Monday, January 17, 2011

The Anti-Tiger Mother

Raising children is an exhausting business. They require feeding, dressing and a seemingly endless supply of answers to pointless questions. Each day is a challenge, calling upon me as a mother to summon every last reserve of patience and energy as I nag, bribe, wipe noses/butts and guide them through the obstacles of their young life. Frankly, it’s a ­wonder I have any time left to do anything for myself. Oh, wait a minute, I don’t. Do I dislike any of this? Of course I do. But it’s all part of the territory of bringing up children, and I like to think that being a good mother is about making sacrifices.

So while I may be a more of anti “tiger mother”, I don’t consider myself a bad parent. But it seems I’m deluding myself. According to Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua, I’m falling way short of the mark. She has written Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother to prove that what matters when it comes to parenting is not just the job of parenting itself. Oh, no. The fact that your children are fed, watered, healthy and happy is of ­little consequence, apparently. What’s important in China, she argues, that children raised by overbearing and exceptionally strict Chinese mothers are superior (yes, she uses that word) to other children. Chua also claims that a child’s success in the vast array of extra-curricular activities you are expected, as a parent, to not only provide, but to cram down their throat. Frankly, It’s an approach to motherhood that, I personally don’t have the energy to explore.
Here’s an excerpt, where 7-year-old daughter Lulu is having a tough time learning a piece on piano, despite working on it "nonstop for a week." The following drama ensues:
Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

It’s the “The Little White Donkey," not lifesaving surgery. Clearly there are cultural differences at play that maybe us dumb Westerners just don't understand and I guess if you raise a child like this they probably will get good grades or whatever but I can't help but wonder at what cost. Chua admits that her daughters were forbidden to: attend a sleepovers, have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin. So basically they’re children with no childhood.

Every parent’s definition of success for their children will be different. Amy Chua has shared hers with us (classical music virtuosity, high math SAT score, submission to parental dominance), me on the other hand, I’m just happy if my daughter remembers to brush her teeth and puts dirty dishes make it to the sink and she doesn’t wind up in therapy by the time she’s 30. I doubt my child will be an accomplished musician or tennis star, but when it comes down to it, do these attributes really matter? They get their sense of accomplishment from the time they spend at school and by the praises we, their parents, give them. What I can give them at home is freedom, space and hours of potential boredom to fill however they want to fill it. In other words, I can give them a childhood that they can look back on as the happiest time of their lives. And that, surely, is the greatest gift any parent can give.

I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but this is a “mommy blog” non the less, so I feel the need to put in my two cents on how I raise successful children... Or atleast not totally screw them up by giving them some sort of complex.
  • Nurture their creativity: let them be open-minded, allow them to be imaginative.
  • Let them be who they are: Don’t force them to be prettier, more intelligent, more mainstream, let them follow and find their own character path
  • Don’t expect the world from them: They’re kids, they only know so much and can only do so much, children always try their best, let their best be good enough for you.
  • Explain the rules and boundaries of home life , put them into practice, but don’t lock them up: give them some freedom to make friends, to make mistakes.
  • Punish them accordingly: but don’t terrify them so they end up lying.
  • Childhood is supposed to be fun and carefree: enjoy it with them, don’t put to many burdens on them.
  • Help them make good decisions: they don’t know everything, but do it gently.


  1. I don't have a baby... but plans to have one soon! Your post is nice, quite informative. I would love to visit again when I'll be a mom :)

    You three are gorgeous :)

  2. Just to clarify the photo is of the Tiger Mother and her two children of whom I wrote the blog about.

  3. I am very interested in this battle between the Tiger Mom and anti-Tiger mom. I was not raised by my mother and have a distant mother-daughter relationship with my own mother (not by choice). She was just emotionally and physically absent for most of my life.

    I am from Jamaica, so I am a bit strict but I am trying to give my son that parental connection that I did not have. So I guess I am smack dead in the middle. I am strict on respect, openmindedness, a work hard mentality. Yet at the same time I am teaching him about emotions and being connected to people he cares about. If you ask me I think in the middle is the best any of us can do.

  4. Don't you find it disturbing that American children are 34th in the world in Math and 35th in Science--yet they're 1st in Self-esteem?
    It would seem that our psycho-babble methods of raising children are giving us offspring who are extremely proud of themselves...for nothing.

  5. Bravo! The excerpts of that "Tiger Mothers" book provided by the news disgusted me enough to ensure none of her financial support will ever be provided by so much as a dime of my money. I share your views...and happily have no need to set aside a "therapy fund" for my children's later years :P

  6. And we wonder why the suicide rate is so high in the asian community