“Oh no, Wappa’s home,” my six-year-old daughter complained when my husband came home from work one evening. “That means Mama’s going.” My three-year-old daughter groaned in solidarity. “Don’t go, Mama!” My one-year-old son clung to me, sensing my energy shift.
Ouch. Nothing quite painful as the truth from the mouth of my babies.
“Just relax and spend time with us,” my husband said. “Every time I come home, you run away.”
I balked when my husband said that, mostly because it was true. Since most of the caregiving duties fall on me, I welcome the breaks when my husband comes home. I’m also aware that even though breaking generational cycles is hard work, I do need to balance out my solitude with connection time. There is healing in both.
I am one of the rising numbers of untigering mothers – a term coined by American-Chinese author Iris Chen. Untigering essentially refers to two things: “the process of detoxing from being tiger parented”, and “the process of detoxing from being a tiger parent.”
I am one of the rising numbers of untigering mothers – a term coined by American-Chinese author Iris Chen.
Iris Chen’s groundbreaking book, Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent, sealed my commitment to parenting my children differently to how I was parented. Iris Chen is an Asian mother, and like me, does not have white privilege shared by many other peaceful parenting advocates. Instead, we have generations of ancestral trauma, as well as resilience, from a combination of factors like systemic racism, colonialism and the model minority myth. I devoured Iris Chen’s book and loved everything about it, from rethinking what success means, to teaching bodily autonomy and being actively antiracist so our kids will be too.
I remember growing up feeling terrified of failure. My family had moved to Sydney and it was up to me, the eldest girl, to make all that sacrifice worth it. I had always wanted to be a writer, but my father wanted me to be a doctor. I graduated high school as class dux, did well in my arts and science degrees, made it to medical school and then left after ongoing mental health struggles.
Now that I’m a mother and a freelance writer, I resist that old narrative of being a tiger parent precisely because of how much it harmed me. On a practical level, that means showing myself grace and kindness so I can do the same for my children. A large part of that is being able to slow down enough to enjoy my children. That sounds deceptively easy, but can be incredibly difficult when I have been programmed to equate my self-worth with material success. Motherhood, by definition, is not very financially lucrative. The yardstick for success for me kept shifting when I was growing up, and I never felt like I was ever enough – until I did my hard inner work and had children of my own.
I don’t have to prove anything to my children. They already love me. They forgive me when I’m grumpy, when I yell, or get distracted.
I don’t have to prove anything to my children. They already love me. They forgive me when I’m grumpy, when I yell, or get distracted. My toddler happily explores his own world and always comes back to find me, my younger daughter lit up with joy when she learned I could whistle and my elder one said I was “the best artist in the world”. I rest in their love, and hope they will always be able to rest in mine.
I’ve become better at slowing down and asking my baby son if I can give him a kiss or a hug. He is endlessly thrilled and asks for more. I remind myself to give my daughters hugs and kisses every day. Like a lot of other Asian children, hugs and kisses came in short supply and were saved for truly special (or tragic) occasions. I’m changing that for my children, one hug at a time.
I am working on rejecting my deeply internalised and ableist grind culture. I am getting better at allowing myself to rest, even when I feel guilty about it. I’m getting better at setting boundaries around my time, and who I allow into my life. A large part of my untigering journey has to do with reparenting my own inner child through journaling, therapy, and being more in tune with my body.
Learning to sit with discomfort is a process I am still learning. I teach my kids this skill, and hopefully model it. I tell them that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ feelings. There are simply feelings, and all feelings pass, if we allow them to. I have my tendency to hide in my phone/book/audiobook when I feel overwhelmed, but distraction doesn’t help me in the long-run. What helps me is placing my hand on my heart, closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, holding it, then take a long exhale. What helps is naming what I feel. I give my children the vocabulary of emotional regulation, because my parents didn’t have the privilege and opportunity to do that with me. They did the best they could, with what they knew, with their own inherited trauma.
I still need daily pockets of solitude to be calm for my children.
I still need daily pockets of solitude to be calm for my children. It soothes me to sink into my writing or study. These are to-do lists that are finite, with concrete results, and a dopamine hit when I complete a task. It’s clear, defined, and actionable. Motherhood is nothing like that. What helps is focusing on the relationships I am building with my children, and embracing the chaos that comes with such little ones. There is so much to be grateful for in this whirlwind stage of parenting, and I choose to look for it, every day.
When my husband comes home these days, I’m getting better at resisting my reflex to jump up, throw our kids at him and hide in my room. Instead, I take a deep breath, smile, then ask him how he’s doing. He watches me warily, waiting for me to flee. I’m even able to make a bit of small talk, as long as none of our kids are screaming or in any imminent danger. On a really good day, I’m able to relax with my husband and our three kids. I marvel at how safe and loved they are – how safe and loved we all are. I hope that this is my legacy to my children – a sense of safety, security, and enough-ness to tide them through the rest of their lives.