When I was little, my parents really only wanted me to be a scientist or a doctor; they had never even heard of law school. I think even these days if you were to tell your mother you want to be a fashion designer, or an artist or a writer, a lot of Asian parents would be alarmed because they don’t think that’s a secure career.
In Chinese culture, it wouldn’t occur to kids to question or talk back to their parents. In American culture, kids in books, TV shows and movies constantly score points with their snappy back talk. Typically, it’s the parents who need to be taught a life lesson – by their children.
The Romans thought of themselves as the chosen people, yet they built the greatest army on Earth by recruiting warriors from any background.
I see my upbringing as a great success story. By disciplining me, my parents inculcated self-discipline. And by restricting my choices as a child, they gave me so many choices in my life as an adult. Because of what they did then, I get to do the work I love now.
Some parents let their kids sleep at other people’s houses, where they drink alcohol, watch TV for hours and God knows what else. But if you say you have to get all A’s and practice the violin for two hours, then they consider that abusive. That upsets me.
Westerners often laud their children as ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’, while Asian parents highlight the importance of hard work. And in fact, research performed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has found that the way parents offer approval affects the way children perform, even the way they feel about themselves.
When I’m not the Tiger Mom, I’m a professor at Yale Law School, and if one thing is clear to me from years of teaching, it’s that there are many ways to produce fabulous kids. I have amazing students; some of them have strict parents, others have lenient parents, and many come from family situations that defy easy description.
I was the one that in a very overconfident immigrant way thought I knew exactly how to raise my kids. My husband was much more typical. He had a lot of anxiety; he didn’t think he knew all the right choices. And, I was the one willing to put in the hours.
For my senior prom, my father finally said I could go – as long as I was home by 9 P.M.! That was around the time that most people were heading out. When I was little I was so mad at them all the time. ‘Why can’t I do this?’ ‘Why are there so many rules?’ But looking back now, my parents gave me the foundation to have so many choices in life.
I saw my parents come over. They were immigrants, they had no money. My dad wore the same pair of shoes, I had some ugly clothes growing up, and I never had any privileges. In some ways, I think the person that I am now, I think it’s good that I had that kind of tough upbringing.