Last night I was with some friends discussing the book NurtureShock: New Thinking on Children, and it struck me as almost a Freakanomics of child-rearing. I’ve actually not read it yet, but from the snippets I have seen, it is clear that it presents surprising and sometimes counter-intuitive data. For example, it illustrates that we sometimes praise our children so much over so little that it’s actually harmful. On the other extreme is the book featured in this article about the Tiger Mom. Her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, recounts her rather extreme parenting style that was void of the empty praise NurtureShock advises against. These books and views are interesting, and provide data that may or may not be conclusive, but the following testimony speaks volumes and it speaks it clearly! Christine is a Bible study friend who faithfully teaches my Sammy each week. She is hilarious and adorable and smart and lovely. I’m actually quite jealous of Sam that he gets to spend two hours with her every week!
I know you will love Christine and her story, and I am so thrilled to be able to share her with you here on the blog.
I am a product of two Korean immigrant parents who came to this country for the same reason most immigrants move to America from any country – more opportunities. You can just picture my parents, right? Adorable little couple – the couple where the mom (my mom) wears a visor the size of a cafeteria tray any time she sees a ray of sunshine. Where the dad (my dad) owned and worked his tail off in a drycleaning business…..you know, like 90% of the rest of the Koreans who have immigrated here.
I am the first product of two parents who had to raise a child in a country that was totally foreign to them. So they raised me with the values and the goals that were most important to them – education, academics, a little piano thrown in there, and some more academics. Yes, the process of grooming me to become the “perfect little Korean girl” began very early. I began studying piano at the age of 5, and by the time I was 8, I was playing competitively in various piano competitions in northern California. I began studying for my SAT’s when I was in 3rd grade. During the actual school year, in 3rd grade, in addition to regular homework and thrilling SAT workbooks, I had to go to school with a humongous Webster’s dictionary in my bag so that I could be ready at all times to look up a word I didn’t know. During the summer, while other kids rode their bikes and frolicked around my neighborhood, I woke up every morning with a huge assignment written out on a legal pad waiting for me on my nightstand: I had to complete pages of SAT math problems and read an article in Time magazine, look up 20 words I didn’t know, and have those words memorized by the time my dad got home. I absolutely dreaded the summers. And many times during those summers, I would help my dad at his drycleaning business. In between customers, he would pull out paper and draw a little pie chart…98% of the pie chart was how good I was and the little 2% piece of the chart were my weaknesses, and he would say, you’re 98% good but let’s work on that 2% to make it better. So as you can see, my parents meant serious business.
By 8th grade, their checklist was looking really good: daughter that plays piano at a level where her teacher thinks concert pianist might be in her future, CHECK. Daughter that has to walk to the nearby high school for advanced math classes. CHECK. Daughter that is studying for her SAT’s to guarantee entrance to an ivy league school. CHECK. You see, from pie charts to summers ruled by piano and studying, I was told and shown that these would be my keys for success. All the hard work would prove that I was successful when I got into that precious ivy league school, maybe even on some form of music scholarship. And let me tell you, I worked hard because there was nothing more I wanted than to please my parents and make them proud.
Well, I got to high school and things started to go downhill in the grooming process because I just didn’t feel like being groomed anymore. The checklist for that perfect daughter that was in such good shape with all the checkmarks in place started to crumble. The checkmarks got fainter and harder to see and then gasps started to become more audible. Don’t worry, I know that sounds confusing, the gasps will all make sense as they are demonstrated along the way. I found cheerleading and dance and I announced to my parents that I no longer had time to practice piano. GASP. I plowed my way through high school and then came time for the SAT’s…..the stuff dreams are made of. It was the time for the rubber to meet the road and my parents would finally see the fruits of our efforts. So how do you think the SAT’s turned out for me? The pressure was just too much for me. I did awful. GASP. As you can imagine, parents were not thrilled at all. But we were going to move past it and hope that my good GPA and my extracurricular activities would be enough. It was about this time that I thought I figured out what I wanted to be, and it was not a doctor or a lawyer or a professor. GASP. No, I was going to be the next Connie Chung. Without hesitation, that idea was squashed as my parents told me that it just wasn’t going to happen because it was a 1-in a million shot. No “go for it,” no “you would be great at it,” just “no way.” So it’s college application time. I apply to Duke, Princeton, Georgetown and UCSD. But my heart was set on Georgetown, which I applied to early decision. Well guess which one of those schools I got into? That’s right, NONE. GASP. So I frantically applied to GW at the last minute because I had fallen in love with DC when I came to visit Georgetown and I wanted to stay in DC as much as possible. When we went to visit GW after I found out I got in and had accepted, I went back to the hotel with my mom after the campus tour and she proceeded to flop on the couch and start crying. This would be the first out of two times that she would blatantly cry in front of me out of sheer disappointment. I was going to GW, and in doing so, I was really missing the mark.
And now I will introduce my second sound effect: OUCH. Seeing that disappointment for me was OUCH. To this day, when I picture her sitting on the couch, big tears of disappointment at my apparent failure falling from her eyes, it breaks my heart. It was at this point, my heart began to harden, not out of anger, out of sheer hurt. So fast forward to the end of school – I graduate and I find my first job out of college at a small telecommunications company. Within a year of being there, I meet this guy named Luis Perez who was to be my future husband. We are engaged within a year and a half, and the night he proposed, I called my parents to share the good news. Hi mom…I’m getting married….HUH…to a Puerto Rican….GASP…..from West Virginia….GAAASPPP! And my mom begins crying on the phone….not out of happiness and joy for me but out of shock and complete disappointment. The tears of disappointment flowed freely once again. I was not marrying a Korean with a great resume, and in doing so, I was really missing the mark. My year of engagement was full of tears and confusion as they told me time and time again what a huge mistake I was making. OUCH again. My heart went from becoming slightly hardened to a stone-like quality. But I stood my ground and married this Puerto Rican from West Virginia and it was the best decision I have ever made. Fast forward two years and we have our first child and we made the decision for me to be a stay-at-home mom. My mom and dad were surprised and disappointed with my decision, because where was the career development in that, and there went my heart again, becoming even more hardened…. almost brittle now because anger and blame had made its way into my heart. I was angry at them for always being so darn disappointed with me! I was angry at them for making me feel like success was around the corner I just hadn’t found it yet. And I was angry at myself the most, for in the midst of all this, I still wanted more than anything to please them and even worse, I started to believe the disappointment. I was raised to believe in certain indicators of success, and none of those “successes” were in my life, so didn’t that indicate failure?
So here I was, with a wonderful husband, a beautiful baby girl, and a heart full of anger and resentment towards my parents. These feelings continued to fester to the point where I didn’t think I could have a relationship with them anymore, because I just couldn’t let go and forgive and forget. And they festered through the birth of my second beautiful baby girl and throughout the first two years of her life.
My heart began to soften about a year ago when God reached down and gave me a pair of divine glasses that allowed me to see things differently. God was always with me, from every gasp to every ouch that I experienced. He was always patiently waiting for me to stop festering, to stop blaming, to stop being angry, and to start looking at myself the way He saw me. He saw the product of His perfect handiwork, He saw, as it is written in the first chapter of Genesis, that He created me in His own image and that what He saw was good…..real good. He saw someone He loved so incredibly much that He sent his own Son to die on the cross for her sins so she could one day live in eternity with Him. Isn’t that amazing? This is how He saw ME, the one who had missed more than her fair share of marks. And this is how He sees each and every one of YOU no matter who you feel you’ve disappointed or where you think you’ve missed the mark.
Throughout my whole entire life, I have experienced that nagging feeling of what it is like to fall short of others’ expectations. Whether it was as the daughter of Korean immigrant parents who preferred piano over cheerleading, or even today, as the wife who can’t cook for her husband like her mother-in-law does, or the mother who in a moment of weakness, berates her children out of frustration rather than speaking to them with love. I have always been aware that I am not enough. But I have come to this point in my life where daily experiences tell me otherwise, literally a voice that assures me that while I am not enough, my Savior is. What does this voice sound like? It sounds like an incredibly supportive husband that has no doubts in God’s unwavering faithfulness; it sounds like the voice of my 5-year old who tells me she cannot wait to go to heaven and be with Jesus and my 3-year old who jumped up in front of a music room full of kids and exclaimed “I know Jesus loves me;” it sounds like a room full of women sharing the same belief that there is nothing on earth we could do better than raising children who love the Lord and who desire to glorify Him with their lives. These sounds make up the voice that tells me every day that the Savior is working in me and through me and that because of this, I am enough.
My heart is changing because I am beginning to see myself through the eyes of my Creator. Just as David praised God in Psalm 139:14 ” I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful I know that full well.” I am the daughter of a King who is faithful to provide, who is forgiving, gracious, and kind. So kind that He would send His only begotten son to die on a cross for me so that my areas of weakness could turn out to be my towers of strength. Jesus says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The hardest part of my journey has been recognizing that I do not need my parents, or anybody for that matter, to determine my feelings of success or worth…. that I only need Jesus to be the daughter, sister, wife, and mother that I want to be and that He calls me to be…. and that I can’t do it on my own and you know what, I don’t want to. Knowing that my strength and power rests in Christ, I am able to have grace upon myself when I don’t come through and I am able to rejoice in Him when I do.
About four years ago, my mom, daughter, and I were walking through the mall doing some retail damage when I complained that my feet hurt. Smack in the center of Tyson’s, my two year old stops, gets on her hands and knees, and proceeds to kiss my feet to make them feel better. Like many times before, my mom started to cry, but this time it was different. Turns out that my heart wasn’t the only one that had undergone a serious change. The woman who had dictated my success for so many years, stood there sobbing as she told me that I had done good… real good. As a mother myself now, I realize that everything my parents did they did out of love for me today and out of their concern for my tomorrow. As generations of Koreans had done before, my parents worked their very hardest to ensure that I had a promising future: one full of stability, success, and accomplishment. But I think my parents and I finally agree on something. As parents, our job is to ensure that our children have a promising eternity: one full of forgiveness, peace, and true joy.
So yes, I am a child of two Korean immigrant parents who did their best to raise a child the only way they knew how. But more importantly, I am the product of the Almighty Creator and His tender mercies, amazing grace, and an unconditional love that never disappoints.