A young girl stands holding her hand to her mouth


To My Parents, Money and Good Grades Are Measures of Success — But I See It Differently

Jul 6, 2021

My parents immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in the 1970s.

One of the reasons they did this was to provide opportunities for us that their parents couldn't, such as education. When my parents were growing up, they often had to miss school because they needed to help their families financially. My mom worked as a sewing machine operator during the day while finishing high school at night. My dad started working at a metal moulding factory when he was barely a teenager.

They knew that Canada was going to be better for their kids. They wanted us to go to school and get a higher education so that we could have jobs that paid the big bucks. That’s why growing up, there was pressure to do well academically. And I did well, getting straight As from elementary to grad school.

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I’m eternally grateful for my parents' decision to immigrate here. As one of the first in my family to have a post-secondary education, I value my academic experience. I would be lying if I said the letters behind my name didn’t help open doors for me.

As a parent, I've realized that’s not what I want my kids to focus on. The socioeconomic landscape has changed and it’s become clear that there isn’t a cookie-cutter way for children to succeed in life. Here are some things I’m putting an emphasis on instead of academic performance.

Financial Literacy

Money was a huge stressor growing up in my family. My parents taught me that a good education will lead to a good job which will lead to good money. They were frugal and resourceful so I learned how to save money.

It wasn’t until I started working when I understood the difference between making money and managing money. From taxes, investing, budgets, mortgages, loans to debt, these are all topics I’m teaching my kids. I want them to fully understand how to confidently make financial decisions without stressing about money.


Instead of trying to convince them to become doctors or lawyers, I’d rather focus my attention on raising self-aware kids. I want to teach them how to find their special trade, skill or craft, discover their passions and develop their strengths.

When they understand what they’re good at and what they enjoy doing, they can use their talent as a service for others. I want them to have a fulfilling career that isn’t based on seeking my approval, meeting social expectations or other external pressures. I want them to feel internally motivated to do what they know they do best.

Emotional Intelligence

For most of my life, I believed that protecting feelings and hiding vulnerabilities were signs of a strong person so I struggled to empathize with my emotions. I had to learn how to handle them as an adult. I’ve only just begun to understand the power emotions have on the quality of my life.

I don’t want my kids to struggle as I did. I want them to have the ability to appropriately identify, understand and express their emotions so they can empathize with others, build strong relationships, manage interpersonal conflict and develop effective communication skills.

“Adulting” tasks

I want my kids to tackle “adulting” tasks for breakfast. I’m teaching them the basic skills it takes to function properly as a grown-up.

Some examples are how to unclog a toilet, change a lightbulb, plan and cook meals, grow their own food, manage their time effectively, change a tire, read a map, defend themselves, do first-aid, be street smart when travelling and so forth. Having my kids learn these practical skills is more important than ensuring they can recite the quadratic formula or get an A on a spelling test.

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When the going gets tough, I want my kids to roll with the punches and adapt to different changes and environments. Which is why I don’t always feed my kids solutions.

I empower them to solve problems themselves so that they can face challenges when they grow up. I want them to have the mindset that it's OK to try and fail, and it's important to keep trying and learn from their mistakes.

For instance, when my daughter is frustrated trying to put her jacket on, I don’t immediately go and help her. Instead, I tell her I’m confident she can do it herself but I am here if she needs me. Then I stand back while watching her try.

My parents taught me responsibility, and they instilled in me a strong work ethic that allowed me to be more independent. In fact, my parents taught me many things that I want to pass down to my kids. They wanted me to become a good human being who is happy and healthy, which is exactly what I'd like for my kids. The one key difference is that how we measure success is not the same. 

Unlike them, I am not an immigrant where survival is the priority. Their struggles paved the way for me so that I have the privilege to raise my kids differently. Ultimately, for me, life is no longer about making my parents proud. It's about making the next generation proud of where they came from.

Article Author Katharine Chan
Katharine Chan

Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP, is an author of three books and a Top 30 Vancouver Mom Blogger. She has over a decade of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality improvement projects and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services and women's health. Her blog, Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve is a raw and honest look at self-love, culture, relationships and parenthood. She shares personal stories to empower others to talk about their feelings despite growing up in a culture that hides them. She’s appeared as a guest on CBC News Radio and Fairchild TV News and contributed to HuffPost Canada and Scary Mommy.

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