Indian origin journalist Megha Rajagopalan just recently was conferred the prestigious Pulitzer Prize with Alison Killing and Christo Buschek for innovative investigative journalism. Shortly after receiving the award, she tweeted about her father’s reaction, describing it as the “Understated Indian dad reaction”.
Megha shared a text message she had exchanged with her father. He had written: “Congratulations Megha. Mom just forwarded me”, followed by the next line: “Pulitzer Prize. Well done”
Later, Megha again came back with an update where she wrote: “after processing, my dad called me with a heartfelt response that was definitely not understated! He’s the best. Love you Dad!”
Megha’s tweet is something to be read with a keen sense of humor. She too had done it quite jokingly. But Indian parents are so stereotyped as expecting their children to be super achievers that the news went viral all over the media, and the tweet fetched her over 142,000 likes.
The internet was flooded with talks about how her father should have been more excited. The Indian Express even devoted an entire article analyzing it and explained how Asian kids felt that it was easier to get a pat on the back from a complete stranger than to get praise from their own parents.
Do Asian parents really have overly high expectations from their children?
A joke runs about the “Asian A”. Only a score of 95 and above is accepted as an “A” grade by Asian parents although the range starts from 90. The Urban Dictionary, with obvious sarcasm, sets up a grading scale where “A” for a regular kid means great, while it means average for an Asian.
The term “Tiger Mom” was all over the air in 2011. Yale professor Amy Chua is credited with coining it when she came up with her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua chronicled her journey with her daughters, who were put on a strict parenting regimen. She had banned television, computer games, sleepovers, and playdates for the girls which, as The Atlantic described, made her look “less like a mom and more like a warden at a minimum security prison”.
Taking pride in the traditional Chinese upbringing, Chua endorsed the superiority of Chinese parents over Western ones in raising their children. In one of many harsh incidents that she recounts, Chua narrates how she threatened to burn her daughter’s stuffed toys if she did not perfect her playing of a piano piece.
Amy Chua is definitely an extreme case. But with their own styles of parenting, Asian American parents focus a great deal of their attention on academic achievements and overall excellence which they feel will pave the way for success in life.
When an Indian parent thought about excellence even high up in the air!
I was on a flight to Frankfurt. Walking along the aisle, I happened to see a girl who I had taught in one of the classes at school. She was very excited to see me, and we chatted a bit. Sitting beside her was her father who seemed extremely eager to start a conversation.
The gentleman told me that his daughter, in spite of being in kindergarten, could actually do third grade maths. He was interested in knowing if in any way he could talk to the school curriculum specialist and get her promoted to do higher level Maths. Even at such a high altitude up in the air, he was thinking about his daughter’s mathematics level. That too when she had just turned five.
This incident reminded me of a meme I came across: When a child scores 95 out of 100 on a test, the first reaction from an Indian parent is, “Where did you lose those 5 marks?”
Are Indian parents too much after success, and do they micromanage?
A global survey conducted by top international banking firm HSBC came up with the findings that just 49% of Indian parents feel that a happy life is more important than professional success. That placed India in the bottom-most tier of the 16 countries surveyed.
Mental health expert Prakriti Poddar logically analyzes the problem of unrealistic expectations that Indian kids face from their parents. The bar that is set is sometimes too high and beyond reach, which leads to stress and anxiety.
As Poddar rightly points out, there is a flaw in the educational system where everything is based on performance in the exams. Educational institutions accept the best and brightest of students. There is a cut-throat competition, and worrying that their children will be eliminated in the process, parents end up putting undue pressure on their children.
Being realistic and encouraging!
The pressure is already high from the outside world. Parents should not further increase that stress level. Instead they need to harness a nurturing environment by providing moral and emotional support to their children.
Parenting does not come with a template where one can decide which are the areas they want their children to succeed. Guiding our offspring is totally different from dictating terms and conditions to them. They need to be allowed to follow their path and passion.
To aim high is a good trait. The sky’s the limit, as they say. But as parents, we need to be realistic in our expectations. It is important to understand what is feasible for our children to achieve and what is beyond their grasp. An ideal parenting rule mandates that we embrace them not only with their triumphs but with their failures as well. Setting discipline in a house is very important. It is natural that we all want our kids to do well. The goal, however, should be to motivate children to try their best and not to push them to the edge to be the best!
(This article was featured in Women’s Web )