Tiger Mother

I know, I know, we are all sick to death of the media frenzy that is the Tiger Mother, but for me the conversations have brought up some interesting topics that have been ricocheting around my brain. I know I am not alone, which is why this conversation has struck such a nerve.

In single mom land, we are constantly trying to find balance in our parenting, always trying to make up for what feels like a perpetual disability. It’s a battle between mommy mean vs. daddy fun. Mommy lays down the rules and enforces them. Daddy swings baby by the toes when he walks in from work, just in time to give them a hair raising adrenaline rush right before bedtime. When you are on your own, “mean mommy” generally rules the roost. We forget that we are meant to throw those little guys down on the bed once in a while and beat the snot out of them (in a gentle, ticklish sort of way, of course). This, by the way, I discovered is a great way of diffusing grief anger in kids, and for that matter, in moms as well. I highly recommend gently “beating” your kids now and then, you know, like eggs.

One thing I am really crap at though, is enforcing things like practicing piano lessons, reviewing every single page of homework that goes out of this house, limiting screen time, and enforcing rules around overuse of cell phones. My kids get away with a lot. WAY more than if their father were around. At least that is what I tell myself. And perhaps that is the rub. I wish I were better at these things, because he would have insisted on it. He would have been the “I’m not putting up with a crap performance” parent, just like Amy Chua was. Which is funny, given that he was also the fun parent. I suppose it’s also possible that nothing would be very much different than it is now, and I would always be the “enforcer.” He would have had all the fun. Anyway, its a moot point.

What I really want to understand is what is it that keeps me from being a Tiger Mother? Could there be some virtue in it? Mostly, I don’t have that kind of energy. I am a go with the flow sort of person, and being a Tiger Mom is definitely working against the flow. Also, I don’t think I can be that mean. I could never tell a four-year old that her hand-made card wasn’t good enough and that she should do it again, even if that’s been exactly what I’ve thought. I have made “constructive” suggestions like “here are some nice colours. Why don’t you add some colour to the three squiggles there. I’m sure grandma will like it whole lot better with some colour.” Very diplomatic, right? No hurt feelings, no raised voices, no tears. And maybe, just maybe I managed to keep alive a tiny spark of interest in handicrafts in my children.

And yet, I see Amy’s point. We need to challenge our kids, and if I’ve beat myself up over any one of my parenting skills, I’d have to say that challenging my kids is top of the list. I am continually lamenting (to myself) that they are becoming lazy, as I pick them up at the drop of a hat when its raining and the bus hasn’t arrived yet, or drop something off at school that they have called me in a panic about. Kind mom vs. kick your butt mom. I want to be “kick your butt” mom. I want to be that mom whose kids say when they are all grown up “my mom made me take piano lessons and I hated her for making me practice, but I’m glad she did it.”

When I was in middle school, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to the Toronto French School, a private French immersion school of great renown, where I would have come out fully bilingual. But in 7th grade, what kid wants to be forced to go to a French immersion school? Later I told her, “I wish you hadn’t asked me, and just forced it upon me. What did I know?”

That lesson has stuck with me, but the curse of the permissive-parenting age in which we raise kids combined with single-mom battle fatigue combines into a lackadaisical nonchalance towards parenting. Oh sure, I have a chart taped to my fridge where the kids alternate between clearing out the dishwasher or cleaning up dinner and sometimes one of them will throw a load of laundry on or walk the puppy, but even just getting those things done, I feel like a drill sergeant.

With the onset of Tiger Mom mania, I do find myself altering my parenting style just ever so slightly. I do expect hard work and decent marks. I do expect the kitchen cleaned when I ask and I am proud to say I stuck by my guns when one kid signed up for ski bus and was so riddled with anxiety, he didn’t want to go. I made him go anyway and he had a great time.

Maybe I have a little Tiger Mother in me after all. Maybe we all do. It seems like it’s time for the pendulum to swing the other way for a bit.

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  1. Shafeen Charania January 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Pushing your children (to some extent) to achieve is great (I agree – you should have gone to TFS – interestingly, my parents asked me as well, and I said no too – something I regret as well!).

    The thing is, the Tiger approach assumes *every* child should attain the *same* level of achievement in the *same* things – not unlike expecting that all the raw materials that go into a Lexus factory come out in the exact same high-quality Lexus car. Humans are not cars, though the current system treats children exactly like that.

    Imagine a fanatical tiger mom preventing her child from exploring the humanities, or their true sexuality because the parent has some preconceived Stepford-esque definition of the child and will not tolerate deviation.

    That can’t be good…

    1. Abigail - Site Author January 26, 2011 at 1:49 pm

      Funny. I wonder how many other Torontonians regret not having a TFS experience? Yes, its a fine line between pushing square pegs into round holes and challenging our kids, getting them out of their comfort zone. But yes, swinging the pendulum towards a little more challenge and a little less pandering can only be a good thing. Thanks for your ever-astute comments Shafeen.

  2. Shafeen Charania January 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    And one more thing – I *totally* agree with your point about the pendulum swinging a bit – perhaps a Tiger Cub Mom 🙂

  3. txmomx6 January 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I think that “mean moms” rock. Totally. I was always the “meanest mom” in our community. Of course there’s a difference in just being “mean” and being “over-the-top mean” (like the author was). BTW, I’m not tired of hearing about it (haven’t watched much about it) and just downloaded it yesterday.
    I have to admit, though …. that I am not the mean mom that I was before Jim died. You’re right … it takes a lot of energy and it’s difficult when there’s no one there to back you up. I was a better parent when there were two of us. I’m still a bit mean, but these last two (out of 6) totally get away with a lot more than their older siblings did.
    But in the scheme of things …. I think they’ll be ok.
    Thanks for the great post.

  4. Kitten Mother / Tiger wannabe January 26, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Abby,

    I find the latest blog so interesting from many points of view. (I hate the use of the word “crap”, however!)…(I was quite a mean mother when it came to grammar, etc.! Do you remember “he goes, he goes?”…almost drove me insane! But those standards have helped turn you into a good writer and speaker. I regret not insisting on the Toronto French School. It was a very intimidating time for me and I feared insisting. Wrong. A parent should insist when it will eventually be for the child’s benefit. A child doesn’t have the knowledge to know this. There was another thing you may have forgotten about…that your Dad did not really believe in elitist education. That would have been a subtle influence. I am not blaming him, he is entitled to his point of view, and has his own good reasons. But while you did shine at both Earl Grey and then Northern, I think you would have greatly benefitted from the added confidence of TFS.

    1. Privileged Education:
    Does a PE give a child a feeling of being a bit special at a time when most children have serious doubts about themselves? The private school system in Canada, anyway, does a wonderful thing, whatever its other weaknesses – it keeps the same academic standard for absolutely every student. No amount of money or circumstance changes this and the kids all know that their “A” is really an “A” and likewise the “F”. Following the British system, strong emotions are kept out of the classroom. While it may seem cold, I think it also engenders a good milieu for learning.

    The other good thing about some of these schools is that parents just get to pay the fees and do not have a say in the workings of the school. Healthy, I say, as parents can make fools of themselves jockeying for their ego needs to be met at the PTA. And the children get caught in the crossfire. (Remember your elementary school – very public, a free-for-all, in fact!)

    2 Discipline and Standards:
    I wonder if one needs a “vision” of what one wants their family to look like and be. Assuming that the parents (in your case and many others), parents are not deadbeats, and care deeply about the futures of their children, it may be easier to apply discipline and standards when you know why you are doing it. This takes a huge vision. (In Amy’s case, I think I read that it was her loving but tough Chinese parents who set the bar a long time ago) but I don’t think it is ever too late. In your case, it is a matter of personal confidence that you are doing an exceptional job as a single parent, and hopefully that will give you the energy to keep doing it. It does take a huge amount of energy, and without the other parent, perhaps the “vision” (written down like a mission statement) will help when the energy is depleted and you are the only one in charge. The 24/7 without a break is rough, however, that is what you have been dealt and you are being magnificent. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t you feel a little rush of pride when you stand your ground?

    I think children actually like the discipline. I think you felt good about being hauled onto the ski hills at 8:30…you get to brag about it later!

    I have heard kids actually having competitions as to whose mother is the meanest. The meanest mother is the one who has the energy to show her love and risk the temporary consequences of a tantrum!

    Amy’s vision is true to her cultural roots, but her message is extremely empowering..Your Western vision is going to be different, and I do think it might be easier for you if you can define it.

    Also, it might help to ask God what to do. Properly phrased, you usually get great advice within a week – 10 days. Trust me!

    Love you,


    1. Abigail - Site Author January 26, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      Great comment mum. I like the idea of having a vision for parenting. I have never really tried to put words to mine before. I suppose it would be to have happy, well-adjusted, independent, empathetic, creative kids with a little street smarts thrown in for good measure. I also want them to know what hard work feels like and I think for me, as a parent, that is my weak link. Need to work on that. I guess I have been relying on life teaching them that one, and to a certain degree it is. I suspect if Arron had any say, he would want to add that he would want them to always finish what they started and have the confidence to know when something wasn’t working and change it. Yes, I think I may be unconsciously working on those too.

      There. I don’t feel so bad about my parenting now. Thanks mom.

  5. annie January 26, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with making kids be responsible for practice time or homework. When I was teaching, I wished more parents abdicated in favor of allowing kids to learn to take responsibility for themselves. But even if you think you know how their Dad would have parented – you don’t really know it would have played out that way. Imagining him the better parent serves his memory well, but doesn’t help your reality much, imo. It’s hard doing it by yourself. Corners get cut and kids are forced to pick up slack – and they will sometimes not do it very well. This whole Tiger Mother thing is just another log on the fires of the ancient (and wearying to the point of boredom) mommy wars. We should all make a pack to quit buying into it.

  6. Elli Davis January 30, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    It is exactly the right balance between your wishes as a parent and the ability of your children to do well that is so important for parenting as such. Amy’s book ignores that balance and the approach she promotes cam only damage the reputation of those Chinese parents who don’t subscribe to her theory.

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