Author On the Bookcase: Kim Wong Keltner
Please welcome Kim Wong Keltner, author of Tiger Babies Strike Back, to On the Bookcase!
Hi Everybody! I’m Kim Wong Keltner and I’m here to tell you a little bit about my new book.
Tiger Babies Strike Back is for anyone who has heard or read about Tiger Mom parenting tactics and considers that strict style to be extreme. And NUTS.
For every straight-A student playing piano as a prodigy, there are hundreds of regular kids being shunted to the sidelines, being made to feel like we are not good enough because we got one A-minus or a few B-pluses.
Perfectionist Tiger Moms thrive on bragging that their wielding of absolute control gets results. Well, I’m here to say that there are consequences. There is a shadow side. And what might that dark, murky underbelly be? It’s very simple: Tiger Babies are grown up now. And we are PISSED.
We may have grown up to be traditional successes, but achievement has always been by someone else’s definition. At the risk of disappointing or shocking my elders or the Chinese community in general, I’ll say that in pushing relentlessly for the best grades and the highest test scores above all else, Tiger Parents have created generations of emotionally empty robots. I look around at my fellow Asians and see many successful materialists who wouldn’t recognize compassion or empathy unless it collided with their Mercedes-Benz S500.
Chinese culture emphasizes deference to elders at all times. Well, we are in America now, and have been for several generations. A Tiger Mom’s old-school posturing is now just an excuse to be a control freak who hides behind the unimpeachable concept of cultural tradition.
Chinese parents often hinge their own self-esteem on the insistence that their children are Number One. My cousins and I always grew up wary of each another because we were subtly and blatantly pitted against one another in GPAs and college acceptances. The children pay the price. We are tap-dancing as fast as we can to please our parents, and after we get spit out of our institutions of higher learning, maybe we wonder, “I went to Yale and all I got was this lousy T-shirt?”
It’s weird to be told all your life that you must strive for the best, or that you are inherently the best (because all Chinese people are better than everyone else, natch!). Meanwhile, inside you don’t feel all that confident about your superiority. Or maybe you feel nothing at all because no one ever asked you how you felt about anything. And no one ever treated you like an individual soul. As for me, the point of my entire existence up until age eighteen was to be quiet, get straight As and get into UC Berkeley.
Studying art and writing led me to think for myself, and to want for myself, too, eventually. How bittersweet it must be for my parents to now know that they paid for the tools that led me break the lock to my own cage, that is, their power over me.
And now I am a parent myself. As a result of my own upbringing, I want life to be different for my daughter. She is an individual who is more than just my appendage or mirror. I want to minimize for her the anxiety and emptiness I felt as a kid. I may not be able to shield her from all the lonely feelings in life, but I always want her to feel like our home is a hearth of safety for her, not catfight central where she only matters to me if she is a straight-A picture of perfection. She shouldn’t have to feel bullied at home by her very own mother.
And hence, I’m no Tiger Mom. I’m a Tiger Baby with a cub of my own. And here in the Wong-Keltner household, we do not eat our own young.
The only thing that keeps Kim Wong Keltner from writing is when she’s trapped under an avalanche of her daughter’s stuffed animals. Keltner is the author of The Dim Sum of All Things, Buddha Baby, and I Want Candy. Tiger Babies Strike Back is her first work of nonfiction.