I think one of the starkest cultural differences I’ve observed between Asians and Americans during my very limited time here, is our approach to child-raising.

My friend Min posted a very interesting observation on a Malaysian SAHM group recently. Basically, someone complimented on the good behaviour of someone’s son, and the mother made a remark that went a little something like, “Oh yea? You want to take him home?”

While this may have been said in jest (imagine it being part of the script of say, someone like Debra in Everybody Loves Raymond, and it won’t sound as serious), this strikes a cord in parents who believe in bringing up their children with respect and sensitivity. I, for one, shook my head as I read it, cursing the Malaysian mother, and then every lousy, old-fashioned, insensitive, emotionally-blind Malaysian parent out there, and then I cursed a tad more about the upbringing that made them the way they are.

Now I’m not a perfect mother. I make it clear in the title of my blog that I have plenty of flaws. Hell, I am the queen of half-arsed parenting. I play video games. I feed my kids crackers for lunch. I try to put diaper-changing off for as long as I can.

“I *think* Skyler needs a change, Jenn,” said a friend I was visiting last week when we heard something scraping against her hardwood floors. Sure enough, it was Skyler, walking around, dragging her swollen diaper from under her crotch.

Those who lurk know I have said worse things about my kids in this blog than offering them up to some other nice but more clueless parent. But I also think I’ve earned the right to do that, being at home all day with them, having to endure Rae’s Big Dipper of Emotions and Skyler’s Amazing and Surprising Poop-Bomb in the most inconvenient of places and during the most inconvenient of times (such as in her play pen, without her diaper on, standing over the carpet) without so much as a slap on the bottom or a harsh word.

The difference is that my bitching is done without earshot of my kids. Until they’re old enough to read my blog – if it’s still around – they won’t know how angry I get when they don’t cooperate sometimes. They don’t know that mommy is not always loving and understanding, so whining and crying and screaming, all at the same time, will not make me more so. And they don’t know how many times I’ve cried, thinking about the things I could do if I only had my own time. The times I thought of giving them away, just for a little while, to feel human again. The times I came so very close to just giving up.

But you know what? I am always up for a nice compliment about my girls without kidding about giving them away, in their presence

And there is that thing we Asians are guilty of: our inability to accept praise gracefully. As my friend Mic so astutely observed, we can’t do it because we feel it makes others envious of us. We tend to take every nice compliment as an indirect, resentful jab at how good we have it. And so, to make the insecure others feel better, we put ourselves, and our children, down.

I remember when I had Rae, I had this ancient confinement lady who told me never to say out loud how much milk Rae was consuming, because it would make her NOT drink as much.

“And please don’t say things like clever girl or good girl or cute girl or pretty girl or healthy girl. In short, just don’t praise her, or she will just become the opposite!” she’d told me in no uncertain terms. Apparently, my two-day old infant who can’t even hold her head up is able to employ passive-aggressive means to rebel against the standards of being a well-behaved baby who eats healthily.

And that sums up pretty much why some older generation Asians don’t take well to compliments or praise. In short, to praise is to jynx, and you’re not Chinese if you don’t believe in jynxes.

What’s alarming is that this type of thinking is seeping into later generations. I know more than a handful of young Malaysian Chinese women who hold on to these archaic beliefs and traditions in the name of “preserving our roots”. You can spot them a mile away, toting around their fengshui manuals and pirated Chinese New Year dvds. I used to work with two of them. And I had one living with me.

“Are you eating water melon?! Water melon is too cold! You are going to miscarry!”

“Are you painting your room?! Are you crazy!? Your daughter is going to have a red paintbrush-shaped scar on half her face!”

“Are you watching that monkey documentary?! Stop! Your daughter is going to be hairy like a monkey!”

Is it any wonder that we Malaysian moms know how to do anything right at all?

Thing is, our children don’t start out insecure. They start out innocent and curious, and sensitive to the world around them. Perhaps they may not know much the first few months or even the first year, but here’s some news, guys: they grow up. And fast. At the age of three or four, they start to think that everything that happens around them, happens for a reason: them.

For this little boy who was scorned by his own mother, he may be wondering: What did I do to earn such disdain, for all my good behaviour? Mockery and a shove in the direction of abandonment.

And abandonment, my friends, is one of the biggest fears a child can ever experience.

I’m proud to be Chinese and Asian. I believe in Asian values like respecting our elders and putting our family first. However, I also believe that our children are deserving of respect too, even if they know less than us and have been around for only a while, simply because they are family, and because they need to know they matter.

So I say accept praise gracefully and sing them to your kids loudly and proudly.

And if you need to bitch about them a little bit, use a blog. That’s what they’re here for.