Lately the world has been abuzz about the controversial Tiger Mom issue. Since my husband and I are both ABCs (American-born Chinese), we were naturally very curious, so, we decided to read the online excerpt of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother on the Wall Street Journal.
Now, it’s not that easy to define what a Tiger Mom is, and no, she is not just a strict Chinese mother (I know plenty of moms that fall into this category, and they are definitely not Chinese), but to put it simply, she is a strict mother, who expects academic excellence from her children.
Have you read the book yet? I haven’t been able to, because it’s sold out everywhere and I am a traditional book snob—I haven’t converted to the whole digital book idea (at least not yet).
So, I have to be content with the online excerpt. And what were our reactions? Well, my husband found it funny because, “That’s how it is growing up with a Tiger mom.” (he should know – I think that my mother-in-law wrote the original “How to” book). Me? Well, I can’t believe that someone actually wrote a book about this….and she’s making money off of it! This was just how ABCs were raised. Nothing special and certainly nothing controversial about it (at least not in our eyes). Every mom I knew back then was a Tiger mom to some extent.
Play your piano. Why didn’t you get an A+? Pam got a perfect score on her SATs, you need to study harder…blah, blah, blah. This is what I heard growing up, though I must admit, my mom was not nearly as strict as some others. Everything in our lives back then revolved around getting the best grades in school and preparing for our future. Chinese parents, Chinese rules no matter where you lived.
There were no team practices or birthday parties on the weekends, we had to go to Chinese school every torturous Saturday. I would sit there twirling my hair, convinced that the clock on the wall was broken.
If by accident I spoke English at home, instinctively my hands would fly up and I would quickly flinch and duck, waiting for the inevitable knuckle to strike its target, which of course was my head. I even remember one punishment I received: My parents had me kneel, facing a painfully blank white wall, with my arms outstretched as if I were about to take flight. I had to stay there until they felt that I had fully understood my mistake, and a word to the wise….don’t even think about letting your arms down.
Now, although to some this may seem extreme, it never struck me as over the top or anything close to that. I wasn’t a big fan of the Chinese parenting style by any means, but that’s just the way it was.
I also had the added bonus of being the oldest, so there were and still are certain expectations that come with that title. Lucky me!
As the oldest, I have to set an example, be the dutiful daughter and obey. When I was applying for college, I was told that being a pharmacist was the best career for me, so a pharmacist I became. Oh, and forget about marrying an American (i.e., Caucasian). I was told, point blank, I would be disowned if I married anyone but a Chinese man (that’s not why I married my husband of course – at least I don’t think that was the reason…maybe subconsciously…only kidding honey). It was also constantly drilled into me that if I didn’t do things just right, my sister and my 11 cousins would follow suit and the whole family would be ruined...my family would in Chinese terms, “lose face”…..so, no pressure... Are you serious?
I vowed back then that I would do things differently once I had children. I’m an American, I live in America, I’m gonna raise my kids the American way. I just have a few itty bitty rules that my kids need to live by (nothing crazy…real easy) and as long as they comply, they can go on play dates, sleepovers, and sit for hours in front of the TV (much to the dismay of their grandparents) and they can choose to be whatever they want to be when they grow up.
Rule 1: Do your best. That’s all a mother can ask. I do not believe in the celebration of mediocrity and I expect my children to bring home good grades (AKA, the letter A). I also expect them to do well when performing other activities (second place in is fine as long asyou did your best)
Rule 2: Show respect or else. Meaning, listen to your elders, say please and thank you, make sure you acknowledge the adults when you see them, and don’t you dare speak back to me.
Rule 3: Do what I ask. No questions allowed.
Rule 4: We must approve your future spouse (who better be a straight A student)
Rule 5: You are alltaking care of us when we get older (or I will haunt you from the grave)
How did I do? I think some of that Tiger mom mentality may have rubbed off on me. Ok, so I may have exaggerated a little bit…their future spouses don’t have to be straight A students. What can I say, I’m learning as I go.
I do know one thing: I just want the best for my kids. I want them to have a better life. I want them to be happy and to do things that make them smile and laugh. I don’t want them to be afraid of failure, because that is the only way we learn. I want them to live their lives, but it is my responsibility to arm them now with the skills they will need for the future.
Am I wrong in thinking there's a bit of Tiger mom in all of us? We may not necessarily have all the traits, but we are not as different as we may think. We all want the best for our children. Some of us may be more over the top than others, but who is to say which is the better way? What are your thoughts? Is there a Tiger mom in you?
* This is an article that I wrote for an online news site