More Than Serving Tea


Book Club: Lean In But Only If You Like Me

OK, dear readers. I don’t know about you, but chapter three was tough for me.  As if wanting to succeed and having ambition isn’t taboo enough, now we women get to really get emotionally naked and talk about likeability. Well, let’s get naked.

Sandberg dives in with some personal anecdotes to put flesh on the idea that cultural norms tend to associate men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities creating a double bind for women. If a woman lead, she’s basically screwed because if she comes off like a man then people don’t like her, and if she is nice people like her but she can’t get ahead or get anything done. (I know I oversimplified, but I’m not writing a book here.) I’d like to add that it is a double bind for White women. For women of color, there is a racial/cultural twist that adds to the complexity of the issue – it’s a braid.

If a Black woman raises her voice she can quickly become “that (fill in the blank with your synonym of choice) Black woman.”

If a Latina raises her voice she can quickly become “that (fill in the blank with your synonym of choice) Latina.”

If an Asian American woman raises her voice she can quickly become “that dragon lady.” I get to pick the description because this is me.

Sandberg doesn’t have to fight the stereotypes of geishas, those waitresses who can’t speak English,  those nail techs at strip mall nail shops who speak in their foreign languages that make English-only-speaking customers worry if they are being made fun of (maybe for once it’s not about you), “I love you long time”, petite & subservient women who cover their mouths when they giggle. Sandberg isn’t straddling multiple cultures in the same way most women of color have to do, and if she does I wish she had included that in her book.

Her suggestions for overcoming the likeability issue is to own one’s success (p. 44), substitute “we” for “I” (p.47), and emote and quickly get over it (p.50). Again, easier said than done.

Let’s tackle emotions because I have a lot of them at any given moment. My dad says I wear all of my emotions on my face the moment I feel them. My mom has always joked that I am the crybaby of the family. When my younger sister was in trouble and getting disciplined, I would be the one crying.  That being said, I still cry a lot and I’ve struggled with processing emotions appropriately.

Getting over it quickly isn’t always possible nor do I believe it is the best thing to do in all cases. Yes, sometimes it’s better to take a breath and carry on. Earlier this summer during a fabulous road trip to the East Coast another driver did not appreciate my reminder that the left lane is for passing and shared his ill-manicured middle finger with me, and I responded in kind. I really should’ve just muttered under my breath about the rules of the road and moved on.

But sometimes as a leader, as a friend, as a parent, I have the opportunity to take a breath, name the emotion, connect it to what is going on for me in the conversation. I can help others by explaining what may be obvious to me but confusing to the person watching me: I’m angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, etc. and it’s difficult, confusing, hurtful, etc. And then instead of hijacking the meeting by addressing my emotion, I can release the meeting to move along with the understanding that this is where I am coming from. It may slow things down, but in a world where we are often misreading each others’ cues – whether it’s through email, tweets, Facebook posts, or in face-to-face conversations, I believe we actually do need to name those emotions more and more.

So after my older son called me out on my expression of anger and frustration, I explained to him that I was ticked off and frustrated but that I shouldn’t have flipped off the other driver. I should’ve been satisfied with honking my horn and flashing my high beams.

Sandberg goes on to say that women need to own their successes and essentially speak in more communal terms when it comes to succeeding, at least in the business world.

Asian Americans who have a grasp of their mother tongue or culture experience the stark contrast between White American Western individualism and their cultures of origin. My Korean name does not start with my given name. It starts with my family name, my last name first because it isn’t about “me” or “I’ but about “we” and “us.” When you go to a traditional Korean restaurant you may have your “own” main dish but all the banchan – the side dishes that fill the table – are meant to be shared.

The feedback many of us Asian Americans have heard is that we are not assertive enough, we don’t self-promote and talk about our successes. But as an Asian American woman if I get into a shouting match and match tone and posture with a male colleague during a simulation in a leadership seminar, I get a talking to about my anger, aggression, and emotion, even if I try to get over it it comes back in evaluations and folklore. The male colleague does not.

Women don’t shout and point fingers. Asian American women certainly don’t shout and point fingers. And Christian women of all shades don’t shout and point fingers.

So what’s a woman to do?

I do think that as women we need to better own our successes whether they are in the business world, in our communities, in our churches, in our homes. I think the wins are important to name, recognize, and celebrate not just for ourselves but for us, our friends and family. And we, as Christian women of all shades, need to bring an end to the Mommy Wars. There is too much in current pop culture that wants to chip away at love that endures and success that brings us closer to “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” that can easily get lost as women argue about of working outside of the home versus working at home by focusing on our families. Success in our workplaces, in our friendships, in our marriages are worth leaning in to achieve, and I do believe that can come for both men and women in both the secular and the sacred.

What does that look like practically? For me it has meant owning my skills and talent for writing. I’m still figuring out some of the major details, but in the meantime I’m learning to say things like, “I am an author” without giggling. I am also making time to write for fun, to improve my craft, and to make some extra money while writing about things I am passionate about and believe furthering the conversations will bring us closer to kingdom come.

So what do you think? How difficult is it to own your own successes? Has success cost being liked? Do you like this post? Do you still like me?

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Panthera Tigris Mother

Yesterday was a banner day for me. One of my sons feigned illness because he had not prepared for a test, and I (along with the full support of my husband) forced him out of his bed and eventually back to school.

“You are not sick. You are tired. Being a student is your job, and you are responsible for completing your work whether or not you are tired. Please do not complain to me about being tired when you disobey me at bedtime and do not get to sleep when you should.

You are going back to school, and you have two choices. You can go to school in your pajamas, or you can get dressed before you go. Staying home is not a choice you get to make.”

Yup. That was me. Feel free to use the speech in your own home.

And then later in the evening the same son and I spent time going over some music for a band lesson. Please note that he asked me for help. We sat there, and I corrected his posture before we went over cut time versus common time, grace notes and posture. We went over and over and over the lines of music, and I became the human metronome – clapping, snapping, humming, tapping. I pushed him despite seeing his eyes start to tear up because I KNEW HE COULD DO IT. And he did. So there. I was exhausted and then after a few hours exhilarated, with a touch of guilt because I could’ve (should’ve?) changed my tone a teeny, tiny bit and smiled a little more so I wouldn’t look so strong and scary.

But he did get that short piece in cut time, and he did get that piece in 6/8 time.

But this afternoon, he is back where he should be (at school and then at track practice, which my husband and I forced him to participate in) and I am taking a break from reading the overall program director manual for InterVarsity’s Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus/Timberwolf. It’s interesting reading if you are getting ready to welcome college students to a week of leadership and Bible training and have very little first-hand knowledge of the administration that goes into the week before the actual week.

But even the best manuals need to be taken in slowly, with feeling, and right now what I am feeling is the need to dialogue and discuss.

Back in January when Amy Chua, the Wall Street Journal and everyone else with a tiny piece of the internet platform jumped into the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother debate, few of us had actually read the book. We read the excerpt and commentary, wondered aloud about the mental stability of mother and children, wrote about success and achievement, compared Western to Chinese/Asian/immigrant parenting, and I put my name on the waiting list at the library.

My number finally came up, and now I want to know if any of you read the book. What did you like about the book? How did Chua’s story make you think about your parenting style or that of your parents? What made you read the book, and was it worth your time? If your children are older, do you have any regrets about not pushing or pushing your children academically, musically, spiritually, etc.?

If you, my dear readers, jump in, I will follow. I promise. Rawr.


Why I Would Never Claim to Be Superior, Especially As a Mother

For the record, I am not Chinese.

If you haven’t read the Wall Street Journal article about Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior please expand your circle of friends and acquaintances. The article’s author Amy Chua is a Yale Law School professor (seriously?!) and my cynical side thinks she might be gunning for a spot during Oprah’s final season.

I’ve read and re-read the opinion piece several times and it’s a messy, mixed bag of emotions and thought for me. I am a not quite 1.5/2nd gen Korean American. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 8 months old and just last year became a U.S. citizen. I grew up wishing I was White=American and unsure of how to love and honor my parents and survive adolescence as a bi-cultural kid when so few understood where I was coming from and going home to.

Which is probably why Chua’s commentary is hitting a nerve with me and so many of my Asian American friends. Deep down inside some of what she writes about is true. And we know it. It is why so many of my Asian American friends understood with absolutely no explanation why I had given part of my advance check from More Than Serving Tea to my mother. It is why so many of my Asian American friends and I share a knowing laugh when we reminisce about our childhood memories. It is why my husband, daughter and I laughed at some of the recent “Asian” commentary on Glee. And it is also why so many of my Asian American struggle to fight against the stereotypes of the Model Minority because we are not one big monolithic math team. We are more than the sum of our musical and mathematical abilities but sometimes it’s a no-win game. We want to succeed because so much of the stereotyped American Dream experience is about success.

Which is why Chua’s piece hits a different nerve because there is something about the response from non-Asian Americans that bothers me. Chua’s piece is as much a statement about her specific, culturally-bound and sometimes broken parenting style as it is about a generalized American style of parenting. Defenders of the American/Western way seem to think that “their” style where everyone gets a ribbon for participation, perfect attendance, self-esteem or happiness is the better route to success and more happiness.

If I parent like a Tiger Mother (I prefer Dragon, wink, wink) I am abusive. If I parent like a stereotypical American parent my child loves her/himself but really too few will look at me and think “American”. As one who forever lives in the tension, we are all very broken people and parents. Whether it’s through the pursuit of academic excellence or self-esteem, extremes lead to idolatry. My children and their success or happiness is not the end goal, but I see that value played out regardless of race, ethnicity and class.

I was given/made to take piano lessons, but I started dreadfully late – fourth grade, I think. Which, by the way, is when the public school system here starts band and orchestra. I remember my mother saying at least once that she wanted to give me and my sister a chance to learn the piano because she never had the opportunity to do the same as a child. So I often reluctantly learned to read music, play the piano and then the flute. As an adult I revisited music and realized my mother was right. I did regret quitting. My piano and flute skills aren’t where they could have been and where I would like them to be, but I am grateful for the chance to decide that now even though it was forced on me then. So there. It’s too late to call DCFS on my parents.

Academics were stressed because when you are the child of immigrants you don’t have the luxury of understanding the system, networking, interview skills, legacies and missed opportunities. Getting top grades, arming your college application with the very best of the very best, proving that being a hyphenated American/immigrant with parents who don’t speak flawless English doesn’t mean you are stupid or abused. When your family has given up everything to come to America mediocrity is not the preferred end result.

I was on poms, edited my school newspaper, served on the state board of education student advisory board, sang and danced in the high school musical, managed to get better than good grades and, despite the concerns of “Western parenting” advocates I’ve read in the comments sections of various blogs, have friends. I tell my daughter that had we been in school together I would have been her nightmare.

My parents didn’t forbid extracurricular activities, but they didn’t always understand them. Heck, my daughter is on the poms squad now and I don’t always understand it. But my parents emphasized grades, and with each fluctuation in my GPA came a wave of self-doubt. Do my parents still love me? Am I smart enough? Will my parents ever be proud of me?

Which is where the pendulum swings back. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, depression is the second leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women between 15 and 24, who consistently have the highest suicide rates among women in that age group. AAPI women over 65 have the highest rates of suicide among all races in that age group. Those are the type of top rankings we Americans don’t often talk about when evaluating the success of self-esteem programs at school. After Chua’s book it’s too easy to blame the Tiger Mothers who emphasized achievement but fell short on communicating love, support and respect but when are we also going to take a look at how public health services are failing a generation of Americans of Asian descent or how school programs that are meant to build up a student’s sense of achievement isn’t translating cross-culturally? My depression is as much nature as it is nurture. Chemical imbalances are real. And so cultural forces – American cultural forces that pushed me as much as Korean cultural forces. Solely blaming Asians parents for those statistics is irresponsible and short-sighted.

And to those of you who have thought, “Just wait until Chua’s daughters are older. Let’s see how it all pans out” in a judgmental sort of way do what I did and ask for forgiveness and extend some grace. God knows parenting is hard enough without having someone wait for us to fail.

In the end the article and flurry of comments and commentary makes me angsty because our definitions of success, superiority, achievement and happiness are so completely messed up and complex. I would be lying if I said that I don’t want my children to succeed, to live full and rich lives, to enjoy the very best of what God has to offer in life in all of the physical, emotional and spiritual ways but I know that it won’t always come in the ways I want to. I am angsty because I can’t help but think of the story of the prodigal son. I’ve heard so many sermons about the son who squanders everything to pursue a version of happiness but goes back to his father’s home because in the end home is where he thinks of. I wonder how the other son missed or misunderstood his father’s love and lavish provision as only belonging to the “less successful” son. The party and celebration and love and sense of belonging was always there for both of them but they both misunderstood success and love.

Instead of criticizing the style of parenting maybe we should take a closer look and critique the end goals we are hoping our children will achieve because the beginning and end for me as a parent doesn’t start, shouldn’t start with academics or achievements and end with worldly success and gain.

So how do we learn? I hope I learn from others. What have you learned from your parents and what are learning as a parent?

 


Superwoman Doesn’t Spend Her Morning In PJs

My superwoman outfit has been at the cleaners for a few years now, but every now and then I really, really want to see if it still fits. There is something particularly draining and yet sadistically energizing about taking on the world with a “I’m going to bake that cake from scratch and eat it with some organic milk and fair trade coffee while calendaring my family’s life on-line with a smile and a load of laundry in the dryer” attitude. Maybe it’s just me.

But I am not superwoman, though many of us try out of love for our children and family and friends and out of our personal brokenness. Deep down I want to exceed expectations because I want to be successful because failure can suck, especially when I see it on the faces of those I love most dearly.

So I was encouraged to read a friend and former colleague’s blog post on failure and success and how that plays out in real life as a wife/mom/grad student/campus minister. She has a full life, and she, like many of us, is wrestling with the fact that there are just some things she will never be good at or succeed at, let alone enjoy doing. She is sending her superwoman outfit to the cleaners, but, like so many of us, is trying to reconcile expectations (self-imposed and those of others on us), needs, wants, personalities, etc.

I’ve grown up with a bi-cultural understanding of success. The American Dream is a pull yourself up from your bootstraps narrative, but the American Dream for children of immigrants and particularly Asian immigrants involves extended family and ancestors. We pull not for ourselves but for those we left behind and will never see again, for those who are with us and for those who are yet to come. When we pull we drag with us ancient stories and family history. I pull the history of the Korean War and stories of families being separated and precious rice spilled into the dirt and a love/hate relationship to the West into the present filled with American and Korean values clashing still into the future where my children, nephews and nieces are just realizing they have dreams.

Success is not what I alone achieve for myself. It involves the entire family.

And failure is the same way. My screw up is not just mine but a mark against my entire family. When I screw up my living relatives and dead ancestors cringe and they don’t know why. When I fail it is not just because I didn’t study hard enough or practice long enough but also because somewhere someone failed to teach me the value of studying and practicing and perfecting. My failure is carried by my family as well.

So being superwoman is impossible. Who can fly with that kind of weight on her shoulders? Instead of fretting over the loss of superwoman, I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out Mary and Martha and their friend Jesus.

One particular incident I’ve written about before is their interaction in the Gospel of Luke. Martha is doing what a good woman does – preparing for her guests, but her sister Mary has taken it upon herself to act like a disciple and sit at Jesus’ feet. I know a lot of us Bible teaching folk have used that passage to talk and teach about discipleship, but what if Jesus’ conversation with Martha about Mary isn’t just about the one big thing – the being a disciple of Jesus is the better thing?

What if it’s also about all the other things we have to choose? Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she gets to stop being the hostess with the most-est. He doesn’t tell her that he refuses to eat the food she is preparing. He tells her that Mary happened to make the better choice and that will not be taken away from her. What if we make that one big choice – the being a disciple of Jesus thing – as we make lots of little, significant and seemingly insignificant choices. What would it look like if I considered which was the better choice each time I had a choice? One choice at a time.

I could beat myself over the head for the list of things I have already failed at this morning. Truth be told I’m sitting here in my pjs with a cold cup of coffee and a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a laundry room that has immaculately conceived several loads of laundry. I don’t remember what my kids were wearing this morning so if they were late coming home I couldn’t tell the police officers what the kids were wearing for identification. I’m not sure one of the kids finished his homework. I know one of the kids did not have me sign a practice card. I have a ministry support letter that I needed to write a month ago, and two expense reports I need to file. I have a major training conference decision that had to be made last week. And it’s just TUESDAY!

But right now I am going to choose the better thing, and it is neither success nor failure.


Popular.

Being a published writer is a very strange thing indeed. I remember feeling grateful and proud when I saw my first byline, and I remember that More Than Serving Tea didn’t seem real until the first copies arrived at my home. I couldn’t believe someone was going to read what I had written.

But that’s when the fear and doubt really try to settle in and get comfortable. Getting published (or writing a public blog) doesn’t mean anyone is going to read what you wrote. It just means you’ve entered a new kind of crazy, manic, creative, wishful, hopeful, fearful place. Being published doesn’t mean having readers.

Blogging has opened up an entirely new avenue for writers to do just that – write and then hope their words will have readers who not only read what they’ve written but love it. Or at least like it enough. Is there anyone out there who blogs on a public blog and doesn’t want people to read it? You? You write a public blog but you don’t care if anyone reads it? Liar.

😉

We bloggers all have our good days when we write something that we think is funny or thoughtful or thought provoking, and our lovely readers concur. And then we have our bad days when inspiration never strikes or the words aren’t as clever or don’t turn quite right.

I would be lying to you if I told you I didn’t know how many readers I have. It keeps me humble because most days here at More Than Serving Tea it’s a small but faithful bunch. It’s been fun over the two years or so to learn a little more about some of you, and even better to actually meet some of you (Alvin!).

But today (Friday) was not a good day or a bad day. It was weird. I was popular.

I’ve seen surges in my readership, especially when the likes of Scot McKnight or Sojourners crosspost or link to my blog. It is flattering because I respect both blogs and the communities that read those sites, and I’m grateful to have that exposure and mutual respect. And it is dangerous because I see how easily my humility turns false and gratitude for a God-given ability to write wants more than feeling God’s pleasure as I write. I want fame . Or at the very least some blogosphere popularity.

But today the blog stats were beyond anything I had seen, so initially I thought my post on keeping my mouth shut was beyond amazing. I still think I had a pretty good line or two and that the overall post was well-written, but that really wasn’t it. I lucked out and my post made some popularity list that I think is created randomly. I could say that it was a God-thing, and maybe it was. I’m pretty sure in some way it was. I just don’t think it was to make me popular and famous, per se. Popularity, even for one day, can feel like success, and even success is fleeting and misguided because it easily makes me stare at my bellybutton.

Today was a good lesson in popularity because I had it and I was “it”, and, friends, it is the same as it was in high school. Fast, flattering and fleeting. I can only hope that a handful of the many first-time readers (heck, I’d take one) would stick around for the ride to join the ranks of my long-time readers, first-time commenters. But that’s popularity.

I could work hard to try to be witty and write posts with popular tags in popular categories. I could try to be popular, but if today was a God-thing, God was giving me a tiny bit of space for me to think about why I gave a “bleep” about what other people think about my writing before I gave a moment’s thought to whether or not my words communicated integrity, faith, grace, hope and love.

Do I want to be popular first or do I want to be found faithful first?