Are you a TIGER MUM?
I got thinking about my parenting style after presenting a talk last week to the parents at one of Hong Kong’s top private schools. This is the type of school that pumps out youngsters ready to take on Astrophysics at MIT or read Law at Harvard and Cambridge.
A plea from most children to their parents is to “back off” and stop expecting and demanding so much. It therefore came as a surprise when my youngest child aged twelve; the 5th in the family told me off for NOT being a pushy parent. He described how one child in his class had achieved such marvellous grades. “You cannot believe how much his parents push him", he explained. “Why don’t you push me?” he enquired in all seriousness.
I therefore have found the rousing emotional response to Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother, an analysis of Chinese parenting, most fascinating.
Amy Chua, law professor at Yale University and mother of two teenage girls has sparked furious debate in the global media following the release of her book and the interview in the Wall Street Journal recently.
The debate began about Chinese mothering, Chua calls them ‘tiger mums” but has broadened to describe the pressure on immigrants to succeed. “A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many maths whizzes and music prodigies and whether they could do it too. Well I can tell them, because I have done it”.
She goes on to describe how her two daughters were never allowed to attend a sleepover, have a play-date, watch TV, play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, only play violin and piano as instruments and not drop a grade below an A. She describes that even when Western parents think they are being strict, they don’t come close to Chinese mothers. She goes on to say that children will always resist particularly at the beginning when things are hardest. Chinese parents
do not allow kids to quit. She defends her approach by saying that westerners are anxious about a child’s self esteem, whereas Chinese parents demand top grades because they believe their child can get them. She ascribes the tradition to Confucianism’s filial piety. She states hat one of the worst things you do for a child’s esteem is to allow her togive up.
Many parents felt quite angry and one blogger said she should go back to China. Problem is she was born in Illinois. This concept of child prodigies is not just Chinese. It is the extreme expression of the modern egalitarian version of genius described by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. Anyone can be a genius if they just put in at least 10 000 hours of practice.
A strange aspect of this parent prescription is that it seems to exist outside any emotional connection or passion regarding the activity. It is not about a love of music but rather the joy at mastering perfection. Chua does not want them to be good at what they do; she wants them to be better than anyone else. This may
be a prescription for success, but these children may never find passion or joy
and in fact may become socially awkward and miserable.
After working in Asia over the years, I have had the good fortune to meet many of the extremely successful end products of Tiger parenting- some pretty amazing people. But last week, after the lecture, as I paged through the students' publication, I was struck by the fact that almost 50% of the children at that school said they are pleased to have tiger parents.
Many parents have expressed significant anger in response to the book. The Canadian Globe& Mail commented that Chua is “probably the most reviled mother in the US”. But Judith Warner from the New York Times wrote that, ”There was bound to be some push back...after all the years of nurturance overload, the ever-maddening
chant of good job!” As Western parents we are often overprotective and obsessed
with our children’s self esteem.
Vivian Chen chief bloggist of US legal profession website ‘The Careerist’ responds “Do working mums need any more pressure on the home front? Isn’t it enough to make sure your kids are clothed, fed and nurtured while holding on to a job, without
having to whip them into mini-geniuses?”
Although I do think what Amy Chua she is saying has some value, I just wouldn’t have the energy to do the Tiger roar. The responses that most resonated with my
sentiments are that of Ayelet Waldman, author of The Bad Mother when she shares her view on the matter. “Here are Some of the things my four children of a Jewish mother were always allowed to do" she says
"Quit the piano or violin especially if it coincided with a recital thus saving me the torture of several hours of listening to other people’s children! Sleep over at their friendsespecially on New Year’s Eve or our anniversary. Surf the internet as long as they paid for their own goods. Participate in anyextracurricular activity as long as I wasn’t required to drive further than 10 minutes to get them there or sit on a field in a folding chair for too long.”
Having just returned from the end of a primary school, Valedictory evening for my
youngest child, I think I will leave the Tiger parenting to the Tigers. Although it was clear who won the high accolades, each and every child was acknowledged for something special. Children do need to feel there is something good and funny and worthy about themselves outside the realm of great success. But some of Asia has rubbed off on me. When my son commented that just like his extremely hard working elder siblings- he too could win some academic awards, I reminded him just how to do it- lots and lots of hard slog. But the difference for me is that that he needs to want it for himself.
Take a word of wisdom from Hanna Rosin, editor of the Atlantic magazine, when she states that “What privileged Western children need, is not more skills and rules and maths drills. They need to lighten up and roam free to express themselves, not in ways dictated by their uptight overinvested parents.”