A Multicultural Mom's Self-Evaluation
M had her first day of preschool last week, and I had a heart-to-heart with myself and my "stereotypical" inner-Asian mom.
On the first day of class, the kids started off with a name tracing activity. M excitedly sat down, grabbed an expo marker, and scribbled all over her name sheet. No rhyme or reason to the scribble, just let the marker fly around the paper. I smiled to myself at how cute she was being, and then I saw the girl sitting across the table from her. Her classmate had put the cap on the back of her expo marker and carefully stayed on the dotted lines sounding out each letter in her name.
Not two minutes into her first day of school ever and I thought, "M is behind! The teachers are going to think she's stupid and that we haven't taught her anything. We'll need to work on her writing when we get home."
And then I thought, "What are you doing?!? This is preschool!!!"
The range of emotions that followed was guilt for comparing my daughter to another, then worry that I would turn into a stereotypical Asian school mom, and then frustration that people would view a parent wanting their child to excel and succeed as a negative cultural stereotype.
For me, the Asian stereotype about education isn't unfounded, it's reality. Education was and is very important to me, and growing up getting A's was an expectation. When a Pre-AP or AP class was offered, I took it (even if the subject wasn't my forte). Homework came before friends and if an elective interfered with a core class, the elective was dropped. It's just how it was.
But it paid off. The educational habits I developed in grade school led me to earn scholarships, be accepted into a competitive school and an even more competitive major, and lead an impactful career.
And isn't that what most parents want for their children? To lead happy and fulfilling lives.
Why then in order to achieve that are parents, particularly Asian parents, so negatively viewed. Why are terms like tiger mom, jiwa, or kyōiku mama so casually thrown around when those are extreme cases that often result in the mental breakdown of children and parents alike because of the pressure to be perfect?
Let's support each other because we're all just parents trying to find the balance between celebrating our children as they are and encouraging them to grow.
For me, the difference lies in boundaries. From M's first day of school, the thought, "We'll need to work on her writing when we get home" is good parenting. There's nothing wrong with seeing an area that could be improved on and working on it together.
The wrong thought was, "The teachers are going to think she's stupid and that we haven't taught her anything." First of all, I know that M is NOT stupid. She knew all her letters and could count to 10 before she was two. One difference does not determine the whole of your child's capabilities.
Secondly, while it may feel like your child's successes and shortcomings are your own, they're not. In fact, kids are better off if they aren't the best at everything. We have to let them fall short sometimes and be okay with it. More importantly, our definition of success may need to change with each child or even each school subject.
In my entire academic career, I only ever had one C as a final grade. Pre-AP Pre-Cal. I hate math. With a passion. I went to tutoring every day before school for weeks, reviewed past tests with my teacher, and studied so hard for the final only to come down with a cold the day of the exam. I ended up with a 78 point something in the class because my teacher – who saw how much work I put in – said no to my request to do extra credit or retake the test.
My point is that C+ had me crying in the bathroom because it might as well have been an F. But thankfully, my parents were better than that teacher. They recognized the work I put in. That C+ didn't come from indifference or slacking. It came from a lot of work, frustration, and 100% effort. A's were still expected after that C+. The definition of success had just been changed for that class, and I'll never forget that.
M is incredibly smart, and yes, I do expect her to do well in school because I know she will excel in academics. Yes, I also know that it's just preschool and that she's there more for socialization and fun than education.
So, just a friendly reminder to all parents with kids starting school. Tiger moms, kyōiku mamas, helicopter parents, or whatever you want to call them may be extremes, but having your child do their best in school should not become a negative cultural stereotype. Let's support each other because we're all just parents trying to find the balance between celebrating our children as they are and encouraging them to grow.