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Parental pressure on immigrant children: Perspectives from an Asian-Canadian mother

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Parental pressure on immigrant children: Perspectives from an Asian-Canadian mother

“Working twice as hard and being twice as good.” Sound familiar, immigrant parents?

I have just read an intriguing memoir by American author Amy Chua: ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ – a candid, thought-provoking and entertaining take on child rearing. I relate to the book.

Being a Chinese mother myself, Amy’s Chinese way of raising her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, isn’t foreign to me. “Always check your test answers three times,” “Double check. Triple check,” I said the same thing to my own children before they had a test. There is a big difference though. If Amy is a tiger mother, I am just a cat mother (meow!).

I am not as strict and demanding as she was. I allowed my daughter to attend a sleepover or go to a shopping mall with her friends. When she was 17, she decided to get her ears pierced. I didn’t encourage her, but didn’t stop her, either. I was thankful that she didn’t get her nose or tongue or eyebrow pierced.

All of my children are CBC (Canadian Born Chinese) and unlike Sophia and Lulu, they don’t speak Mandarin. When they were young, I didn’t force them to learn this difficult language. Every year I just made them say “Happy Spring Festival” and “Happy Mid-Autumn Festival” in Mandarin to my relatives in Beijing over the phone, which hardly impressed anyone. But now to my delight, two of my children have taken a Mandarin course at university on their own initiative!

Yes, I wouldn’t like my kids to get any grade less than an A. I prefer A+. But I am happy with my daughter’s grade 12 report card; I looked at her marks, 98,97,95… and also looked at the course median marks.

When my second son graduated from high school, he received an average of 97. He won the subject award in Biology, English, French, Physics-Advanced Placement and Visual Arts-Visual Design. I was happy and proud of his achievement. I wasn’t demanding it though.

My third son also play violin like Amy’s younger daughter. He played solo at school concerts and won music awards. In Grade 12, he became concertmaster. Again, I wasn’t pushing him. It didn’t bother me that he didn’t play solo at Carnegie Hall or wasn’t concertmaster of a youth orchestra like Amy’s children; Nor did it didn’t bother me when he came in second on a math speed test in Grade 1. Now my son is a fourth-year life sciences student and preparing to go to medical school or graduate studies. He continues to play the violin every day and fill our home with classical music. 

But sometimes I can’t help but wonder: If I were a ‘tiger mother’, would my kids have achieved more success? But what cost? A lost childhood? Strained child-parent relationships? Is it worth it? I also wonder if it is healthy that Asian parents focus too much on winning or getting ahead. I have a collection of my kids’ medals and cherish them as if they were expensive jewelry. But isn’t collaboration more important than competition? How can you balance between striving for excellence and personal happiness?

Recently my daughter, now a second-year computer science student, and I had a conversation. “Can I slide a little bit?” she asked me. She meant not aiming at high 90s in her courses, so she would have more time to draw animation, which is her true passion (episodes of ‘Pencilmation’ she drew have up to 78 millions views on YouTube and she has been offered a full-time job as an animator). But I worried that if she let it slide, her marks would go down.

Anyway, my daughter is 19 and already an adult. She can make her own choice like Amy’s younger daughter, who would eventually choose tennis over violin. I have no control over my daughter’s decision.

She is more likely to take her brother’s advice, “Don’t overload yourself” and goes for what she wants. When I watch her putting her heart and soul into drawing, I remember I once asked my dear friend Frank, a retired professor,  “What’s the most important thing in life?” “Happiness,” he replied. Maybe he was right.

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