As a child, I was extremely academic. Good grades in school was part of my identity. Every year I was a straight A student and I had plenty of scholar awards to show for it. Why wouldn’t I be academic? I’m an Asian-American after all. It’s ingrained in me. Being academic is so deeply rooted in the Asian culture that being anything less is just… plain weird.
I was expected to always have above average grades, be in honors classes and receive awards. This was expected of me without celebration, rewards or extra praise. If I received a B on a quiz, as oppose to an A, I was questioned by my parents. Are you okay? Is there something going on with you? What happened here?
By contrast, my non-Asian friend gets her highest grade ever of a B, in a lower level math class and she gets cheers of words from her parents. Wow, you did so great! I’m so proud of you. I always knew you could do it when you tried your best! I was so jealous of my friend. For good grades she would get a raise in her allowance, an ice cream treat or a verbal praise. She got something.
I would have loved even just words of praise. Slight acknowledgement from my parents that they were proud of my accomplishments. I had natural intelligence, but being outstanding academically was still hard work. MY hard work. Every single school day, I did my best. My good grades didn’t come from a magic hat. They came from the extra effort I put in. I was a stand out student every year because I worked harder than most other kids – everyday.
I was confused by the stark contrast of reactions from my parents and my friend’s parents. How could my parents react so differently to the same news I brought home? I didn’t understand it as a young child, but realized it as a young adult. It was a cultural thing. It was the way my parents themselves were raised. They weren’t trying to be harsh to my feelings. It was how they knew to be parents. They weren’t conscious to the emotional impact their words could have on me. In their minds, they were encouraging me. In truth, I was a child who wanted a small sign that I was making my parents proud. During those early years, I never thought I was. When I became an adult, I vowed that I would NOT be that way to my own children. I would have expectations, but would be grateful for their efforts. I would appreciate them for trying their best. I’m going to be enthusiastic whenever they do well and I would show it too.
Last month, Stan and I went to a parent-teacher conference to discuss our Kindergartener’s semester grades. In every single subject and category, our child received either the highest grade or the second highest. Which means she was either meeting the expected level or exceeding it. You would think I would be internally jumping for joy during our conference with Tay’s teacher. But my initial reaction was shocking. Inside I was yelling out the words: Why did Tay not get the highest grade in EVERY category? You heard that right… I had just reenacted my own childhood. My conscience was acting like my parents!
I did the very thing I said I would never do when it came to my own kids. I took my child’s best effort and I took it for granted. I set her to the standard she’s supposed to have because she was MY child. She was the product of someone who was very academic. She had my genes after all. I was raising her in the very best way, right? So why would she have any grade even slightly less than the highest? Her teacher most likely didn’t give anyone in class straight exceeding marks and normal letter grades aren’t even being implemented at her grade level. Yet, I was still having these thoughts. These thoughts were my Asian parents talking. Except, it wasn’t my parents… it was the Asian Me.
I couldn’t hold my feelings in, so I dropped it all on Stan during dinner time. He made fun of me, of course, but the talk was just the reflection I needed. It didn’t take long before I washed my Asian parents’ words out of me! Before the night was done, I was sincerely grateful to have a child that was twice as smart as me. She’s a great kid who not only does well in school, but she does it with creativity and spunk. Tay will be one of the smart ones in her lifetime, but neither getting straight A’s or being Asian will be the reason.
I told Tay that I was very proud of her that night. I let her know that I understood how much work it took to be doing so well in school. That it was unique and not the norm. Seeing her eyes light up gave me a vision of how I might have looked, if I had heard the same words from my parents all those years ago. My thoughts got the best of me this time, but I’m thankful that I never said them out loud to my daughter. I have kept my vow so far.
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