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  • Writer's pictureSharon Chen

Personal Reflection: Tiger Parenting


It was the end of the first term of eighth grade, and I had just brought home my first ever high school report card. “Not bad,” my dad murmurs, as he scans the page: 100 in Math, 99 in Social Studies, 97 in English. “How’s English going?” my dad asks. “It’s going super well,” I said, beaming with pride, “I’m learning loads and I think I’m top of the class.”

“Then where did the other 3 percent go?”


***


As an only-child of Chinese-Canadian immigrants, I’ve experienced my share of “Asian Parent Memes”. My parents, like many other Asian parents, place academics before anything else.

“Academics first,” my mom always quipped when she went on a ramble, “Remember, whatever happens, academics first.”

As I soon learned, “academics first” means school work takes precedence over social life. My parents and I would get into heated shouting matches about the amount of time I was spending with friends. “Dad, I’m just taking a day off after the midterms, why can’t I have some fun?”

“You’re spending way too much time with your friends! Taking a break doesn’t mean eating out and playing cards like old retired people! You’re young, every second is precious! When others are partying, you should be working! You’re different from them!”

“No shit I am different from them,” I thought, “This is fucked.”


***


I had my life planned out meticulously by my parents from a young age. My mom constantly nagged me to practice piano, while my dad took me to the golf course to practice after school each day, rain or shine. I didn’t pick any of these activities when I first started out, but I learned to execute what my parents envisioned and didn’t think too much about the control my parents had over my life. That was until when I chose majors for university during senior year of high school. My friend had just chosen to enroll in Art History, and I was happy for him, because I knew that was his passion. I had always been more drawn to the humanities, so I told my parents I wanted to study History.

“Oh no,” my mom scowled. “History is not a good major. How are you planning to feed yourself after graduation?”


I chose to double major in Economics and Computer Science instead.


***


In my freshman year of college, I lapsed into a period of anxiety and depression as I struggled to find my footing amidst challenging courses, varsity athletics, intense extracurriculars, and new social relationships. During that time, the suppressed emotions from my childhood emerged, and I felt a burning hatred towards my parents. Why wasn’t I able to do anything that I truly liked? I wasn’t able to hang out with my friends the way I wanted to. I wasn’t even able to pick the subject I’m devoting four years of my life to study.

I felt ill-equipped to tackle the challenges of college, and secretly blamed my parents for not developing my sense of individuality and independence. The only skills I had were study, piano, and golf. Absolutely useless.


***


On a late spring evening, my friend and I passed through the school piano room at night. “Henry, play something!” I was reluctant, but was too tired to argue, so I sat down and played Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, a piece I learned years back. When I had finished, my friend and I walked back to dorm, but I could tell he was awfully silent and seemed to be swimming in thought. “What’s up?”, I asked. He didn’t respond immediately, but continued to ponder in silence.

“I wish my parents made me learn piano when I was young,” he finally said. “Hearing you play makes me kind of sad; I wish I could play that too.”

I was taken aback. “Hey, you can always learn it now,” I encouraged him, “It’s never too late to start.”

“Maybe, but I can tell it takes a lot of work to get to where you are. When did you start?” “When I was five,” I said.

He sighed deeply and said, “When I was five, I played with mud, not the piano, and didn’t have a care in the world. I wish my parents had the foresight that your parents did, and made me learn these skills at a young age.”


***


I was stunned. The envy that I felt towards his childhood lifestyle was the same envy he felt for mine. Just like me, he was struggling with college and subconsciously placing blame on the way his parents raised him. After the encounter, I suddenly realized that I was myopic and narrow-minded in my assessment of my childhood. I was only aware of the pains I felt, and ignored the things I gained. During my depression, I only lamented the freedom that I was denied, and despite playing Chopin every night to relieve my stress, forgot about what my parents cultivated in me. I held my grudges against them, but failed to give the gratitude for all the wonderful values, habits, and skills that I have.


During quarantine, I had deeper conversations with my parents and found that they are human, not the omniscient gods that I once thought they were. This makes me respect them even more. After all, they were learning as parents as I was growing, and gave it their best with the things known to them at the time and the resources they had. All of it was to make me into a better individual so that I could have a happier life.


***


As I play my evening melodies on the piano during quarantine, I am reflecting, reevaluating, and rediscovering my parents once again. In the process, I am also rediscovering myself, since the relationship with my parents is a defining characteristic of my identity. I am aware that I have so much more to experience, and that this point in life is just the tip of the iceberg. My mom and dad are not perfect. But now, I increasingly feel the heart, soul, and patience that my parents have poured into me and I am truly grateful to have people who want the best for me. Who can ask for more?


-- Current Swarthmore College Student


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