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How Growing Up With 'Tiger Parents' Affected My Depression

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

The term “tiger mom” was popularized by Amy Chua in her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” who used to term to describe the way her mother brought up her children in a strict, traditional Chinese way. Tiger parenting involves the prioritization of schoolwork above everything else. The only extracurricular activities the children are allowed to participate in are those where the children have the potential of winning awards or activities that will increase the chance of being accepted into elite universities. Core academic subjects (i.e., math, science, language arts) are paid more attention to by tiger parents as opposed to non-academic subjects (i.e., arts, sports). One disturbing characteristic of tiger parenting is that tiger parents are less likely to compliment their children in public and sometimes call them derogatory names like “garbage” or “disgrace.” Furthermore, tiger parents oftentimes do not let their children make decisions on their own whether in academia or daily life.

I hate to admit it, but I am a child of tiger parents. I guess you could call me a “tiger child” if you want. Whether my parents knew it consciously or subconsciously, or if they didn’t know at all, they were tiger parenting me when I was growing up and they still do at times.

Growing up, I had to focus on school first and then if I had time left in the day, I could hang out with my friends until 7 p.m., which was when I had to be home for dinner. But honestly, I never had time to spend with friends because by the time I got home from school at 4 p.m. and finished my homework, it was already 7 p.m. Only when I received my driver’s license was I able to hang out with my friends, but only until 10 p.m.

My parents prioritized school over my social life. I was shocked when they let me join the soccer team, and the indoor and outdoor track teams in high school. I was even more shocked when they let me go to my senior prom! When I was applying to colleges, I wanted to go outside of the New Jersey/New York City area, so I looked into University of Miami, University of Southern California, University of Florida, Pennsylvania State University and Rutgers University. I wanted to major in biomedical engineering or a hard science (chemistry, biology or chemical biology) and eventually pursue medical school. My parents convinced me — if you can call it that — to apply early decision to Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, because my older sister graduated from there.

I thought the tiger parenting would become less intense when I began college, but it became worse. Even though I was a 45-minute drive from my house, my parents still called me every night asking how classes were, if I finished my homework, if I studied, and telling me I shouldn’t go out to parties or lift too much weight or practice too hard during track practices. They told me to be careful during my ultimate frisbee games and practices. My parents were so overwhelming and overbearing that I felt swallowed and pounded repeatedly by stress.

During my first year at Stevens, my parents called every night and they made me call or text them every night to let them know everything was alright. They also drove up to visit me every weekend (which I didn’t mind at times because it was great having them pay for lunch and bring my laundry home with them). However, it became too overwhelming. I needed my space and personal time to explore and to connect with my classmates and to form relationships.

I didn’t realize, nor did I recognize, what was happening to me emotionally, mentally, academically and socially. I began to go to parties every weekend, I stopped going to lectures, I became more of a hermit with the exception of track practices and meets, ultimate frisbee practices and games, weight lifting sessions and the occasional team dinners. My grades suffered and I eventually left Stevens after my freshman year. That was difficult to tell my parents because, in their eyes, I have shamed them — I had become a disgrace and dishonored them.

When I enrolled at Middlesex County College, I switched my major to political science with the idea of going to law school. Needless to say, my parents weren’t impressed with that decision because the curriculum didn’t include any hard science courses, only liberal arts courses. According to them, my new major wasn’t challenging enough and I needed to become a doctor. I lived at home and commuted to and from school. I managed to complete my Associate of Arts degree in 1.5 years with a 3.0 GPA. My parents were pleased with my academic performance at Middlesex County College and I was accepted into Drew University for the spring 2011.

I thought I had a fresh beginning; however, I was totally mistaken. My tiger parents’ roars were even fiercer than before. They continued to call and text me every night to check up on my academics. When I changed my major from political science to psychology, their displeasure was evident and strong. Again, they thought I decided to pursue an “easy” major where no hard science courses were needed. I took cognitive neuroscience, cognition and neuropsychology, but they weren’t “real” science courses according to my parents.

While at Drew, I took multiple semesters off and took two nonconsecutive academic years off. During my first semester at Drew, I was diagnosed with depression. Throughout my time at Drew, I had suicidal thoughts; however, I never had any plans to die by suicide. While I would win some battles, new and more difficult battles would arise. It was difficult to tell my parents about depression — how I was feeling, how my mental and emotional health were affected and how their tiger parenting over the years contributed to this. Eventually though, with the help of my psychologist, I was able to open their eyes to my personal war and what they could do to become my allies. During my years off, I sought professional help. I was able to return to Drew, complete my Bachelor of Arts degree in December 2015, and graduate in May 2016.

While being a child of tiger parents has affected my mental and emotional health, it led to a discovery that shaped me into the person I am today. It taught me how to be empathetic and sympathetic. I also learned that it’s OK to ask for help if you need it — you don’t have to be ashamed to seek help. I learned it’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve and to show you emotions. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to scream, scream. If you want to laugh, laugh. If you want to smile, smile. Whatever you do, don’t hide your emotions from the world.

I work as an emergency room technician and I am able to relate with my patients. I see their lives through their eyes, and I walk their journeys in their shoes. I know what they and their loved ones are going through because I can relate indirectly. While I am not in medical school, nor will I pursue a career as a physician, I decided to pursue a career as a registered nurse.

To my tiger parents, thank you for raising me as your tiger child. Your strict upbringing made me who I am today. You made me stronger than I ever was. I am now no longer afraid to seek help. I am no longer afraid to wear my heart on my sleeve. I am no longer afraid to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. I am the voice of those who have thoughts of suicide and suffer from depression — especially the men. To my tiger parents, thank you for reinforcing my goal of helping those in need. I am forever your Tiger Child.

Unsplash photo via Sung Wang

Originally published: July 5, 2019
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