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Confessions of a Tiger Mom Failure

Several weeks ago, Ling and I attended our first college application orientation at her high school.  We learned the high school’s policies and heard from 3 local college admissions reps–all very informative and helpful.  And then I lay in bed that night filled with panic that I’ve failed my child by not being the Tiger Mom I should have been.

I couldn’t help feeling wooed by the lure of helping my child get into an elite college where learning can be amazing, doors can open, networks can be created.  After all, what parent doesn’t want the possibilities of the world flung open for her child?

But that orientation made it clear that it’s going to be pretty challenging to fulfill that dream.  So I felt tormented that I should have:

  • Pressured her more.
  • Stood over her while she was doing homework so she couldn’t procrastinate.
  • Given her more tutors
  • Put her in sleep away camp, or music camp, or literature camps or forced her to compete in writing competitions so she could stand out.
  • Sent her to Russian math in the afternoons or made her do math papers each day of the summer
  • Engaged in screaming yelling fights I used to have with my mother about how I was shaming the family through my long string of B+ grades or (gasp) the B- in 5th grade spelling.

Now Ling’s an excellent student.  She’s been diligent and self-motivated.  She just took the SATs for the first time and hit the scores it took me 3 tries to get.  She’s awesome and I’m so proud of her.

Yet the college application environment has become so competitive that getting into any highly selective school is like playing the lottery.  To prove how bad it is, her school has a program called Naviance which plots her grades and SAT scores against those of all other Winchester high school graduates who applied to certain schools.  Here’s what a scattergram looks like:

As Ling and I have created scattergrams for various schools, even when Ling’s plot falls within the green squares, there are plenty of red crosses underneath the green. All this information, all these resources, all showing just what a crapshoot it’ll be to get into any college with a big name.

Hence the panic attack.

As a minister of the gospel who has followed Jesus since age 3, I know that my panic reflects an un-centered bad spiritual place.  I know that God’s love of my child isn’t determined by whether she gets into an Ivy League or Ivy League wannabe school.  I know that the college she attends may have little correlation to her ultimate happiness or service to the world.  I know that privilege, elitism and power can be very destructive, indeed that it may be harder for someone laden with those things to get in the Kingdom of God than a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

I know all those things and yet. . .

Just about every voice in my world says something different:

  • The chat of fellow parents in my elite Boston town who complain about our very excellent school system and worry about whether they’ve enriched their kids environments enough
  • The mores I’ve absorbed from attending and then ministering to elite private universities over the past 30 years
  • The ways my Chinese parents imbedded obsession with achievement and academics within me
  • Even the college stickers stuck on the rear windows of cars and SUVs

It’s sure hard to hear God’s gracious voice when so many other voices blast so loud.

I wish I had a neat ending for this blog but I don’t.  I know God loves Ling.  I know that He’s got her back far more than I ever will, even if I had been the perfect Tiger Mom.  But I still feel a little anxious. . .

Pray for me.

Read my past reflections on Tiger Momming

Are Chinese Moms Superior? 

Are Chinese Moms Social?

Tiger Moms Racing to Nowhere?

Finally Read the Book

Reflections on Tiger Moms a Year Later

  • Paul Griffiths

    The scattergraphs are frightening! Egads! Are they sponsored by a SAT prep company?

    • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

      Nope, it’s this company Naviance, a company many high schools are employing. I hear from other parents that the scattergraphs are surprisingly accurate. So for how much colleges say they care about essays, extra-curriculars, etc., they don’t–not unless you’ve got the basics!

  • Sue Hahn Gutierrez

    My daughters are 1 and 2.5 years old, respectively, and I’m already feeling your pain. DC offers public pre-school programs for three year olds. We’ve entered the lottery for it, and I spent weeks agonizing over the order of the 6 choices we are allowed to submit. And she is only THREE! I could hear my Korean mom’s voice and words from childhood in my head, “this will affect where you go to college…” I think ambition and a desire to create the best opportunities possible for our children can be Biblical but boy do we need prayer not to go over to the dark side.

    • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

      And it’s amazing how compelling the dark side is!!!

  • Colinda Cole-French

    Oh, wow. I relate to this. I’m surrounded by tiger moms facing much greater odds than I am (and seeming to have succeeded at raising brilliant, beautiful children) and I frequently berate myself for not pushing harder for more achievement, higher standards. And I worry about how that will harm my children. Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll pray.

    • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

      Thanks Coli–it’s a challenge, isn’t it?

  • Serena

    Ha, I just spent 30 mins today filling out a private school application form… For my 1 year old! For entry in 2024! It’s totally nutso. And of course I know, like you do, that education only takes you so far. But it’s very tempting to try and get it just right. Parents round here talk about it far too much…. Maybe it’s the spirit of the age and I need to do the exact opposite- tho it’s hard to do that to your kids.

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