"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Asian Parenting

White kids have nightmares about Asian parenting.

To be honest, a lot of Asian kids have nightmares about it, too.

It's the stereotypical thing - the thin, bony angular woman with jet black hair and a purple-lipstick frown that stands out amongst the crowd of jolly plump white housewives at the primary school playground. That woman is the mother of the unfortunate child with buck teeth, thick glasses, unfashionable clothes, a slew of A grades, and more trophies, certificates and medals than all of their classmate's IQ points put together. The only consolation for this poor Asian kid is that they do get good food...but only after they've finished their math homework, after school tuition and three hours of violin practice.

I thank God daily my parents are not like that.

But still, it is hard growing up with parents who are, despite great effort, radically different to the society in which you grow up in. Growing up my teachers, through endless craft classes in which we attempted to make 'Mother's Day Presents' and 'Father's Day Presents' drilled in on how 'your daddy would just love it if you made a cricket-bat keyring,' or, 'your mummy would just love it if you made these crepe flowers properly.'

I'm pretty sure I was the only kid who drew computers and yin-yang signs onto all of my gifts destined to sit next to my sister's superior handiwork (I hate glue. Glue sucks. It's gross and sticks to your fingers and turns black.) My mother doesn't like crepe flowers. I don't think I ever gave them to her because they weren't crepe flowers by the time I had finished with them, more like crepe-felt-glue-and-pipecleaner confetti. In year two we had to make ties out of 50-cent elastic, calico, tie dye and masking tape. Of course my dad didn't wear it. My dad doesn't 'hang out' and 'play footy' in the park, so he couldn't wear it whilst he was 'fooling around with his mates at the backyard barbie'. My dad only wears a tie to work. If he had worn my tie to work he would have been fired.

Growing up yellow in a white community, you have certain expectations on your parents, and it's hard when they don't meet these expectations because they never realize you had them in the first place. And it works vice-versa too - I know I've failed my parents in more Asian ways than I can imagine.

Sometimes parents say things and you take them the wrong way. When you're a teenager you forget who's saying it - you just focus on what's being said, and yeah, sometimes the truth hurts. But parents are our natural allies in this world. If we can't trust them to have our best interests at heart, we can't trust anybody. Sometimes the greatest lessons teenagers have to learn that even when the whole world seems against you, your mother will always be fighting with you, even if she seems to be fighting against you.

1 comment:

Adelaide Dupont said...

Glad I read your perspectives on Asian parenting. Over the last week, a woman named Amy Chua has described and discussed this from the parental point of view. And there have been many responses. One of the ones I enjoy most and gave me thought was here: Science based parenting: My reaction to Amy Chua

Gift culture is very interesting, especially as it reveals expectations of service and love.

Cultural sensitivity is very much required as I saw reading your words about Mother's Day and Father's Day. There was the competition involved as well.

And the point on "who's saying it" and "what is being said" is a very important one.

Allyhood is more on a case-by-case experience than a general principle. For me, allyhood is conscious and it is a choice, to be examined and explicit.

Kit Whitfield writes very well as well. She wrote an article called: Sexists, a spotter's guide for nice men, which you can find here. Silent support is not actually supportive, says Whitfield. Though that is probably better for Equiltarianism.

One of the big questions is about raising a child within a culture, even if it is not [the majority] culture, in countries where there is such a thing.

And of course as glad as I am that your mother is "not like that", I am even more glad that you see she is fighting for you.

As a sidelight, glue seems to turn just about every colour that the material it's used to adhese is on, like blue or purple or yellow.

And there's always "conscientious objection" (with the emphasis on the conscientious) or "planned exclusion". Ah, strategies and tactics!

One of my long-term goals for this year is to be more Asia-literate, and balance this with a healthy sense of intercultural competence.