I Accidentally Gave My Brother A Black Eye and Blamed It On My Father Unwittingly
A personal reflection on the mental health impact of negative tiger parenting.
I’m the oldest of three boys. Growing up as the oldest son definitely had its perks. I was older, bigger, faster, and dare I say it…wiser. Or so I thought!
I had two younger brothers. The middle brother was a year younger than I and my youngest brother was 5 years younger.
Since we were all boys, we got into a lot of trouble. Any mother of boys knows how crazy it can get sometimes! I don’t envy boy mothers one single bit! Looking back at our demonic behavior as children, I’m sure mom savored every drop of her wine when she partook in drinking.
My brothers and I bickered. A lot. We disagreed over the stupidest things. Fought over the dumbest stuff. And sometimes with boy fights, fists were inevitably involved.
Back one day when I was in third grade, my middle brother and I were fighting in our room ( I can’t even remember what about.) We got into it really good while we tussled with one another. When it was all over, he ended up with a black eye by accident. I wasn’t even sure how I hit him.
Whoops! I ended up apologizing to my little brother when I realized what I had done. He cried and threatened to tell our parents. I panicked and freaked out on him.
“If you tell dad, I’ll make SURE you won’t see daylight ever again,” I snarled at him, shaking my 8-year-old fist menacingly at him.
Like an obedient little brother, he nodded his head up-and-down vigorously and conceded. He promised not to tell our parents.
As a child, I was terrified of punishment from my parents.
Being the son of immigrants is no easy task for any child! I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or something, but Mom and Dad used some old-school techniques to punish us. Some of these techniques included using a bamboo broomstick on our butts or kneeling on the ground for an hour, not being allowed to move until my mom felt we had learned our lesson.
My brothers and I did all we could to avoid these fates, including lying, deflection, and hiding stuff. I had first heard of the word grounding, as a form of punishment, from my white classmates in middle school. Sounded weird! My parents never punished us like that, I reflected.
Despite their acceptance of corporal punishment, my parents were loving towards us, even if the love given to us was awkward and stiff. Sometimes, Mom and Dad could be harsh, rigid, and unforgiving, but we knew they wanted what was best for us. My brothers and I understood their intentions.
My parents had immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the 1980s, after the Vietnam War. Vietnam, like other Asian countries, is known as a culture of obedience to authority figures which included the child-to-parent relationship. I would describe my parents as tiger parents.
A tiger parent, as described by Jenny Grant Rankin, Ph.D., is a parent who “sets extremely high goals for his or her child, usually academic, and drives the child relentlessly to achieve these goals.” The term was made famous by Amy Chua in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in 2011.
“Tiger parenting may sound authoritarian, but there’s also a lot of love.” — Marisa Lascala
My parents wanted two things from us: To succeed and behave.
They were tired, overworked, and tried hard to adjust to a new life in a foreign country while raising 3 young terroristic, energetic, and clever boys. They were flawed parents, but their love was tied directly to who they wanted us to become.
However, their love still didn’t change the fact that I didn’t want to get in trouble as a child! We tested their fatigued patience or disappointed them frequently. In retribution, we would either be shamed vocally, made to study/work harder, or physically punished. Although the high expectations set on us was well-intentioned, the punishment side of their parenting reflected negative tiger parenting.
Their tiger parenting ultimately proved fruitful in their eyes. My brothers and I all graduated from university and now have successful careers as adults.
To extended family and friends, my parents enjoyed bragging about how successful their children were. Having successful children is the greatest trophy an immigrant parent can have. Outwardly, the pride in their children’s success was a reflection of how good their parenting was.
I remember when my youngest brother walked across the stage to grab his university diploma, my dad tearfully said to me, “I’m fulfilled and happy.” And I’ve never seen my dad shed a tear before.
Success, especially in Asian cultures, is of paramount importance. The image of success with the individual, the family, the children were all paramount. And the pressure was real.
We never wanted to disappoint our parents. Yes, you know the stereotype about Asian parents wanting straight A’s from their children? That was definitely true with my parents. Anything less would have been shameful. I absolutely dreaded bringing home a B on any report card.
We were rewarded for good grades. Punished for bad grades. There was no middle ground with my parents.
My brothers and I tried to reach their standards of excellence in education and personal behavior. But sometimes, we fell short of expectations. And we did all we could to cover up our tracks.
School Principal & Counselor
By some miracle, my parents never saw my brothers’ eye when the next morning rolled around.
My brother and I attended the same elementary school. We both hopped onto the school bus and went about our day! I had already forgotten about my brother’s eye too, not thinking it was a big deal.
I was summoned to the Principal’s office at around 10 am. Raising one eyebrow, my teacher was surprised at the name written on the note as she read it out loud. I was a very good student; this must be a mistake!
My heart rate quickened. I gulped. And I began my slow death march to the principal’s office.
My thoughts immediately zipped to thinking about how my parents would react. Panic ensued. I mentally prepared for life as an orphan.
When the secretary let me into the principal’s office, I saw my brother immediately. He had been crying. He was sitting across from the principal and a woman I didn’t recognize. She smiled, greeted me, and said she was the school counselor.
Fear and confusion gripped me. What is this? Am I in trouble? Am I going to be sent to detention hall? Maybe even juvenile prison? My mind raced a million miles a second.
When the counselor started to explain the situation, I felt as if time had slowed to a crawl. Every word she uttered felt like an eternity.
A pause. She stared at me, “Quy?”
I came out of my trance. Confused, I replied, “Huh?”
She repeated herself firmly, “Did you do this to your brother? Did you hit him?” She pointed at my brother’s left eye.
“No,” I quickly answered. “I didn’t.”
The counselor gave me a suspicious look, “But your brother said you were the one that did this to him. Y’all had been fighting?”
I panicked. I shook my head and nervously said, “No, it wasn’t me.”
She nervously looked at the principal before coming back to me. “Okay, so if you didn’t do this to him, who did?”
A long pause followed. My mind scrambled to figure out what to say — how to get out of this sticky situation.
I finally answered, “My dad did.”
The counselor glanced at the principal and the principal glanced back at her. Their eyes narrowed. They were both quiet.
The principal softly asked, “Your dad did this, son?” I nodded nervously.
The counselor chimed in, “Does he do this often?”
“Oh, yeah. Totally! He hits us when we act up, which is a lot!”
The principal stared at me for a long minute. When he finally spoke, he said softly, “Okay, that’s all, Quy. Both of you may go back to your classrooms now.”
Relieved, my brother and I got up and were escorted out of the office. We then linked up with a hallway monitor and were split up. and brought to our individual classrooms.
I thought to myself, “Quy, you’re a genius! Not only did you come up with a really good answer, but you managed to get out of trouble!”
Why did I say that? Why on Earth did I blame my father, you ask? You’re probably telling yourself, “No! Why? Your dad is going to be visited by Child Protection Services and you’re going to be taken away based on a lie!”
Yep, I was an idiot.
But to be fair, I thought my answer was appropriate. Children act up, parents punish. It’s okay for parents to hit their children, right? To me, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Brothers fight. People fight. It happens, right?
I was certain that my dad, as smart as he is, would be able to sort it out.
Unfortunately, my 8-year-old brain failed to realize the implications of my naive actions. By blaming my father for my brother’s black eye, I had inadvertently accused him of child abuse.
Tiger parenting didn’t mean Asian parents were more likely to be authoritarian or use corporal punishment on their kids.
There were different styles of tiger parenting. You could still be strict and supportive as a parent which is considered “positive” tiger parenting. Corporal punishment was a form of negative tiger parenting. And my parents employed both styles.
In regards to corporal punishment, the debate on whether it was moral for parents to hit their kids goes back a while. Corporal punishment is still accepted in today’s society, though long gone are the days of harsher punishments.
According to a 2004 study, “roughly 50% of the parents of toddlers’ and 65% of the parents of preschoolers in the United States” use corporal punishment on their kids. By the time they are 18, almost “85% have been physically punished” by their parents.
But in a Brookings article, “there is a wide range in how people define acceptable, both in terms of frequency and severity” of corporal punishment.
Controversy aside, there is research that shows the impact between corporal punishment and non-physical punishment for children.
For example, corporal punishment has been considered effective for producing short-term results from the child. However, any short term gains from corporal punishment can be erased by the long-term negative effects on the child if corporal punishment continues.
Sustained corporal punishment has been tied to mental health problems in children. This includes anxiety, depression, aggression, more prone to violence, bullying of other children, future potential for partner abuse, and anti-social behaviors.
If corporal punishment goes far enough, it becomes child abuse. According to Psychology Today, “if any kind of corporal punishment results in significant injury to your children — such as bruises, cuts, or an inability to sit down — then it will be considered child abuse.”
Going even further, “sexually abusing a child, providing a child with illegal drugs, or burning and choking a child” and abandonment are all considered child abuse. Once the line has been crossed for child abuse, parents risk breaking the law and potentially losing their children to Child Protection Safety services.
It took me 10 years to realize the gravity of my mistake by blaming my father for my brother’s black eye.
Thankfully, nothing ever happened to dad. I wasn’t interviewed by CPS. Nor did they ever come. My dad never made any mention of the incident either. As far as I know, nothing ever happened.
Maybe he was able to clear it up without me knowing? I never asked for fear of embarrassment. I don’t have the kind of relationship where I can call my father and talk about anything and everything.
I apologized to my brothers profusely years later for the incessant bullying I terrorized them with. I’m not exactly sure if corporal punishment or the fact that my parents were tiger parents that was the cause of my propensity for fighting and bullying when I was a child or my depression as an adult.
It doesn’t excuse my behavior, but I had accepted the fact that I was a jerk to them a decade later. I sought to make amends by practicing and growing empathy later in my life.
The studies I referenced earlier indicated that corporal punishment can have an impact on mental health. Years later, when I finally summoned the courage to seek therapy, I was diagnosed with a mild case of borderline personality disorder.
Additionally, I found out a bit later my younger brother went to therapy as well. He later said, “I’m messed up, dude.”
I’ve always wondered if he experienced childhood trauma because of my old brother bullying, the tigerness of my parents, or all of the above.
I have my own problems to work through too, but I can’t continue blaming myself or others for them. I fought to turn that mindset around. I fought my shame aggressively. I sought professional help and got the medication I needed to help control my anxiety.
Practicing mindfulness has been a gamechanger too. Mindfulness has helped me reduce my stress, improve my self-worth, and helped keep my feelings in check. I’m more self-aware of my actions, mindset, and the impact my behavior could have on others.
Although I made mistakes and will always continue to make mistakes, I had to learn to not beat myself up over them, mentally or physically. When I fail to meet expectations on a project or task in my adult life, I have to actively erase the mental images of my disappointed parents from my brain.
Punishing or shaming myself was what I was used to. These techniques were relics of the past, learned behaviors from my own parents, who are thousands of miles away and no longer raising me. And it took years for me to realize that.
I realize, especially as a childless person, it sounds odd for me to give parenting advice. But as a child of corporal punishment, I implore all parents to self-reflect on how they punish their children.
Positive support and rewards are much more suitable responses that reap considerable benefits for a child’s mental well-being. For tiger parents, the style of parenting is most effective when used with supporting techniques and unconditional love. You can still be strict and set high expectations!
Despite the fear of failing to meet my parents’ expectations, some of my warmest memories of love and support came when my parents used what little money they had to buy us video games after a straight-A report card.
Other memories included my dad dozing off at another miserable evening band concert we were performing in, even if we weren’t fond of being in the band.
For others who grew up in households that saw harsher punishments, try not to let your resentment for your parents define your relationship with them or others. If you know in your heart that they loved you, accept their flaws, and realize that no parent is perfect.
Focus on yourself and practice mindfulness to help heal old scars. Doing so will allow you to foster healthier relationships with those around you, especially if you plan to raise children yourself.
Sometimes, I go back mentally to the situation I found myself in as a scared 8-year-old in the principal’s office all those years ago.
I think about how naive and mischievous I was. How prone I was to lying as a child, just to get out of trouble and disappointing my parents. The possibility of being spanked or shamed by my parents terrified me.
But my parents did love me, even if they mistakenly tied their love to ensuring perfection from us. They wanted what was best for us, even if their techniques weren’t appropriate. As parents, they saw love as the measure of our ability to be independent in life, driven, and successful later in life. I failed to see that as a child.
Because of my lying, I could have had my parents taken away from me. My entire support system, flawed as it was, could have been ripped out from underneath me.
If I was taken by CPS, would I have been able to go to college? Would I have grown up successful as my parents wanted this whole time?
Sometimes, I ask myself that if I had been taught as a child that it was okay to make mistakes and how mistakes present opportunities to learn, I might have answered differently in the principal’s office.
Maybe I would have told the truth and spared my father the embarrassment of how he raised his kids. Maybe I would have been able to convince my skeptical school principal and counselor that my parents were actually loving & supportive, yet super culturally traditional with their parenting techniques.
Or maybe I’m just deflecting and blaming others for the mistakes I’ve made in my life…
I can’t control the past. But I can control my future. And I’ve decided to dedicate my energy to helping others and improving myself.
About Me — Quy Ma
Market researcher. Empath Leader. Career Coach. Globalist. Feminist. Foodie. Equality & Mental Health Advocate…
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