“Have you eaten?” As an Asian American, I was more likely to hear those words in place of “I love you”, and a plate of cut-up fruit replaced their way of expressing support and care for what I did.
Now that I am an adult, I’ve come to interpret the indirect ways that my parents express love, but as a child, it was nearly impossible to see any sort of warmth in their harsh, “tiger” parenting.
TIGER PARENTING HAS CONSEQUENCES YOU FEEL EVERY DAY
Immigrant children often are overwhelmed with high parental expectations and suffer from its consequences, such as developing habits of self-criticism, maladaptive perfectionism, having low self-esteem, and at times even eating disorders. Needless to say, there are detrimental consequences of parenting styles that are so harsh and lack warmth.
If you’ve experienced this type of “Tiger” parenting from your immigrant parents, then there are two things that you need to know from research:
- Cultural and familial context matters
- We can feel more equipped for life’s struggles because of our parents
DESPITE HOW BAD TIGER PARENTING SOUNDS IN OUR WESTERN SOCIETY, CULTURAL CONTEXT MATTERS!
Psychologists have found that indigenous parenting and family climate variables are culturally relevant (Fung & Lau, 2009). In other words, despite Western psychology telling us that harsh parenting leads to negative outcomes for children, that’s not always the case for other ethnic minority children, such as Asian American immigrant children. This is because there is a cultural explanation for our parents’ behaviors. For instance, in East Asian families, parents have to teach their children to maintain harmony within society, even if that requires the parent to be harsh and punitive. Parents who fail to do so would be considered irresponsible and incompetent.
Research has also found that Latino teens consider parents’ punitive parenting to be an expression of care in comparison to White American teens. Punitive parenting has been found to reduce delinquent behavior in Latino children, but not in White American children. As such, our cultural understanding for parenting goals, expression of care and love, social roles, and normative behaviors affect the way that we make sense of our parents’ behaviors.
TIGER PARENTING TAUGHT US TO BE STRONG IN OUR PERSONHOOD
In addition, harsh parenting creates a growth mindset in children that buffers the negative consequences of stress on a child (Joo et al., 2020). For example, children whose parents were harsh are more likely to believe that their intelligence and personality is flexible and can change with growth. The counterpart children believe their intelligence is fixed, and that they are born with a certain level of intelligence that can’t be changed. Having a growth mindset has the ability to make us more reluctant to stress. Instead of finding joy in only the things we succeed in, kids who have a growth mindset learn to enjoy facing challenges and overcoming them. This type of personality, as you can imagine, can be a powerful tool as we navigate our lives and grow our minds.
It’s easy for us to blame our parents and to lose hope in ourselves to become better in our ability to express ourselves, manage our emotions, and grow a healthy, adaptive way of thinking. However, there is hope that it is through our upbringing that we are strong in more than one way, and that we were equipped to overcome our struggles.
TIGER PARENTS HAVE BEEN HURTFUL, BUT THEY ALSO PREPPED US TO HEAL
Through gaining a better understanding of our upbringing and how it has affected us, we can rewrite our narrative and start working towards breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma to make the best out of our own experience of being influenced by more than one culture.
We can learn to parent ourselves in the ways that we wished our parents would have parented us, and we can learn to fully appreciate and accept the ways that our parents chose to love and care for us.
The first step to rewriting our narrative is to have the space that will validate the emotions you experienced throughout your life. Therapy space can be a place where you learn to accept the parts of you that needed more care and discover the parts of you with resilience that can help you heal and grow.