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What it's like when your parents have impossible standards

Jan. 4, 2018
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Compliments are hard to earn in my house. My parents don’t believe in rewarding small accomplishments, so they’ve never found their children worthy of compliments. It’s pushed me to work harder for their validation. But even when my hard work directly leads to success, it is still often deemed “not enough.” 

I’ve always worked diligently, hoping to impress my parents. In typical Asian parent fashion, this has usually only earned me a nod or a slight smile. Consequently, their indifference has turned me off from doing many things that I know wouldn’t put me anywhere near my parents’ good graces. The lack of encouragement in my household and my parents' harsh comments have turned me into a somewhat jaded figure; there are even moments in which I explicitly ask for them to acknowledge my hard work and successes. My mother scoffs and simply reminds me of the accomplishments of her friends’ daughters and my own brother.

Despite my mother's best intentions, this can be very discouraging at times.

I eventually began to subconsciously rate my successes, deeming a lot of them unworthy of even being brought up. Even when something may have been a triumph in others' eyes, I would know deep down that it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.

I know my parents had a more difficult upbringing than I've had, so it’s understandable that their expectations are high. But the world is different than it was when they were children. The world we live in today doesn’t base all means of happiness on academic success—it isn’t merely about a letter or a number on a report card anymore. People thrive through their interests as well.

But were my parents wrong in trying to get their children to work harder in such a tough world that wants so much from its younger population? What they’ve done isn’t too uncommon, especially in the collectivistic culture we’re from. That's the thing: my parents' mindset was never so much about who we were, or even who I was as an independent being; it was more about how my actions were impacting the group, the family as a whole. For my brother and me, this often felt like the erasure of our individual identities. It was as though our parents were morphing our characters, hoping to make us into the people they wanted us to become.

 As I’ve grown up, I’ve found similarities between myself and my parents. I create high expectations for myself and those around me, then stew in frustration when I don't exceed those impossible expectations.

 This way of being raised has prompted me to value and seek out validation from the authority figures in my life. When a teacher takes a liking towards me or gives me even the slightest compliment, it often causes me to feel happy for hours or even days.

Is this healthy? No.

 My professional and academic success has relied a lot on receiving a nod of approval. If an adult thought I was doing well, that felt reassuring. Due to the lack of compliments and approval from my parents, I was never sure if what I was doing was right.

At the end of the day, I don’t think my mother’s ways have morphed me into the person she wished I was. But she has shaped me into an ambitious, stubborn individual who is more hardworking and passionate than most of her peers. 

Over time, I’ve come to seek less and less approval from my parents. I’ve realized that it isn’t important whether or not they think I am successful. Yes, it would be nice for them to acknowledge what I do—but no matter what they do or do not say, it doesn't change how I feel about myself and my actions. If I am proud of and happy with my own successes, nothing they can do will change that.

Photo via Tumblr.