Sorry is the Hardest Word

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.

What Emotions?

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

Be a Co-Pilot, Not a Backseat Driver

road people street smartphone
Photo by SplitShire on

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

The “Average Graphite” Theory: What makes you think you’re so special?

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.

macro photography of snowflake
Photo by Egor Kamelev on

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?