Content Warning: Domestic Abuse
Doctor, lawyer, engineer. This is the edict of Asian parents played for laughs worldwide; the three career choices for the children of the diaspora, in addition to continuing a business with their parents. And choices which are synonymous for an unspoken truth of pain, pressure and pushed dreams.
I will never forget the first day of a Part II Law class where we were asked why we chose law school. Almost all chose the degree because either their parents made them or because law was their choice to get out of what had been chosen for them.
I was the latter of the two. As I went on university, I realised that the practice of pressuring adult children into parents’ choices was a phenomenon across cultures, whether it be for chasing an image of prestige or upholding a generational occupation.
One of the greatest debates in parenting is the concept of the Tiger Parent. ‘Tiger Parenting’, is a form of parenting common in Asian cultures and is considered by academics and adult children as including deciding on behalf of an adult child’s career and academic future. The question arises then, how can one choose their own degree in a situation where they feel pressured by outside forces?
This is my story of how I was able to follow my own path, and how you can too. I was a ‘tiger cub’; a product of these experiences. Growing up, my future was marked with a mental ironbrand of a pathway in medicine as well as many expectations of the person I was to become.
Tiger Parenting was made infamous by Amy Chua in her book, ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’. Common experiences from this parenting include parents expecting total obedience, lessons of ‘tough love’ through belittling, fear or lack of praise, encouraging a sense of competition between the child and their peers and dictating an education and career path with the child as a source of pride for the family.
When parents come from a background of hardship or strong cultural tradition, they may enforce their will over adult children for a sense of security to address fears of perceived lack of success or financial instability.
High levels of control however, diminishes the autonomy of the adult child and their ability to develop emotional maturity.
I was a prizegiving student in science subjects and had my mind set on being a paediatrician, but the more I advanced with science and life, I knew deep down that this was wrong, that this was not my life.
I felt like curiosity and motivation for success was not natural and that my drive for learning was limited to only getting a certain grade. My motivation was not passion, but rather wanting to avoid being scolded at Parent Teacher Interviews and in the Countdown Meadowbank carpark for only getting an ‘Achieved’. Hence, my work ethic was not born from achievement but humiliation.
It was so difficult to find my passion when medicine was all that was fed to me. So how did I find my calling?
When you think about all you love and enjoy, did you ever have a gut feeling whenever someone spoke of a job or life direction? I was happiest when I was reading about the world, doing debating, volunteering at community radio and when doing English and History assessments. I did not choose my talents in these areas, these are what occurred by learning and accident. I remember Chris’ words in ‘Stand By Me’, “It’s like God gave you something, man, all those stories you can make up. And He said, ‘This is what we got for you, kid. Try not to lose it’ “.
Japanese culture has a concept of ‘ikigai’: a direction of one’s life which combines monetary fulfilment, hobby, skill and vocation, or a sense of service. There is no cut and paste template for a career pipeline, but one way to decide is to find your ikigai, or take subjects you truly enjoy as opposed to for keeping options open or to please another.
In order to resist family pressures and expectations, build a strong emotional wellbeing bank of positive, independent activities to cultivate your sense of self. These were all things to refer to when my self-esteem was injured by something my parents had said. My bank consisted of listening to music, watching films by myself, blogging and writing in journals.
Like any struggle, powerful allies, resources and knowing thy enemy can make the difference between escape and remaining stuck.
Find internal and external allies, inside and outside the family. Divisions within the family can create doubt to seemingly ironclad family shaming, thus making parents question their actions.
Part of an Emotional Bank is a support network; you will need them prior to any confrontations with your family to make you feel validated and strong behind the scenes. This can be friends, teachers and community leaders.
Remember that anyone’s Emotional Bank is based on their own sense of self. If your parents base their sense of emotional wellbeing, happiness and fulfilment in you being ‘perfect’, this is co-dependence and unhealthy for any relationship.
Know why your parents are resistant to your academic choices and anticipate rebuttals. This means your view will appear thought out. With the stress of a confrontational situation, you will be more familiar with what you will say and won’t trip over your own lines, meaning you can approach the situation calmer.
You can still feel proud of your culture and learn from it whilst being able to critique it for the betterment of everyone.
If any of what I said resonates with you, know that you are not alone.
Tiger parenting, while common, has been compared to emotional abuse, and for good reason. If you have been threatened, isolated from your peers, monitored extensively, deprived of basic needs, physically harmed, made frightened with extensive shouting/swearing, experienced emotional manipulation and/or made to suppress yourself, know that these and many more are indicators of abuse. Domestic abuse is illegal. In these situations, it is not the responsibility of the survivor to make their abuser reform. The power imbalance and danger may be too great to attempt any reasonable conversation.
Please consider speaking to an authority you trust, including your support network and university support staff. Even if you may not consider leaving home, these people can support you to help boost self-confidence and positive assertiveness skills.
To take destiny by the reins can be a painful and lonely journey, but what matters is that you were independent, tried your best and followed your heart. To grasp my identity back cost me my relationship with my family, but I can say now that I am brave, independent and resilient. And I know you are too.