Reflections on Tiger Moms, a year later

Reflections on Tiger Moms, a year later January 5, 2012

Years ago, my Indian-American friend, the mother of a toddler, said she wanted her daughter to grow up knowing herself, her own desires and experiencing a secure identity rather than the foreboding that the only way she could ever succeed in life was to be a doctor.
“Yeah. . .” I said, trying to sound healthy and wise.  Pause.  “But I also want my kids to be smart.”
She laughed because she knew.
She knew academic achievement was the #1 god in my family growing up.  OK, maybe Chinese ethnicity competed for that top spot.  But while I could announce in high school that “all Chinese boys are nerds and I never want to date them” (sorry guys!), I never dared rebel against my parents’ academic expectations.
So what now when Edline, that ominous ever-present parent/grade reporting system, tells me 2 of 3 kids got Fs on their latest tests?
Panic?  Yes.
Yell?  Tempting.
Pray?  What I should do . . .
A year ago, Amy Chua published “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” in the Wall Street Journal and unleashed a furor that resulted in her becoming the most hated woman in America, her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reaching #1 on Amazon, and the words “Tiger Mom” entering our lexicon.
The reaction to her article was ferocious.  Folks excoriated her for her extreme parenting methods, her overweening emphasis on kids’ performance, and the non-stop pressure she put on her kids, all without reading her book (which chronicles her failures in parenting as well as successes).  Even I wrote several responses (click hereand here and here) before finally reading the book.
My daughters (who also read the book) debate whether I’m Tiger Mom, regularly noting, with relief, I’m not when I:
  • Let them attend dances, parties, play sports, act in a plays, go to youth group, have sleepovers, etc.
  • Enforce only 30 minutes a day of piano practice
  • Say “As long as you tried your best” after every test, paper, and effort
Ultimately, I think the main weakness of Tiger parenting isn’t strict parenting, or high expectations, or instilling rigorous discipline in our kids.  The problem is we get our kids to worship the wrong gods–the gods of achievement, of success, of prestigious colleges and prestigious jobs.  All good gifts.  All bad gods who someday will let our kids down.
I’ve tried to teach my kids that our work and worship are intertwined.  In Genesis 1, the man was charged with “keeping” and “tilling” the garden, both Hebrew puns that are also worship words.  We worship God through working, and our work glorifies God.
IMHO my kids’ work involves studying, growing, and household chores.  When it comes to school, they need to work, to ask questions, to seek help, to DO THEIR BEST.   They aren’t stereotypical Asian math & science whizzes—not surprising—neither was I, but all the research out there says you can make up for lack of talent with hard work.  Maybe not to achieve the A+, but surely not Fs.
Every time I raise the issue, my kids accuse me of criticizing them and being a Tiger Mom.  And as the struggle around academics intensifies in our household, I sense my family gods wooing me.
So I’m upping my Tiger Mom methods, while renouncing my Tiger mom motives.
Frankly, it’s easier to worship God cleaning toilets than parenting a lot of the time.
This was first posted on What She Said

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