”
Or how news spread so quickly over WeChat (Asian Whatsapp, for the uninitiated)? My parents made me install it a few years ago …
Or how Rachel’s mother told her to wear the red dress because it’s an auspicious color (and Rachel did!)? I can’t even tell you how many items of red clothing I had growing up!
And throwback to the 80s/90s, did anyone spot the song Sweet as honey (甜蜜蜜) by Teresa Teng (邓丽君) playing in the background of one scene? My mom used to play Teresa Teng’s songs all the time. Teresa Teng was the gold standard, way before K-pop came along.
I’m sure I missed a ton of other great details, so you can be sure I’ll be re-watching Crazy Rich Asians again very soon! Was there something from the movie that struck a chord with you? If so, tell me about it by emailing me at CordeliaQ8@gmail.com.
Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @CordeliaQ888 to get notification of my next post! I plan on posting roughly once a week, every Sunday.
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” – King Lear
Do you have a Tiger Mom, Wolf Dad or Dragon Parent (term of my own invention)? Are you a disappointment to your parents because you didn’t become a doctor, lawyer, or other Approved Professional? Are you an Approved Professional per your parents’ wishes but wonder if you were meant to do something else? Do you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough for your parents or that your parents just don’t get you? If so, then this blog is meant for you.
The title of this blog, Sharper Than a Dragon’s Tooth, was inspired by King Lear. Cliff’s notes version for those who, like me, have a fuzzy memory: King Lear is old and wants to retire. He declares that he will divvy up his kingdom and grant the largest portion to the daughter who loves him the most (and who’ll look after him in his old age). His eldest two daughters, Goneril and Regan, put on a great show (even though they just want his kingdom). Cordelia, King Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter, refuses to play the game even though she actually loves him. Goneril and Regan are rewarded with chunks of King Lear’s kingdom and Cordelia is banished from his kingdom. Of course, Goneril and Regan later kick King Lear to the curb and King Lear goes mad. In Act 1 Scene 4, upon discovering Goneril’s betrayal, King Lear exclaims, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”
This must be what our parents feel when we refuse to pursue an Approved Profession, choose to work in another city/state/country or don’t visit as often as they would like us to. They, like King Lear, fear that we, finding them to be of no further use, will kick them to the proverbial curb (otherwise known as The Hospice or The Retirement Home). What our parents may not realize is that we, like Cordelia, are trying to be the daughters or sons that they want us to be, but that we have our own views, goals and aspirations that are equally valid. At its core, the question is: How do we pursue our own happiness without disappointing our parents? Maybe that’s impossible. But I want to know. Perhaps we could be a step closer to the answer if we could bridge the generational and cultural gaps between us and our parents. Perhaps we could repair and develop healthier and closer relationships with our parents if we knew how to communicate with them. That’s what we’re here to find out.