Tiger parenting victim wants your help

betty ming liu Relationships 12 Comments

Ever since I took on Amy Chua last year with a blog post that went viral, the children of tiger parents have been emailing me for advice. I’m going to share one of these emails today because it touches on such universal issues about the damage caused by parental tough love.

The readers who reach out for me have so many regrets. While many of them are financially successful, they lack a sense of their personal worth. They are not living passionate, full lives because freedom of emotional expression was not part of their parents’ playbook. Happiness is a foreign concept. So is the tenderness of a hug and unconditional love (what is that, anyway?!).  They wish they could figure out their lives. But where to begin?

Well, helloooooooo….

Meet “L.” He’s from a country on the other side of the world. “L” describes himself as a married, 30-something medical professional with one kid and a baby on the way.  He’s fine with me sharing his email. In fact, we’re both hoping that your comments will provide both a  fresh perspective and a hug from his new blog family.

If you have a reaction to his story below, please comment away! The only thing I ask is that you share from your own experience. Like most tough love survivors, “L” has had enough of people telling him to do this and don’t do that. But if you give him an idea of what did and didn’t work for you personally, that could be useful learning material.

Okay. Here we go:

I’m in my mid-thirties and still searching for myself. Another troubled asian kid from a rather dysfunctional family driven by a man with a hypersensitive ego, a false sense of pride (bordering on narcissism) and ill temper and manner (some of which his habits include shouting randomly at family members and slurping noodles so loudly that even the harbour boats could hear).

My life has been based on guilt, induced by a parent who was smart but never quite mentally right and therefore never achieved what he wanted and has had to achieve it through his children. Many years ago I wanted to do something with finance or business, but instead became a dentist just to satisfy him. I didn’t have the balls to say no.

On completing my first degree and hating it, my plans to make the most of it and deciding to go the business route in order to make some cash and move on seemed to have stalled. It was not good enough for him-I had to specialize. Many discussions occurred (or arguments rather, including one in which I called his medical professor friend an “idiot” for remaining poor despite being so smart). I guess he eventually won it by coming up to me from behind one day in my second last year, tapping me on the shoulder and saying “You can have all the money in the world by going into business, but you won’t be happy” and walking away.

Shit, what a black cloud over one’s head. It’s taken me years and still quite frankly haven’t completely let it go. Ten years down the track I still haven’t achieved it.  Thanks god I got a good wife and kid who both keep me going. At the end of the day, you might think this is all a load of BS in a sense that I should have just done my own thing.

But that black cloud has a very dominant effect to one brought up in environment in which one is yelled at, emotionally black mailed and brainwashed everyday. We grew up thinking that yelling at people was normal. Fortunately, I was born with an aptitude for introspection and up until a few years ago I spoke just like my father, rude, arrogant and obnoxious. It has taken me a long time to adjust and behave more like a normal person. 

My sister left home for 13 years because of him. She left because of a bf that was disapproved of but I’m sure she was sick of a lot of other things too. What a waste of talent. I’ve never seen a child like her who could paint and draw art gallery like material at the age of 10. And what did my father do? make her study f!@@ing mathematics and physics.  She only came home after my mother developed breast cancer. He seemed to tone down slightly after this. deep down inside he knows that wrongs he has made but is too bloody proud to admit it. My poor mother in the middle of all of this…… I guess he will die a lonely man. There are plenty more stories where this came from. 

Currently, I hate seeing sick people. I hate the charade at work everyday when I put on a smile with false pretense, I hate (some of)the personalities that come to work-narrow, boring, insular, holier than thou. My ambition – the cafe, the bar or night club business. Eventually will get around to it. 

So how do I cope? Meditation and the occasional drinking fest seems to clear the mind. Daily meditation is the current get away vehicle. It seems to work for me. If only I had found it earlier but I guess you’re only ready when you ready for something. 

In closing, here’s a sketch that I’d like to dedicate to this moment on our blog. The picture is from the comic book illustration workshop that I took recently. Drawing live models in superhero poses inspired me to be bold with my pencil. The experience freed me from fussy detail work and overthinking while immersing me in the exuberant lines that capture body mood and movement.

That’s what we’re going for in this space right now.



In the moment.

And, emotions that are as large as life itself.


Art isn't always about expensive supplies. This drawing is from my humble newsprint pad. How long did it take to draw it? I could say 8 minutes but in truth, it took me 55 years, if ya know what I mean. :)


Comments 12

  1. How do you cope? You stop coping.
    The definition of cope is:
    1. to struggle or deal, especially on fairly even terms or with some degree of success (usually followed by with ): I will try to cope with his rudeness.
    2. to face and deal with responsibilities, problems, or difficulties, especially successfully or in a calm or adequate manner: After his breakdown he couldn’t cope any longer.

    To me coping implies you are tolerating, you are at the whim and mercy of someone else.

    You must be brave and figure out what you want for your life with no thought or consideration of anyone else. Then, and only then, will you see a path for you. We only have one life in this body, how do you want to live the rest of your days? What legacy do you want to leave for your children? What do you want them to learn from you? Consider those questions as you figure out what you want your life to look like.

    I didn’t come from a “tiger parent” family but I do have an insecure mother who brought me up. I’m 53 years old and it has taken years of self-help and finally 2 years of therapy to help me understand that I have a right to ask for what I want and need for my happiness. I’m teaching my mother how to treat me – What is acceptable and what is not. I am not personally invested in her comments as I realize where they come from and they have nothing to do with me – it’s all about her and her own insecurities and failings.

    I found it is important to be clear in myself with what I want and need, what are my non-negotiables. Can’t move forward easily until you are clear on that front. As I have figured out, the fear of not moving forward came from my fear of what hell I would have unleashed! You know…the dreaded “what ifs”! I had to figure out that I am capable of navigating the aftermath of what happens when I ask for what I want and stick to my convictions. Each time I say what I want, the process becomes easier and I am more confident and more quickly to act each successive time I need to do so.

    Ok, that’s all I have to say for today. I wish you peace.

  2. Post

    L’s story feels pretty familiar to me because my dad was a tyrant too. I had to run all my classes by him — couldn’t take anything in school unless he okayed it. Which means that I never got to take English lit in college. But I gave it as a gift to myself in my early 40s…

    I was teaching as an adjunct at the New School, where you get to sit in an audit a class (free! free!) for every class you teach. So right away, I registered for a course where I learned about Woolf, Yeats, Auden. During the first few lectures, I practically cried from happiness. Then I nearly dozed off during a few of the more um, cerebral lectures. But I needed the entire experience of being in that classroom to make me whole. It felt good.

    And L, it’s never too late to give yourself what you want. What do you want anyway? Good things start in little moments — at least that’s what I’ve discovered. :)

  3. I believe every parent wants to experience family life like this. Who wouldn’t want to have kids who listen, are happy, and respectful? Let’s extend that even further and say, who wouldn’t like to be the best parent they can be; who knows exactly what to do when their child misbehaves, who lives life to the fullest and thinks, “Wow, family life is AWESOME!”

  4. My experience is quite the opposite of “L’s” My father was a kind, loving and tolerant man who has been a life-long inspiration to me. He once said “raising children isn’t complicated. It may sometimes be difficult but it isn’t complicated. all you have to do is give them love – no matter what – always give them love.” My father led by example, not by preaching. I don’t recall him ever expostulating about his moral code or his idea of the right way for a gentleman to behave – but I observed all of that daily in his own behavior. He never pushed me to “succeed.” He opened doors and let it be my choice to walk through them. I recall one time when i was about 10, I did something really right – I don’t remember what – got all A’s or something – and he said I should have a reward – a day for doing anything I wanted. I think he secretly hoped I’d opt for a knicks game or something but no – I said I wanted to visit the NY Public Library – and that sainted man patiently spent
    what must have been a very boring day sitting in the reading room while i poured over books on Knights and castles. My family has been educated at college for many, many generations so there was never a question about me going on for a degree – but as to what my field would be – that was all about what would make me happy. Father said “you may or may not pursue your choice all your life but what ever you study now will lead on to other things. Be sure they are choices to make your life worth living – choices that will make you glad of the direction you find yourself going in.” This is what love is – helping the person you love to become what he or she dreams of, not what you think they should be. It doesn’t matter what you think of those dreams – they are not yours. Your dream should be of that person living a happy and fulfilled life. I hope this has been my way of helping my wonderful adopted sons move toward their own dreams. As to what L should do now – Libby, posting above – is right – stop trying to cope. You can’t eliminate all of that trauma as if it never existed but you can learn to put it in a box and put it on the shelf. There is an old Chinese proverb that every man isborn with 68 problems and 68 boxes and the key to a happy life is to keep the problems in their boxes, only taking a problem out when one is ready to deal with it on one’s own terms – and avoid the 69th problem. That one has no box and it is the one that will kill you. I’d say L should concentrate on dealing with his own family in ways that represent his liberation from his own father’s example. Drinking may produce a temporary surcease of woe but will only be worse
    in the long run. Better he should give up his hated profession and start that nightclub. It may or may not succeed but far better to try than to be eaten up with regret about what might have been. A close friend of mine was in a similar situation – coincidentally also a dentist. At 50 he finally decided to be what he had always wanted to be – a musician. Now, 10 years later, he is perhaps England’s leading sitar player, has performed at the famous Glastonbury Folk Festival and so on. He is happy. The peoplehe loves and that love him are happy. He doesn’t have as much money as he used to, but he has enough. He is touch with what is really important in his life.

  5. What I’ve tried to remind myself is that I am me and not ”them.” I came from my parents, but I am not them. I’m not supposed to be what my parents forced. L, you may have come from your parents, but you are not their mistakes. You are you, full of dreams, thoughts and endeavors waiting to happen. I try to forgive because it frees me. Be moved and inspired by where you want to be so that the sting of where you’ve been hurts less. Remember, you have a family that suports you, and bloggers here who are cheering you on.

  6. In my case it was my Asian mother who was uneducated amd emotionally closed off married to my American dad who was brilliant and emotionally closed off. It’s taken me quite a bit of time to figure out how to be me in the world, amd how to teach my kids right from wrong using a methodology that was opposite of what was used on me as I was growing up which was emotional insults amd corporal punishment. All I knew is that I am NOT like them and I treat my kids, husband, and friends with respect the way that I wanted to be treated by my parents but never got.

    As for career path, I know it would be financially tough to make a change, but you need to do your life for yourself. You only have one life and it is yours. I totally get that the stinging words of your parents can greatly affect you even as an adult, but you have to shut it out and move on. If this means taking a break from your dad while you sort things out, then so be it. You will be happier and a better husband and dad for it. Good luck!

  7. I have a kind of practical suggestion: if L’s dream is to be in the cafe, bar, or nightclub business, and he has some extra money, perhaps he should invest or become a minority partner in just such a venture. It’ll give him a chance to get his feet wet and learn about that business, which will prove invaluable when he’s ready to go out on his own. Moreover, his investment will provide a pleasurable “hobby” on which to focus his passion, until it one day maybe becomes his “career.” Yes, he’ll be risking his money, but that’s an inherent part of the adventure. My Dad was a CPA who didn’t like accounting, but always dreamed of being a banker. He eventually started a bank, but kept his “day job” until finally betting it all by going over full-time to his true love. Which worked out very happily for him. Just a thought.

  8. Thanks for all the comments people. There will come a time for change but a lot of things in life are about timing. There is a responsibility to my own family at present and taking a risk now may not be the best thing for them. My kiddies future comes first at present.Some long term plans are in motion with my own ideas that will probably get underway in the next 12 months but it’s a gradual process. A jug fills drop by drop. Bit by bit I’ll break away unless I’m pushed over the edge. It’s hard to walk away from so much investment, a dental degree, a medical degree plus more…….

    As for the father, we rarely talk-about anything meaningful anyway. I have decided the silent and calm treatment is the best approach. The budda says that it’s no point arguing or engaging with the narrow minded and stubborn. Their points of view will never change. More bluntly, if you argue with an idiot, you’ve got two idiots.

    I can remember once about a year back he labelled me as tragic when I said “friends come and go” referring to an old friend I hadn’t seen for years from highschool(nor whom I have any interest in seeing). I find it ironic that one of his highschool friends cheated him out of a large sum of money which cost him both financially and psychologically over many years. I guess the disappointing thing is that he always trusted his friend over his own son.

    The bar, cafe and club will come….eventually.

  9. Post

    What great feedback for L — and for me. There’s something in reading someone else’s story that brings my own story into sharper focus. Thanks all for the feedback. I hope the comments keep on coming.

    L, I’m discovering that the little moves that are sometimes more important than the major projects. The tiny moments of giving myself a minute to do what really pleases me….those moments add up until pretty soon I’m looking at more than I ever thought possible.

    I’m totally with David. What if you invested in a venue that interests you? And sure, it’s understandable that the kids come first. But what if you end up being a rockin’ restauranteur — think of what you might be able to add to the children’s college fund! Then again, what if you lost your entire investment — think of what you’ll have learned in the process. And imagine the great stories you’ll have to tell. :)

  10. Oh how scarey! Dentists have one of the highest suicide rates, so this is something you should do something about. Find what makes you happy and do it. It may involve a drop in income, at least temporarily. With business you need a business plan. One thin you have to guard against is jumping into something without planning it out. My sister, when she was younger, went to work for a dentist that went out of business. He started a business selling things to other dentists but didn’t manage his accounts as he should. As a result he was shut down by the IRS for not paying his taxes. As she put it “all he learned in Dental school was how to drill teeth”.
    The best thing to do is to find something you love. There two best selling books which i would recommend. One is called “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Nelson Bolles is a book for job-seekers that has been revised every year since 1970. This book will help you discover what things match your personalty. The second book is “Work with passion- how to do what you love for a living” by Nancy Anderson (http://www.workwithpassion.com)
    Richard Eyre ( Who wrote “Teaching Your Children Values’ which was the first parenting book to make it to the position of #1 New York Times bestseller since Dr. Spock’s book.) once told me that a “college degree is like a bus pass. If you get off the bus and find you are not in a place you want to be, you can always get on the bus and go somewhere else.” This is not as true with going to a trade school. There is only a small percentage of people who work in the field they went to college to learn. Remember all those general ed courses you took that didn’t apply to your major. Well the reason they are included is because of this fact.
    In my own case I have two BS degrees. On in Math and one in Psychology. ( got the psychology degree by taking Graduate Statistics courses to get a statistics emphasis in math). Although I have worked in fields that required these degrees as a High School Math Teacher and running a Vocational Training Program most of my work was in other areas.
    When I graduated in Math I was contacted BY the United States Navy and offered a position as a Cryptologic Technician. Even though this was an enlisted position, I was thrilled. To me I felt like going to the store and finding a toy I always wanted but could never afford marked down to $1 ! There was a little bit of a regret that I was not entering as a commissioned officer but I was advanced through the ranks very quickly. I also learned that The Naval Security Group doesn’t take officers from Officer Candidate School.
    From that point they sent me to another year and a half of schools. I then had some great adventures which I couldn’t have had otherwise. After I left the Military I continued to have even more adventures. I have been to 46 states and dozens of countries.
    Happiness is the design and object of our existence. When I was in England in the late seventies (1978-80) this was one of the areas I help do some public opinion polls on. We also conducted an opinion poll on parenthood (under Richard Eyre) which were published in such publications as the London Evening Standard. One of the important ways I know you can Break this cycle is to set aside a night each week to have a family home evening.
    One home evening I remember when I was growing up was on planning and setting goals. My dad made a little booklet for the lesson with a funny picture picture of a strange looking thing mad of steel and two guys one of which was asking “what was it suppose to be”. Then it said at the bottom lack of planning yields poor results. Then the following pages we talked about the difference between a wish and a plan. Then difference between “needs” and “wants”. Then some goals which we, as children, thought would be good things to work toward. The thing here is to not be judgmental and encourage your kids. Home evening is also a time to have refreshments and for your kids to show off their talents. You can plan to sing songs or play an instrument (my brother’s wife teaches Piano so they have two piano’s and a church organ in their house). Then you can take a few moments to have a fathers message for your kids. This is a time mostly to praise and encourage your kids.
    I remember one time we went over to my dads house for his birthday and one of my nephews was suppose to play a violin solo for my dad. I don’t know why bit my nephew decided to play every note flat and pull it sharp. It drove my sister in law crazy but my dad thought it was funny! After raising five kids my brother and his wife want to adopt a foster child.
    Well, Love is like a cold. You can infect everyone around you and still have plenty for yourself. I remember the words of wisdom that my sister-in-laws grandfather gave them when they were married. My sister-law’s grand father performed the marriage ceremony in Idaho. Before he married them he told us the story of when he was married. The person who was to marry them asked him “Well do you like her” My sister-in-laws Grandfather said he was a little offended by this and told him “no I love”. The guy said “I didn’t ask you that, I asked if you like her”. He finally said “Yea, I like her” to which he was told “If you like her, then you will learn to love her” He went on to explain that he had no idea what love was and over the past sixty years of being married to her grand mother he had learned how deep love can be.

    With most relationships you have to start someplace which is perhaps not the best, or where you want it to be, but it is a start. I met some people in the military that I can only describe as just mean. I never gave into their “game”. Eventually I was able to turn them around with firmness and kindness.
    “Be not ashamed to say
    you loved them,
    though you may
    or may not have always.
    Take what they have left
    and what they have taught you
    And keep it with your own”
    Major Michael Davis I’Donnell
    1 January 1970
    Dak To, Vietnam

  11. Hello L, I received a Continuing Education catalogue from The New School this afternoon and found read about 2 workshops you may find interesting. The Food Studies Dept. is offering ”Find Out If Running a Restaurant is for You” and ”What I Wish I Had Known Before Starting My Food Business” this summer. I’m sure your schedule is tight, but they’re both one day sessions. Check out the school’s website, http://www.newschool.edu and see if it’s worth it.

  12. I grew up in a Low SES home. My parents were no where near Tiger parents but they believed in having a good education. I majored in a subject that I absolutely hated because of the potential amount of money that I could make. I’m in graduate school and most recently was turned away from the doctor’s office because they don’t accept my health insurance. I never want that to happen again and it has been for the past few weeks an incentive to work harder. I feel miserable but at the end of the day that is how the world works. When I’m 40 and have saved up enough money then I can think about changing careers but until then I appreciate the fact that my parents pushed me to work hard and do something where I don’t have to choose between paying my light and heat for a month and going to the doctor. I love them for it.

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