Tiger Mom Backlash
Unless you’ve spent the last month locked away in a cave, you probably have an opinion about Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
This is the tell-all book about a style of parenting governed by discipline, success and academic supremacy, where any grade less than an A is regarded as hideous.
Chua, an American-born Chinese Yale law professor, calls this the Chinese method of mothering and claims that true Chinese mothers do not coddle their offspring or worry about harming their kids’ self image. By demanding success, she says, children discover they can do more than they ever thought imaginable, thereby increasing their self-esteem.
She says that, by comparison, Western mothers pathetically reward underachievement by celebrating meager accomplishments that require little to no effort on their part. Touché, Chua!
Love her or hate her, I think she’s done parents all a service by giving us a really loud wake-up call.
Like Chua, I, too, was raised by immigrant parents who worked hard to provide for their children. Like her, I am an American-born Chinese mom with two kids. And like her, I required them to play piano and pursue excellence in their studies.
At the same time, I know that I have coddled my kids way too much. I’ve given in, obsessed about deflating their self-esteem and been afraid to set expectations too high because I didn’t want them (or myself) to get disappointed.
So, when Chua recently came to San Francisco for a book signing at BookSmith, I made sure I was there. At barely 5 feet tall, the 47-year-old Tiger Mom is thin, pretty, friendly and engaging. She was so charismatic I briefly wondered if we could actually be friends.
No, I decided. I would feel too intimidated.
Roaring like a Tiger
To a packed audience ranging from hippy moms, homeschoolers, seniors and 20-somethings, Chua repeatedly said she is close to her children, that she loves and wants the best for them. If given a choice for her kids to be happy or successful, she “would press the happiness button any day, hands down.”
But in Chua’s world, happiness seems to be an elusive gold star that dangles precariously from a stick, moving ever further as the kids approach. Practice this, then you will be happy. Accomplish this, then you will be happy.
What happened to the joy of the journey itself?
In the Chua household, sleepovers, video and computer games, television and child-selected, extra-curricular activities are absolutely forbidden. Daughters Sophia and Lulu are required to practice violin or piano at least three to four hours a day.
Finally, at the end of the book, 13-year-old Lulu refuses to taste some caviar during a family vacation in Moscow. When Chua insists, Lulu explodes and shatters a glass – only then prompting Chua to admit that perhaps she has been too harsh, that maybe she needs to lighten up.
The fact is I admire Chua: She takes her role as a mother seriously and is intentional and purposeful about her parenting. She is confident about the great potential that lies in her children – not to mention herself.
For though she has a job as a law professor, she has also turned mothering into a whole other career. And darn it, but that woman wants an A!
A Different Parenting Animal
Watching her in action made me wonder what I want. And now I know. If Chua is Tiger Mom, I would like to be Panda Mom.
Pandas are fun and playful. They are big and cute. They set territorial boundaries, just like me. I set rules and boundaries with my kids when it comes to behavior, homework and free time. Panda paws are extremely flexible. Again, just like me. I love to play games, whisk the clan off to unusual places, introduce them to folks I interview for a living, instigate activities that result in laughter.
Where Tiger Mom wields a parenting style based on performance, I prefer one that is grace-based. My husband, Frank, and I jointly have raised Gwen and Aaron with Christian principles and values as our gold standard, with hopes that they will become sturdy adults built to last, earmarked by compassion and integrity, with the ability to treat others from all walks of life (and academic levels) with equality and respect.
Through our years of visiting rest homes and food shelters, my kids know they can make a difference in society and contribute significantly.
As my 18-year-old son, Aaron, graduates from high school this spring, one of my greatest desires is that he will share his musical skills so those around him will feel nourished and encouraged, not envious or annoyed.
Life is complex. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to raising children.
My kids know they have permission to fail without incurring parental wrath. From my own blunders, I hope they realize the real lessons in life are gained from mistakes, and that forgiveness and mercy are always there waiting to catch them like a loving mother’s open arms.
Someday, I suspect, Chua’s Lulu will get her turn to write the sequel. I’ll be the first in line to read it.
Kathy Chin Leong is a freelance writer and editor of bayareafamilytravel.com.