CNN.com, 10-05-2013. By Kim Wong Keltner||
Tiger moms: Don't turn your kids into robots
For children of Tiger Moms, lying on a bed and daydreaming doesn't happen,
author Kim Wong Keltner laments.
Kim Wong Keltner: As a Chinese kid growing up, I was obedient and quiet
Keltner: Parents who rock the Tiger Mother style expect kids to get perfect
She says in pursuing A's, she grew up having no idea how to connect with other
Keltner: Tiger Moms should foster true creativity and nurture emotional and
Editor's note: Kim Wong Keltner is an author, most recently of "Tiger Babies
Strike Back," a nonfiction about the parenting style of Tiger Moms.
When I was a kid, I was obedient and quiet. I automatically knew that talking
too loud, making a fuss or being assertive would never fly. I did what I was
I was a Chinese girl.
I adhered to my parents' wishes that I get top grades and perform well in the
activities they had chosen for me.
But after all the hours of homework, grueling afternoons of practicing arpeggios
on the piano to perfection, four hours of Chinese school after regular school,
Chinese calligraphy lessons with the stiff brush and stinky ink, after the
chores, basketball practice and memorization of Chinese poems, eventually I
wanted to feel known for myself, not just my accomplishments.
In the song "In My Room," Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys sang, "... Do my
dreaming and my scheming, laugh at yesterday." Obviously, he wasn't Chinese.
When you are a kid in hyperdrive, daydreaming and lying on your bed doing
nothing doesn't fit into the schedule.
It didn't occur to my parents to ask for my opinion. That might promote
individual thinking. And thinking for oneself is not part of the plan.
Chinese culture emphasizes acting according to your place in the family -- you
are the Number One Son, Third Daughter, Fifth Wheel or maybe just another mouth
to feed. Everyone has a part to play, and if you don't like the role you've been
given, the mandate is still "don't make trouble."
You don't make trouble, and you study like crazy because in the really old days,
passing the imperial exams was your only ticket out of poverty. And since the
time of Mao Zedong, individuality is considered counterrevolutionary. Speaking
up about injustice could get you and your whole lot exiled. Sure, many
Asian-Americans are several generations away from those threats. Yet, some
collective memories don't ever seem to fade.
Chinese parents who rock the Tiger Mother style still cling to the remnants of
the Old World by expecting obedience above all else and stifling true creativity
in favor of tried and true benchmarks of success: Perfect grades, best test
scores, admission into top colleges.
What's so bad about that?
To earn straight As for two decades in a row, I learned to detach from my own
emotions and physical body. I disregarded my cramping fingers, tired eyes and
grumbling stomach. Having fun with friends had to wait. Through consistent
pressure to succeed, I learned that human connections were an obstacle and
The only semblance of approval I received was when I won an award or had a
perfect report card. Achieving The Best was the only goal, and it didn't matter
if the pursuit of perfection required that I ignore or step over someone else.
All that mattered was the A.
After so many years of performing like a robot, by the age of 25, a lot of kids
who grew up like me have no idea how to connect with other people. We never
bonded with friends in endless games of kick-the-can or went to birthday parties
or listlessly congregated in the halls with the "bad" kids. We knew better than
to waste our time like that. Plus, we might catch stupid that way.
As the children and grandchildren of immigrants, we may not have been starving
for actual food, but we are starved for affection. In the pursuit of high
achievement, our feelings got left by the side of the road, our emotions
mistaken as unnecessary baggage. Maybe our parents who escaped war and poverty
never expected that later in the journey, we would need emotional availability
and a sense of humor as flotation devices.
As for me, the anxiety and loneliness of childhood that I describe in my book, "Tiger
Babies Strike Back," has caused an uproar in my family. It's the roar of a
Chinese kid saying enough is enough.
It's me as a Chinese person saying I want to be seen as an individual. The world
sees stereotypes of waitress or Tiger Mom, but even within my own ethnicity, I
am also supposed to fit into a box -- that of obedient child.
I'm a 43-year-old writer and mom, raising my kid with more hugs and affection
that I ever had. Growing up in San Francisco with frequent trips to Chinatown, I
interacted with newly arrived Chinese as well as third- and fourth-generation
Asians who spoke without accents. But no matter what our ages or how
Americanized we were or were not, everybody seemed to know that nothing good
could come from stirring up the melting pot.
The fact that I am now purposely "making trouble" has opened up Pandora's box.
My parents, brothers and other relatives are stumbling around, trying to stuff
my words, anecdotes and remembrances of the past back into the locked Chinese
box. But it's too late.
While we were cramming to learn English or Mandarin, we forgot to learn the
vocabulary of the foreign language of our feelings. We don't know the words for
"I'm sorry" or even "I love you."
But now that I have stirred the pot a little, all is not lost. I remember that
when Pandora opened the box, there was one tiny thing that was the last to fly
out into the world, and that was Hope.
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