Scanning my facebook feed yesterday, I came across the story of Jennifer Pan, a one-time high-achieving student sentenced to 25 years prison with no parole for ordering a hit on her parents, which resulted in the death of her mother. It is a story that resonates with the offspring of many Asian migrants to the West and with good reason: many have been brought up with the same weighty parental expectations and strictures imposed upon her.
However, unlike Jennifer Pan, so few of us have actually murdered a parent to break free of the perceived shackles of being tiger parented that the only other case that comes to mind is that of Sef Gonzales, currently serving 3 concurrent sentences for the murders of his parents and sister.
There are plenty of parallels between Jennifer Pan and Sef Gonzales – both were raised by strict Asian-migrant Catholic parents with high hopes for their respective futures, both wanted to inherit the family purse, both were in relationships disapproved of by their families and given ultimatums to end them, both were pathological liars… Like I said, Jennifer Pan and Sef Gonzales are such rare cases that to say tiger parenting should be discarded in favour of Western-style laissez-faire parenting because it produces murderous children is to say we should ditch all forms of transport because someone, somewhere, a decade ago, got into a car accident.
With any method of parenting there will always be success stories and stories such as Jennifer Pan and Sef Gonzales. They are the extreme. What you will find in most cases though is a happy, occasionally angst-ridden, murder-less middle. Which brings me back to Jennifer Pan. What can we learn from her?
Parents need, nay must, have reasonable expectations of their children. I know you’re reading this thinking, “She’s one to talk, wanting Amanda to do medicine.” Ha. But you’ve forgotten that HRH is a surgeon. It’s not such a stretch.
It’s like what my bosom buddy T says, “We’ve got 8 degrees between P (her husband) and me. It’s a given that our children are going to university.”
To be sure, there are Einsteins and Mozarts whose parents are illiterate and tone-deaf. But those too are rare. Remember the word: rare. Even Einstein himself was a pedigree of high intelligence, as was Mozart of musical ability. Meaning, such fabulous traits, while can be enhanced through sheer hard work, which is what Asian parents emphasize on, are rarely (there’s that word again) random. The good news, and which you’d have realised by now, is that no one needs to be Einstein or Mozart (or take your favourite celebrity) in order to be perfectly happy with life. You can be perfectly happy with being perfectly mediocre, even if mediocrity is not something any parent, especially a tiger one (God-forbid) strives for. The thing to ask yourself is: what can I reasonably expect of my child?
The next thing to learn from Jennifer Pan is the importance of parent-child-dialogue. That way the missing high school diploma when your child is supposed to be graduating from University won’t spring itself on you unannounced. And by dialogue, I mean allowing your child the chance to explain him or herself without fear of recrimination. Hear them out, even if you disagree with what they have to say, even if they disappoint you with what they have to say. Over and over, the question to ask yourself is: what can I reasonably expect of my child?
Most children want their parents to be proud of them. My Amanda constantly asks, “Are you NOT proud of me? Why did you NOT say you’re proud of me?”
To which I answer, “I’m always proud of you but you don’t need me to congratulate you when you win a race against toddlers.”
She will say, “It’s not my fault there are only toddlers to race against.”
I will say, “For now there are only toddlers but when you go to high school, that won’t be the case. The kids who get in on scholarship will give you a run for your money. Some of your current classmates may also surprise you. ”
What I’ve noticed is that even the most well behaved child will have issues once the hormones kick in. Amanda doesn’t believe me. She says, “All the other kids wonder why I only listen to my mother. I tell them I love my mother. They all say Eeewww.”
Even then, in true tiger parent style, I make it a point of getting to know all her friends – not just the ones I approve of. I ask them about their families, school, hobbies… in fact, the more time they spend with my child, the more time I spend with them.
When it comes to boys, I give Amanda the unvarnished truth: the cute ones will all be bald and pouchy by the time they’re in their mid 30s. The nerds will be 100 times more attractive than they are now because they’ll be going places career-wise. So why look at any of them right now? You’re just wasting your time.
The last and perhaps most important thing to learn from Jennifer Pan is for parents to live their own lives. Have your own goals, interests and friends. Have dreams that do not involve your children. By all means have expectations of your children but be the vehicle for your own desires. Freeing them of your hurts, fears and unrealised dreams while preparing them for a life without your incessant input is the greatest gift you can give them and you.