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.



From a tiger mom herself, I've forced the piano and violin lessons on my kids. And it was tough in the beginning. But after the first year or so of rigorous practicing, my kids are now proficient enough to learn a piece on their own and see how practicing really works. It is definitely satisfying for them and they practice because they want to now for the most part. But it was definitely not something that happened naturally from the start. But none of this trumps playdates and sleepovers. They still have "normal" lives amidst all this practicing.

For any activity, I always ask them to try it for a year before deciding whether or not to continue. My son quit little league and hockey and focuses on soccer and my daughter quit soccer and focuses on gymnastics. I never encourage them to quit anything, but I also allow them to quit if they really don't have the passion for it. It's all about respect for children as individuals. I would never go the route of insulting my kids and hate to think that people feel that all tiger moms are this way. It would be great if a more balanced book were written about setting high expectations for kids. Then again, it probably wouldn't get all the press and attention.


I thought it was great. I'm no where near being a Chinese mother, but it made me think I should limit my kid's time with the tv and computer games even more to encourage them to do more productive things. If it will keep just one team parent from making me buy trophies for a losing season, I will be happy. I'm not going to buy the book, since it seems like I should spend my time on learning or practicing something (anything) rather than discussing parenting styles (which is kind of boring anyway), but it was kind of fun to read about a different point of view. And, even if her kids are backing her up, I think they have a lot of friends (if they are allowed to have friends) who are so glad they have their lazy moms instead of her for a mom.

Mom to 3


The Race to Nowhere and the TIger Mother stories certainly are at odds!
While one says there is nowhere to go --so why try? The other says
try and try again and again and you will make something happen. So the Tiger Mother is in fact more optimistic about the future for her family. While there are no promises in life- I like the belief of hard work in everything one does as it lays a path of working hard no matter what you do.


I had the same doubts myself after reading the article. My just-turned-7-year-old daughter started taking violin lessons at school this year. She is not loving it and I have not been strict about practicing. She does practice most days, but probably not nearly long enough and I don't think it's necessarily productive practice. Mostly she works on the piece they're working on at lesson just enough and then does what she wants. I'm not sure if she will continue with violin next year. She doesn't really love it, but I'll leave it up to her. She mostly wanted to do it because her friends were doing it anyway. She tried t-ball. She liked getting the pink glove and bat and being on a team, but wasn't totally interested in really getting into playing. We've also done soccer. She tends to run around "near" the action, never really getting involved. After 8 once-a-week ski lessons, she managed to get to the bottom of the tiny learners' hill once without sitting down on her skis halfway down. Maybe when she's older we'll try some of those things again, if she wants to.

She takes dance lessons once a week and loves those. She likes to play pretend and is very dramatic, so we're signing up for a few weeks of drama camp this summer. She loves to draw and has shown some talent for it, so maybe art lessons. My plan is to let her participate in activities that she wants to try. My only rule is that when she joins a team or starts an activity, she has to stick it out for the season, but doesn't have to join again if she doesn't want to. When they're young, this is the time for them to try new and different things, get different experiences and find out what they like and what they are good at. I certainly don't want to force them to commit to one thing just because they picked it when they were 6 and miss out on what could be their true talent later because of that.


I was looking for pictures for my six year old to take for a school project and realized that he has done a LOT in his short years. We have pix of him ice skating, sking, rock climbing, bmxing, dirt bike racing, roller blading, swimming, playing piano, trampolining, etc. It reminded me of one of my basic child rearing philosophies. I want my kids to do everything. I will put them in every lesson...once. Twice if they really enjoy it. But, then we'll move on. I'm hoping that by the time that they are tweens or early teens, they will have a few sports/activities that they really love and can focus on. In the mean time, they will be able to hold their own in a pickup street hockey game...or on the baseball field...or on a snowboard...or a surfboard. They may not be offered a scholarship for any particular sport but that's okay. I think trying to find ONE NICHE and forcing it just limits their potential rather than helping them find perfection. I want my kids to be able to everything good enough... rather than only one or two things really well. Unless, of course, they choose to do only one thing with all of their time...but I don't expect that kind of dedication until they are older and are making decisions for themselves anyway. However, most of my friends have focused on soccer or baseball and are forsaking all other activities for that. I just hope their kids are the elite few that really make it so they don't grow up feeling like they only had 'one thing going for them and now it's gone'.


I took piano as a child and hated to practice - my mom was not a Chinese mom about it and I also quit. Guess what? I loved dance and danced ballet all the way through college level. I never was perfect and my mom was never a Chinese mom about it (though once she made be choose a ballet show over a softball game and I was soo mad!) but what it taught me in life was a deep appreciation for all of the arts. And I never lost a bit of love for my mom - I credited her for my love of the arts. You made the right choice for your daughter, in my opinion. If she decides she wants to play the guitar instead of sing, well, let her. Pay for lessons. A well rounded child is important. I hate the Tiger Mom and want to adopt her daughters.