Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Tiger Mother in Me

There’ve been visceral reactions to news of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (Penguin Press) written by Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua. I was, however, not so much horrified by her techniques, as wondering if I could apply them effectively.

From http://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/tiger-info.htm
My 5 year-old was doing his homework recently: tracing letters and colouring in pictures. At the end, I have to review and sign it. I looked and said, “You weren’t paying attention. I know you can colour in the lines when you’re interested.” As the words came out of my mouth, I thought: is colouring in the lines too much pressure? If I show my displeasure about this, will he feel bad about himself?

After learning about Amy Chua’s book, I felt a little better. At least it wasn’t a birthday card, and I didn’t throw it back in his face telling him it wasn’t good enough. It was homework – it has to be good. Right?

I wonder, if I took it to the extreme, if I ensured that they practiced musical instruments until perfect, would they become neurosurgeons? Would Zach practice piano until he got a piece right if I threatened to burn his toys? I think he would just say, “Burn ‘em,” and walk away.

My stance has always been that I don’t have control, I just try to set limits – really wide limits—within which they operate. But when it comes down to it, I don’t want anything interfering with school work. For example, for sick days I need empirical evidence such as throwing up or high fever before anyone is getting to stay home.

How does she do it? How does Chua get the high standards, the obedience? Screaming and threats, it seems. Apparently, she managed this with one daughter, but the authoritarian approach didn’t work with the other. The child rebelled.

Obedience: Do I want my children to obey? Or do I want them to develop critical thinking skills and creativity? I’d love them to obey, but what I really want to engender is a love of life, an ability to think independently, creativity, and a certain amount of street smarts. Note-I also want achievement at school. Because...well, because I’m a nerd at heart.

I’ve had Asian friends in high school, and I lived in Asia for a while as a teacher. I’m familiar with the work ethic, and I know that sometimes it can be no fun being an Asian-American teenager. My friend in high school was told that she was not allowed to date UNTIL SHE FINISHED COLLEGE. They wanted her to wait until the end of law school, but she negotiated down. Did she stick to this? Not entirely, she's a human female after all. But she wasn't boy chasing or wasting any time on the phone with them. Did her parents relent in the end? Yes – she got to openly date someone during her junior year as an undergraduate at an Ivy League school.

It’s a balancing act between the tiger mother and the tiger cub in me. I think it is for Amy Chua as well.


  1. "Burn 'em." Ha!

    Thanks for writing about the Amy Chua book, which I'd been intrigued by too. My French husband is an insatiable disciplinarian when it comes to table manners - hugely important here in France - and the poor kids have been unable to eat a meal in peace thus far in their short lives. DH hammers away: "Pick up your elbow! Sit up straight! Move your chair closer!" (in French natch) as they knit their eyebrows and grumble. But I'm thinking it's got to pay off sometime. Keep posting!!

  2. Great post!! It is a great balancing act... I want my child(ren) to be well rounded people!! I can only hope that my hubby and I are doing it right! Following from Social Moms and Looking forward to your post.

  3. I agree with Chua that there are aspects of conventional Western parenting that are over-the-top. I take my 2-year-old to a sports class, and I'm pretty sure we average about 3 "good job!" reinforcements a second. Why is all that constant praise necessary?

    On the other hand, I can't see resorting to name-calling or belittling, and I'm really not that concerned about my kids' achievements. Sure, I prefer if they do well in school and elsewhere, but it's not my first priority. I graduated at the top of my class from high school and got a full-ride scholarship throughout university, but I wouldn't necessarily say that I have a better life today than my classmates who didn't earn those honours. I suppose my goals centre more around helping my children to be well-rounded critical thinkers with a strong sense of personal responsibility. If they don't get straight As I can live with it.

  4. The Amy Chua post got repercussions all over the web. I´m a lot like you in the sense that I´d love my daughter to obey, but I won´t make her. I kind of like that she is such a rebel with a very strong personality, an interesting individual. It´s hard to parent her, but I´m sure she will be independent in no time.

  5. Hi Lory - read your blog a few times in my short blog-reading career and really like your writing :)

    I read about this lady on Lucy's Perform blog and went on to the read the Wall Street Journal article on her. I personally could never reconcile with battering down a child's will by belittling or name calling, but the success Chua got by her methods is intriguing and it does make you re-evaluate your own parenting. Do we readily accept mediocrity and set our children up for failure by not nurturing their potential? Makes you think.

    Like Amber said though, the ability to think critically and be well-rounded human beings is far more important than straight As. If I cast my mind over my students past and present, it's not always the straight A kids who possess those qualities. In fact I can think of a fair few so-called 'mediocre' kids who go on to have both personal and career success because they have to work so much harder for everything they achieve.


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