Lions and Tiger Mothers and Bears, Oh My!
by Risa Green
Pretty much everyone, by now, has heard about the Tiger Mother and her evil parenting ways, but if you haven’t, here’s the recap: The Tiger Mother, a/k/a Amy Chua, a Chinese-American professor at Yale Law School, wrote a book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, an excerpt of which ran in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday, with the title Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. I probably don’t need to say much more than that to get your mommy juices all riled up, but the gist of her argument is that the strict, perfection-driven, no-nonsense, “Chinese” way of parenting produces more successful children than the lazy, indulgent, fun-centric, “Western” parenting style.
Clearly, the WSJ, now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (also the owner of Fox News and the conservative, somewhat sensationalistic Times of London) was trying to bait every mom on the planet with this article, and the moms unfailingly took the bait. This last week, the mommy-blogosphere has been abuzz with post after post by “Western” moms about the horrors of Ms. Chua’s ways (No sleepovers! No playdates! No extracurricular activities!), posts by Asian women raised in the “Chinese” way about the horrors of their childhoods, as well as posts by Asian and Western moms alike arguing that Chinese moms must be doing something right since so many of their children attend Ivy League universities. Ms. Chua has even received death threats, causing her to backpedal a bit in the New York Times, in an article titled Retreat of the Tiger Mother.
A friend of mine initially forwarded the WSJ article to me last week, and upon reading it, my first reaction was mortification. Really? She told her daughter that she was garbage because she disrespected her? Really? She told her seven year-old to stop being lazy and pathetic when she couldn’t play a piano composition, and wouldn’t let her get up to go to the bathroom until she got it right? My friend emailed again a little while later to ask me what I thought. I told her that I needed some time to process it, but that I’m sure glad I wasn’t raised by a Chinese mother.
Now that I’ve had some time to process it, though, here’s what I’ve come away with: I still have an overwhelming sense of horror, but I also have a sneaking, guilty suspicion that she’s not entirely wrong. Don’t misunderstand me here, please – I’m not advocating for the “Chinese” way. I would never call my children names, I don’t expect them to be perfect in everything, and I certainly wouldn’t go out and buy hundreds of practice tests if my kid came home with a B. But there was one argument she made that stuck itself into a guilty little corner of my mind –that, she says, “what Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work….This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.” Ouch.