Episode 66: Cultural Awareness in Asian-American Parenting

In this episode of The Family Couch, we talk with Iris Chen about cultural awareness in parenting.

We dive right in and discuss what it means to be a “tiger mom.”  This comes from the book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.  This is a stereotype of having very strict parents with high emphasis on academics where certain types of activities are okay to do and others are not okay.  Chen brought some of these things into her own parenting, and after awhile, she saw the negative effects on her children and began to questions it and dial it back to analyze the behavior.  Chen feels like families from other countries are more patriarchal and have more authoritative ways of disciplining their children. Chen wanted to be more in the middle yet still authoritative, but she realized that she was having a hard time enjoying her children because she was always trying to control them.  She saw the effects on her relationship with her kids and their emotional growth.

When Chen decided to pull herself away from the stereotype of the Asian-American mom, she felt like it was easier because her whole family is in the United States and she is living in China.  This way they are not able to observe her parenting all the time. Regardless, she appreciates the safe haven that she has created in her home to do things the way she wants to. Chen hopes that as her family observes more they will understand her methods.  Growing up, since Chen’s parents were first-generation immigrants, they brought all of their cultural background into their parenting. She was not given much choice growing up and was a very obedient child. She was given expectations and then just did what she was supposed to.  She did not know what she wanted or enjoyed because she was always following what others told her to do. Chen wants her children to be empowered to have the freedom to know who they are and know their own desires, passions and interests. This way she is not doing all the guiding and telling them what path to follow.

Chen discusses living with a family that is directive but in a culture that encourages people to think for themselves.  She provides that there was definitely a communal culture, and she sees value in the collectivism of Asian culture in a healthy way.  This would mean having collectivism as support and as a community instead of something that confines the people within the culture. Chen feels that her parents did a good job giving her some freedom growing up.  She approaches her parenting trying to determine what ideals she resonates with apart from culture. She wants to create a family culture that is uniquely hers. There are things from her upbringing that she incorporates into her family life, but she doesn’t feel that it has to be that way.  We can learn from each other and take things of value from each culture that we want.

We change gears and talk about how Chen manages her children’s feelings about being in America when they visit.  Chen provides that they do miss being around family. They have discussed the chaotic things happening in America lately.  Chen reminds them that they are guests in another country and the laws and rules are different from China. She feels it is not important to label either country of being better than the other–they are just different.  In Chen’s family they do incorporate different aspects of the cultures into her own family life. She has a perspective living outside of America that she wouldn’t have if she had lived there her whole life. Her kids definitely think about these things and identify things they do and don’t like about each culture.

We discuss different aspects of Asian culture Chen has had to work through to get to her own family culture.  Chen mentions the Confucian philosophy of filial piety, which is where the younger must respect the older, the wife must respect the husband, the citizen must respect the leader, etc.  This is ingrained in the culture where certain positions just gain respect. As a parent, you expect the child to always obey you with no negotiation or talking back. This is something that Chen definitely has questioned.  As a parent, she realized that she did not want the kind of respect from her child that is just required. She feels like throughout society right now, people in power demand respect but they do not deserve it and have not gained the respect. As a parent, if she has lost the trust of her child, then she feels that they need to negotiate for other ways to connect so she can earn their true respect.  Chen feels that when respect is mandated, you may show it in a social setting but it is not genuine. She understands that there are scenarios where authoritarianism is easier. Her husband is a teacher and he automatically gets respect as a teacher in China, which is not necessarily the case in America. In other ways, it does not reflect reality. She reflects that in China the young people are beginning to experience more freedom.  In the last few decades of parenting, she feels that kids now understand that they have a voice which makes it a little harder for adults; however, she does feel that there should still be more shared power where negotiation occurs because a family loves each other.

We finally discuss what an Asian parent can do as they begin “un-tigering.”  Chen recommends processing your own childhood first. She feels that many of our automatic patterns of parenting come from our own childhood.  We see the ways we were treated and just go with it or get rid of it. This is sometimes just an extreme reaction where we are not responding with mindfulness but just reacting to our own childhood.  Chen would recommend thinking about what kind of relationship you want to have with your child and how you want to treat them as a person.



Iris Chen is a second generation Chinese-American.  Her parents immigrated from Asia to the United States, and Chen grew up in the US and Canada.  She moved to China after she was married to be an English teacher and is currently raising her children in China.  She is homeschooling her children and embraces gentle parenting.




WEBSITE: https://untigering.com/

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