Difficulties of Directing Our Children Instead of Guiding Their Exploration

‘Tiger Mothers’ leave lifelong scars

By Lac Su, Special to CNN
January 20, 2011 9:41 p.m. EST
  • Lac Su says he was raised by two “tiger” parents, a Vietnamese mother and a Chinese father
  • Su says he still has emotional scars from their harsh parenting style
  • He chides author Amy Chua, author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”

Editor’s note: Lac Su, a psychologist and business executive at TalentSmart, is the author of I Love Yous are for White People (HarperCollins, 2009).

(CNN) — When CNN called me this week to see if I’d share my thoughts on the backlash surroundingĀ Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” I told them I would have much to say. You see, I was raised by two tigers.

My Chinese father and Vietnamese mother personified the parenting style advocated by Chua. Chua’s January 8 article — based on her new memoir “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” –unleashed a firestorm of criticism for its unabashed assertion that the harsh stereotypically Chinese style of parenting is superior to that of the West.

I received more than 1,000 emails from fans, family, and friends the day Chua’s article ran. When I finally had a free moment to read the article (writing isn’t my day job), I was briefly overwhelmed by a visceral, gushing panic.

Tiger Mom: I’m not backing down

You see, growing up in a home like Chua’s was no piece of cake, and although I’m close to 40 now, I still bear wounds that haven’t healed.

Tiger Mom: I’m not backing down
Amy Chua on being a “Tiger Mother”
Author: ‘Tiger’ parents leave scars

I believe that Chua’s abusive parenting is motivated by her own unhappiness. How do I know this? My father told me so. He’s the man whose tiger-infused parenting produced the catch phrase that became the title of my memoir, I Love Yous Are for White People.

The only difference between Chua’s and my father’s parenting technique is that Chua never laid a hand on her daughters (as far as we know).

Chinese Mom: American ‘Tiger Mother’ clueless

All the same, Chua’s modus operandi is to keep her daughters in check via the emotional mind game — brain-washing, derision, negative reinforcement, and reverse psychology.

Writing I Love Yous Are for White People helped me to cope with the wounds the tigers’ claws left behind. Since its release I’ve met countless others who bare similar scars.

A ‘Tiger Mother’ rebuttal from across the ocean

All my young life, my parents were quick to remind me of my stupidity. Their burning desire to see me achieve at any cost resulted in the same belittling imparted by Chua on her daughters. My parents were particularly preoccupied with my lack of progress in school.

Fixated on the idea that I was a slow learner, they confused my cautiousness with a lack of desire, and my need for affection as the wants of a spoiled American brat.

In telling me that I was a stupid, worthless, waste of space, they believed they were spurning me on to do great things. Like Chua’s daughters, they didn’t allow time with friends, and no matter how hard I worked, or how dutifully I obeyed their commands.

It was never enough.

When the mind games — and even beatings — didn’t make me smart enough, my parents resorted to an ancient Chinese “cure” for my stupidity. One Saturday morning when I was in third grade, they sat me down at the kitchen table and plopped a throbbing, round lump of pink flesh the size of a softball onto a plate in front of me. It landed with a splat. I knew it was meat, but nothing I’d ever eaten before.

The oblong hunk of flesh was a cow’s brain, and my parents made me eat one every weekend for a year. I didn’t get any smarter from the effort.

Three years ago, during a family gathering, my father confessed regret about his choice in parenting. I didn’t know what to say. The damage had been done.

I feel for Chua’s daughters and imagine they’ll have similar conversations with her one day. Chua doesn’t seem to wonder if her tiger techniques are overboard, and neither did my father while I was young. He never asked if the abuse was unwarranted, and never questioned whether isolating me from the world was the best way for me to learn how to maneuver in it. In his mind, he had done the right thing.

Now that her parenting has been subjected to intense public scrutiny, Chua has gone on the defensive, saying that the Journal article got it all wrong and her book is really about discovering the error of her ways.

Of course, she also went on the Today Show and said that, if she was given the opportunity to do it all over again, she would, “basically do the same thing.”

Not exactly the words of a reformed tiger.

Only by seeing me as an adult, taking a nurturing, accepting approach in rearing my children, did my father realize that there is a better way.

I’m sure I appear successful and happy on the surface … In spite of this, my parents’ approach failed. I’m torn to pieces on the inside.
–Lac Su, author “I Love Yous are for White People”

Now in my mid-thirties, I’m sure I appear successful and happy on the surface. I’m a published author, a successful executive, and I have a Ph.D. in psychology.

In spite of this, my parents’ approach failed. I’m torn to pieces on the inside.

I’ve been through countless hours of psychotherapy, and my lack of self-worth beckons me to rely on alcohol to numb the pain.

I should be chasing my dreams, not chasing pain.

Children need their parents’ love and acceptance in order to develop real self-esteem. Belittling children sends the message that they are not worthy of love and support — as do mind games, emotional abuse, and tight-fisted control.

This message lasts a lifetime. I still question every day if I am, indeed, stupid. I didn’t even raise my hand in class until graduate school because I honestly believed that a moron like me has nothing worthy to say.

If I could say one thing to Amy Chua, it’s that I would trade every last bit of my success in life to live without the deep wounds given to me by a Tiger Mother.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lac Su.


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