How to Begin Your Untigering Story
Most tiger moms and dads would admit that we don’t want to parent the same way we were parented. Regardless of whether our childhood was happy or not, we still want a better family life than what we grew up with. We make vows to be different, from minor pledges like, “I will never force my child to go to Chinese school/piano lessons/Kumon;” to more bitter oaths like, “There’s no way I will humiliate my daughter like my mother humiliated me.”
And yet, despite our good intentions, we end up falling into the same patterns. We put undue pressure on our kids to perform and succeed. We limit their freedoms for our convenience. We use shame, power, or worse to get them to behave.
Thankfully, there is good news. Untigering is possible. We can learn to rewrite the narrative for our children.
But we first have to make sense of our own stories.
Owning Your Story
Many of us have deep pain in our relationship with our parents. However agreeable things seem to be on the surface, underneath there may be distance, resentment, or even a sense of rejection. When we avoid attending to our childhood wounds, that unacknowledged pain and trauma festers and threatens to debilitate us.
When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending. ~ Brené Brown
As a college kid, I wrote a letter to my dad about how his constant absence in my childhood had wounded our relationship. I was in Macau for the summer and had faxed the letter over to him, but somehow he never got the last page. All he got to read were my disappointments and his deficiencies, not knowing that I had extended forgiveness to him at the end of the letter. Still, he was able to receive it with humility, and it began a continuing conversation that led to a lot of healing.
I have a good relationship with my father now, but it came about by acknowledging my pain instead of burying it.
Naming our pain robs it of its power. Here are some ways to get honest about it:
- Write it down in a journal.
- Tell a trusted friend.
- Share with a support group.
- Talk with counselor.
- Have a conversation with your parents.
Whatever you do, own the pain that is part of your story.
Knowing Your Parent’s Story
My mom was born in Vietnam into an affluent Chinese family. When she was just twelve, the tides turned when her father suddenly passed away. Her widowed mother, lacking the ability and emotional fortitude to provide for her family, pushed my mom to drop out of school to work and pay for her brothers’ education. My mother obeyed my grandmother, but—possessing great ability and emotional fortitude—she ended up walking miles every day after work to attend night school.
My father was born in China to a wealthy businessman with two wives. He also experienced a reversal in fortune when the arrival of the Red Army forced his family to flee to Hong Kong. They moved into the refugee slums and were looked down upon by the locals. My father ran around with the gang of boys on the streets, but even when he got in trouble, he was always the favored oldest son, born to the favored younger wife.
Like my parents, many children of that generation suffered war, poverty, displacement, family dysfunction, disease, and even death. They learned to function under patriarchal systems that demeaned women and dominated children. In such an environment, survival was the only goal. There was nothing left over for something as abstract as love. As adults, they probably had to deal with the stress of living in a new culture, learning a new language, experiencing racism, and struggling to earn a livelihood.
Knowing our parents’ stories and their own complicated family histories can give us a clearer perspective of the challenges they faced. Instead of simply blaming them for our pain, we can choose to understand and have compassion for them. We can extend grace as we become more aware of our shared brokenness.
My mom and dad did the best they could to parent me with what they had, even when they were given so little. For that, I am immensely grateful.
Even so, understanding my parents’ story doesn’t mean I need to perpetuate it.
Now that we know better, we need to do better.
Writing Your Ending
As we process our pain and grow in self-awareness, we become less triggered by our past. We become more thoughtful in how we respond to our children. Untigering really starts with this inner work.
But with all the advances in the study of childhood development, psychology, neuroscience, and education, we also have a ton of outside resources to help us build healthy families. We can:
- Read gentle parenting resources like Dr. Daniel Siegel’s The Whole Brain Child, or Dr. Laura Markham’s website, ahaparenting.com. Just do an internet search for gentle parenting, peaceful parenting, or positive parenting.
- Join parenting forums that encourage gentle parenting. Stay tuned for our very own Untigering Facebook group!
- Avoid books and advice that call for authoritarian strategies.
We don’t have to be defined by the way our stories began. We can reject cultural traditions that require control and manipulation. We can avoid unhealthy boundaries that keep our children from developing their own identities. We can resist conditional love that is based on behavior and achievement.
We can write a “brave new ending.”
We will do so imperfectly and inconsistently, but slowly and surely the narrative will change.
I know because I already see it happening in my own life. It makes me hopeful about the rest of my untigering story.
I’m hopeful about your story too.
Let’s write our new ending together.