Advice to Parents from a Son Who had Strived to Meet Their Expectations

A friend shared with me the article posted below. It is written by son of a family that immigrated from India and is addressed to other Indian immigrant parents. He vividly describes, in order to “please” well-meaning but demanding parents, the “burden” he (and other the children) faced growing up and the ill-effects that continue through out his life

The problem he describes may not be true in all cases. However, I do not believe the situation is unique to immigrant Indian families. Other parents would benefit reading it; the advice is applicable to all parents.

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The Problem With Indian Kids Winning Spelling Bees
Posted: Friday, June 19, 2015 9:00 am
VISHNU SUBRAMANIAM, Via E-mail | 0 comments
Why do Indian American kids win spelling bees? Intelligence? Sure. Hard work? Yes. A culture that values education? Yup.
But what is the real reason Indian American kids dominate the National Spelling Bee? Parental pressure and demands, fueled by the social pressure for success.
When we watch Indian kids celebrating on stage and giving media interviews after winning national competitions, we don’t see the real cost behind this success.
Many Indian American children – those who don’t win or even participate in this contest – constantly feel inadequate, incompetent and insufficient.
See, throughout my life, I’ve felt like a failure.
Yes, I spoke at my high school graduation as the keynote speaker. Yes, I attended one of the top ten public universities in California and, yes, I picked up a law degree after that, but here’s what I know to be true.
I grew up in a northern California suburb filled with the children of Indian doctors and computer engineers. No matter how well I did in school or what I achieved, there were kids who continually outperformed and outdid whatever it was I had done.
High school seemed like a constant battle to win top grades, top awards and the hearts of my parents – and by that, I mean to win top scholarships that would pay for college.
Like earlier Asian immigrants to the States, the Indian immigrants of today value education and academics. The only things they value a little more than that are their personal reputations in the community and the social recognition they achieve when their children do well academically.
We children are the unspoken victims of a culture that prides itself on producing valedictorians, winning academic competitions and achieving Ivy League admissions.
Sure, as a community and a culture, we should be proud of our accomplishments.
But I, and many of the Indian kids I grew up with, have become emotional and psychological wrecks.
We could never measure up to our parents’ expectations, which continued to elevate with each new achievement by our peers.
A great college wasn’t enough when so-and-so’s kid got into Stanford.
Winning your school’s spelling bee wasn’t enough when so-and-so’s son won the national one.
A partial academic scholarship didn’t suffice when so-and-so got a full-ride scholarship.
The intense emotional and psychological pressure to achieve and compete with other children for our parents’ pride was highly damaging. No matter what success you achieve, it’s never enough.
And your whole life after high school and college, you continue the overachieving, people-pleasing, perfectionistic ways that your parents drummed into you during your formative years.
Our parents intended the best for us, but did they unintentionally create adults who are not very confident, who are never happy with their achievements and who are perpetually comparing themselves to others?
Our parents achieved their purpose – giving us the absolute best education possible in America. But in the process did they rob us of our happiness, our dignity and our self-acceptance?
If we were never enough in their eyes, how can we ever be enough to ourselves?
Today, when I see Vanya and Gokul on the stage of the National Spelling Bee with confetti all around them, surrounded by proud parents and giant trophies, I’m happy for them and all the hard work they’ve done.
But who I’m really saddened for are the thousands upon thousands of Indian American kids who didn’t win or even participate. The ones whose parents will open the morning newspaper and casually comment, “Oh, look who won the National Spelling Bee? I wonder how hard they must have worked to achieve this. I wonder how proud their parents must be…”
The problem with Indian kids winning spelling bees is that it crushes the self-worth of a majority of kids in the Indian American community. It perpetuates the idea that to be “good” or “enough” in your parents’ eyes, you too must achieve something as big as winning a national contest.
Good grades and a respectful attitude aren’t going to cut it – you must bring home a trophy, give interviews to the paper or appear on the evening news.
My message is for those Indian parents who are pushing their kids to win spelling bees, geography bees, math bees and every other kind of buzzing contest out there.
Indian parents, especially all the “bee fathers” and “bee mothers” out there, listen up:
• Let your children be children.
• Love your kids and support them in whatever they choose to do with their lives.
• Unless they wake up one morning and come to you with the news that their dream is to be a spelling bee champion, do not allow them to enter a spelling bee contest!
• Do not force them to enter any contest that they would not choose to enter on their own.
• Do not compare your children to other children in the Indian community.
• Do not downplay your children’s achievements by putting them in the context of those that other Indian kids in the community have achieved.
• Do not base your own happiness on how well your kids do academically or what professional courses they pursue.
• While we’re at it, don’t suffer a slow death if your child doesn’t go to medical school!
Let’s step back and have a look at what’s really at stake here. Yes, your kids can compete in a spelling bee and win it after years of practice. They will win scholarship money, become the talk of the town and have a trophy they’ll treasure for life.
Alternatively, you can love your children, tell them you accept them and that you approve of them no matter what they do with their lives, and support them in whatever decisions they make.
One route will lead to newspaper coverage and scholarship money.
The other will lead to a positive self-image and happy children who live their values and stay true to themselves.

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