As I walked up a busy sidewalk around my way to meet a friend for lunch, I saw something I’ve often seen in this family-friendly neighborhood—a kid on a leash. It’s hard enough for a child to walk, but walking while constrained to a three-foot retractable leash is another feat. I admit it, I chuckled.
But at that moment I also considered that although the kid was walking on his own, his concerned mom was literally strapped to him, only a few paces behind. I considered the psychological effect of raising children on leashes—literally or figuratively. And I considered the metaphorical strains my parents put on me to ensure my safety and give me guidance growing up. The term term 'Tiger mom' that was burned into the collective conscience last year, popped in my head—again.
Yale Law School professor, Amy Chua, author of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (which stemmed from a controversial Wall Street Journal essay she penned in 2011), gushed about raising her two daughters in a traditionally strict Chinese home. Chua laid out the significance of her parental practices in rearing highly attuned, high-performing children. She means business. As child experts, psychologists and concerned parents spoke to the media in aversion, I sat back rather unmoved by the sentiments of the self-proclaimed "Tiger mom."
Nothing in her book shocked me. Why? Because growing up in a Ghanaian home, many of the principles she discussed in the piece, I lived, and actually agreed with.
During my childhood I wasn’t allowed to watch TV during the weekdays, never went to another child’s home for a sleepover and was expected to bring home nothing less than a B-minus. Besides my mother's fear from watching "America's Most Wanted" every night—and her subsequent discovery that the father in the home could also be a convicted child molester—the method behind her parenting was based on four solid concepts.
First, she believed there were no limits, boundaries or glass ceilings designated by society. Idealistic in thought, not having the same history of slavery and second-class citizenship our fellow brown-skinned Americans had, she stuck to this and never wavered at any adverse sentiment (and trust, the sentiment came).
Second, she believed the more education and professional rank you have the less economic and social issues you had to deal with—layman’s terms: more money, less problems.
Third, self-worth was thought to be an internal possession, something gifted by God at birth and not decided by society.
And last, success was directly related to how much you could provide for your family—which is one’s life's duty. No pressure, of course.
My experience growing up was unique, because as a first-generation child from third-world-born parents, I had a two-fold existence. On one side there lived a profound sense of duty for the sacrifices that my parents made for me to have a better life—leaving their homeland for England, working small jobs to pay for their education and eventually gaining citizenship to the States for more opportunities. On the other side was my burning desire to have that fantasy American experience, where instant gratification and independence ranks top of the list.
So I get it. I get what many foreign-born parents are trying to instill in their children, even though sometimes the methods, through an American lens, can seem extreme. In the West African community much like in what Chua affirms about her own community, academic, professional and social success are considered a direct reflection of good parenting; your child is a representation of you as a parent and a person. When so much is on the line, who has time for games? I’m not a child expert and would never claim to be, particularly not having children of my own. However, I can appreciate my mother’s strict method of parenting— even years after yearning to see all the good weekday TV shows. Hello Cosbys!
American culture, through foreign eyes is a mixed bag of treats and toxins—and justifiably so. There are rough waters to navigate for parents, including assumedly the mom of that kid waddling down my neighborhood street, but if I had to pick a type of leash to sport, I'd choose my mother's anyday.
Danielle Kwateng is a Brooklyn-based style writer who's scribed for Glamour, Uptown and Madame Noire. Follow her @danispecialk to hear her inspired twisdoms.