That's always been our stern, uncompromising injunction to
our kids as we drop them off at school. Never "study hard" or
"listen to your teacher", always "have fun!". When
report card time comes around, we accept the consequences -- straight A's with
maybe an occasional B+.
Drugs, alcohol and tobacco? I told them about
my own youthful experiences with all three and admitted that I didn't
find marijuana to be addictive as is falsely advertised in all those public
service ads. Our kids just shake their heads in dismay, wondering how
their father could have been so stupid as to smoke, drink and get high.
We keep lots of soda pop, sweets and desserts all over
the house. Our kids rarely touch them. About the only people who
eat them are their friends whose parents enforce strict regulations on
their eating habits. When we go out to eat, our kids order unsweetened
tea and refuse dessert.
When they were in grade school we didn't hesitate to
take them to R-rated movies, even the sexiest ones, if we thought they
were worthwhile on some level. We have a mind-boggling selection of satellite
programming beamed into our home without restrictive controls. The consequences?
Our teens have no interest in the kinds of garbage that seem to
draw so many kids like moths to a flame. In quiet moments they're more
likely to be reading well-written novels, painting or practicing their
musical instruments than watching TV. With no directives from us.
Our kids are beautiful, fit, well-adjusted and admired by their peers, but
sacrificing any part of their individuality to fit in with "popular"
kids is beneath their self-image. They're more focused on their own personal
goals and interests.
We've never told them when they should start dating or whom they should date.
Yet our oldest turns down dates with popular boys in favor of waiting
until what she feels is a more appropriate age.
My wife and I speak English to each other and we live
90 minutes from the nearest Koreatown, Chinatown or Japantown, yet our
kids are utterly comfortable with their identities in a way few in our
generation could dream of being at their age. They don't hesitate to eat
Asian foods, even smelly ones, in front of white friends who come over.
For school potlucks our kids ask their mother to bring Corean dishes.
On their own initiative they devoted two years of Saturday mornings to
Corean school. Our oldest would rather take her sixth trip to Corea or
her third trip to Japan than take a trip to places like France, Italy
BUILD STRENGTH, NOT ANXIETY
Am I bragging? You betcha.
Why? you might wonder. From what I've said, you might have concluded that
parents somehow blessed by dumb luck with great kids . If you believe
that, you're probably subjecting your kids to flawed notions
of "tough love" and covering them with emotional callouses,
damaging their capacity to live honest, joyful lives. What's more, you're
probably hurting their chances of developing a healthy self-image as proud
We aren't saints by any means. We've
had our share of blowups when reason went out the window. But we've never
badgered, harangued, browbeat, threatened or punished our kids. We firmly
believe that, like good writing, good parenting depends less on the spoken
than on the felt.
Parents who always make a show of huffing and puffing
on their kids' behalf -- and we see far too many of them, especially among
Asian American families -- are like bad writers, focused more on making
themselves look like good parents than in doing what's truly best for
their kids. In the process they turn joyful, talented human beings
into joyless bundles of anxieties and compulsions, destroying their capacity
even to contemplate meaningful lives, much less lead them.
SIMPLE, BUT NOT EASY
Before we start sharing the finer points of our strategy
for raising great Asian Americans, be forwarned that it isn't some easy
magic formula. In fact, it demands far greater devotion and sacrifice
during the first ten years of your kids' lives than conventional methods
of "good parenting". But the ample rewards come during the second
ten years as you appreciate all the ways in which your kids are great
human beings -- strong, healthy, honest and effective -- not pale imitations
whose psyches are a patchwork quilt of anxieties, insecurities and pretensions.
READ PART 2