My son and I were having lunch beside the floor-to-ceiling windows in IKEA earlier this week when the man at the table next to us struck up a conversation.
He had a heavy Chinese accent, and he was taken by my boy. “You look like a character in Disney,” he said to Jack.
During the course of the conversation, where we learned he was bringing his college-aged daughter to Atlanta for a three-month internship with Cartoon Network, he asked if I work outside the home. I told him I was a photographer and a freelancer for Patch. I told him I write a weekly column about issues pertaining to mothers, and he asked me if I knew about Tiger Moms. No, I didn’t — and he proceeded to enlighten me.
Tiger Mom is a designation given to Chinese mothers who raise stereotypically successful children by being strict parents. By focusing exclusively on their children's academic perfection, these mothers hope to produce children who are able to achieve better performance in academic excellence, musical mastery and professional success. In other words, they’ll kick your Western-reared kid’s butt at the school awards night.
I explained to the gentleman that my kids consider their upbringing to be pretty strict, but I was given to understand that we’re not even playing in the same ballpark as the Tiger Moms. He said these women control their child’s every move. The mother chooses the extracurricular activities, they harshly criticize and punish for less-than-perfect performances, and they don’t allow such frivolity as playdates and movies.
“You should write that,” he said, nodding. I agreed.
When I got home, I did a quick Google search and found the woman who is apparently the American spokesperson for Tiger Mothering: Amy Chua.
Chua is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and is now a professor at Yale Law School and the author of two best-selling "big-think" books on free-market democracy and the fall of empires. When Chua married, she and her husband agreed that their children would be reared "the Chinese way," in which punishingly hard work — enforced by parents — yields excellence.
Chua is the author of a memoir of her approach to parenting titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.
Chua also wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”, that has American moms reacting very strongly.
The Chinese, she says, don't believe people are born with innate talents. They believe success is a result of hard work.
With that philosophy in mind, Chua made sure her daughters worked. And worked and worked and worked. She strictly enforced studying, success and practicing. She accepted nothing less than perfection.
She writes about the time she told her younger daughter that if she didn't play a piano piece perfectly, she would take all her stuffed animals and burn them.
Chua has said that if her methods seem extreme, it’s mainly because Americans praise their children for completing the simplest of tasks and treat them with kid gloves out of fear they'll damage their self-esteem. Chua said, "The Chinese approach might be better at promoting self-esteem than the more coddling, Western approach."
In her controversial article, Chua says her daughters were never allowed to:
- attend a sleepover
- have a playdate
- be in a school play
- complain about not being in a school play
- watch TV or play computer games
- choose their own extracurricular activities
- get any grade less than an “A”
- not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin
- not play the piano or violin
Chua’s daughters had to practice their instruments at least three hours per day, even while on vacation. Chua said that when her family traveled she called ahead and made arrangements for her daughter to practice the piano in hotel lobby bars and basement storage rooms.
Intense, right? But it bears mentioning that the piano-playing daughter of Chua performed at Carnegie Hall when she was just 14 years old. There seems to be a method to her mother’s madness, eh?
Chua goes on to explain another facet of Tiger Mothering: criticism.
“Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable — even legally actionable — to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty — lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. ... Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
She makes good points, and her children are undeniably successful. However, it makes me really, really sad to think of all the joys of childhood these hyper-excellent products of Tiger Mothering missed out on.
Some people think Chua’s completely off her rocker, and some people think that, while extreme, she’s proven that her methods work.
I think there’s plenty of room for excellence without missing out on fun. There needs to be fun, too. Valuable life skills are learned while kids play, and I shudder to think of kids who feel like they're being raised by a dictator rather than a nurturing advocate.
What’s your take on Tiger Moms? Is there a lesson to be learned here? Are we too easy on our children? Do we expect too little? Is Amy Chua totally nuts? Please share your comments!