Parenting as an Asian American Psychologist

By Chia-wen (Winnie) Hsieh, Psy.D.

I used to think my role as a graduate student was difficult and the jobs secured during my post graduate years were growth intending. Unbeknownst to my younger self, parenting is actually the most challenging career I have ever secured. This job is brimming with growth intending, there are not enough books that I can read to prepare me for the growth this job demanded me to have. Moments as a parent often forced me to reflect on who I am as a person and how I became the parent that I am today. Nowadays, I often think deeply on what it means to be an Asian-American woman, what cultural values that were imparted to me both implicitly and explicitly, and of these values, what I would like for my own children to learn or consider, and what values I would like to do away with.

To begin my deep thinking about parenting, one must briefly examine the history in order to go forward.  Both my partner and I are raised by strong women. Both our mothers are emotionally intense and adhere strongly to their traditional cultural roles and often used shaming as the ultimate parenting tool. While my mother’s passive-aggressive nature constantly engages in “cold war” with her children, my partner’s mother constantly uses anger to force her children into compliance. Growing up in a repressive environment, we both vowed to be a different type of parent than what we have experienced ourselves.  

Fast forward a few decades, in enters my children.  My first born is a free spirit. He can carry on a conversation with just about anyone, he is open to experiences, and he is the most fun-loving individual that I have ever encountered.  He loves daylight because he believes the sun powers him. On the other hand, he hates two things: eating and sleeping. He is emotionally intense and loves hard. This means that he is not shy to tell us what he thinks, and when he is upset, he is also not shy with his words and volume of his words. My youngest, at 15 months of age, is still pretty new to us. It remains to be seen how he will become, and I patiently read and re-read the events from each day as well as entering the next chapter of our journey together.  

As an individual, I am naturally more reflective and internalize way more of what is happening in the world around me. As a psychologist, I am apt to understand my clients better and to always listen with an empathetic ear.  As a parent, I read a lot. From my readings, I try to remember all the new and insightful information that initially catch my attention and gauge how I can apply what has been learned from my life experiences.  Knowing myself, I am definitely not a “tiger mom”, since I do not have the discipline to do so (blame it on the birth order, I am the youngest!). As a slightly more right-brain dominant person, I highly value creative expression. I have been told by those around me that I am “too soft”, “too lenient”, and allow my son to “says whatever he wants”.  When the house is becomes quiet at night, I would often lie awake asking the same questions: Am I a good enough parent? Have I done enough? Should I have reacted differently?

One day, an argument broke up in my house. My partner angrily yelled at our son while he yelled back in frustration. I stood by the sink, not sure what I should do as I often do when conflicts arise in my life; I just froze. After my partner’s anger subsided, I asked my son to have some quiet time to cool down and I confronted my partner about his level of anger which was met with the usual “I do this because you don’t discipline him”. I attempted to educate him about developmental stages and psychological perspective of why our son did what he did, which as you can imagine, was met with immense resistance ladled with more anger (I can see you guys reading this and thinking that I am intellectualizing the whole thing, and yes, I was!  This is an excellent time to refresh myself on defense mechanisms we all came to know so well from our training). Needless to say, the rest of the night went by in an eerily quiet manner. As I counted sheep to try to go to sleep that night, I had an epiphany (an a-ha moment, if you would). I was reacting to my partner’s parenting as how I have reacted to my mother’s anger (silence and retreat) while my partner was merely repeating the history of how he was parented (anger expression). A few days later, we sat down to talk about this and I offered my thoughts while he shared with me the challenges he faced as a parent. We had a breakthrough.

Is my home a perfect home from this point on?  Of course not. We still have our moments, but we continue to move forward with constant reflections and discussions. We are learning together, and we are growing together.

I am a better person because of my children.  I am a better psychologist because of my children.  My current role as a parent and a psychologist afforded me the ability to psychoanalyze every situation faster, dispel any irrational thinking quicker, and dissolve my defense within minutes.  I am confronting my cultural values with curiosity and with respect, and I gently let go of what does not work for me. I will continue to encourage free speech at home but I will also continue to emphasize the importance of respect and compliance (to certain degree).  

My journey has just begun.

Chia-wen (Winnie) Hsieh, Psy.D. is currently a full time mother of two loving boys. She also works in her “spare time” as a full time Program Director at Pacific Clinics in California and a part-time private practitioner. Winnie was the inaugural DoP chair and a long time AAPA supporter.

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