An Obsession With Success Leads Tiger Mother to Failure

As a teacher, it is my policy not to judge parents on their parenting styles.  I do this for three reasons:

  1. It is rude to judge another person when you haven’t walked in their shoes.
  2. Negative judgements against parents would inevitably cause me to lose focus on my responsibilities to the child; and
  3. Parenting is extremely difficult. I know this because I am a parent.  It is so hard to find the right balance for your child.  Judging others would distract me from improvements I need to make to my own parenting skills.

But every so often you find you have no choice but to make an exception to your rule.  My exception is  Amy Chua, the so-called “Tiger Mother”.

When a person writes a book about parenting they open themselves up to public criticism.  After reading her essay in the Wall Street Journal (I will not be rushing out to buy the entire book) and finding myself cringing all the way through it, I feel that it is the right time to dismiss my “no judgements policy” and respond to her disappointing advice.

The Tiger Mother’s methods are particularly extreme. Swapping one set of extreme methods (The Western methods) for another is unworkable.  Why does everything have to be so extreme these days?  The Education System operates like this.  One day the trend will be all about Teacher Centred Learning, and when that strategy falls flat, the answer then becomes Child Centred Learning.   And back and forward we go between the two very extreme strategies.   The same applies here.  Yes, Western style parenting features some methods which leaves a lot to be desired, but the answer is not its polar opposite.

Why not find “balance?”  That’s right, neither far left or right.  Why not try to focus on what works in different styles of parenting and mould them together?  Surely that’s preferable to going in the extreme opposite direction.  In truth, extremism comes about from insecurity.  The  Tiger Mother’s methods of parenting is both extreme and riddled with insecurity.

By not letting your child go on play dates and taking part in school plays, you are preventing the child from being involved in healthy social activities.  The fact that the stereotypical Asian parents see mingling as a waste of time is very sad indeed.

Pushing a child to not only achieve, but achieve beyond the rest of the class is such a terrible goal for your child.  It forces the child to see their friends as threats and rivals instead of human beings.  It emphasises selfishness and makes it difficult for the child to relate or empathise with others.  Her policy of not letting her kids be anything less that number 1 in their class is quite distressing.

“Chinese parents believe their kids owe them everything.”  This line stunned me.  Why would kids owe their parents everything?  Because their parents sacrificed for them?  Well, what are parents for?  Would it be alright for Amy’s child to approach her and say, ”Mum, how about we make a deal?  I’ll let you enjoy life a bit, and in return, you can let me live a less restrictive existence”?

Amy’s husband is spot on when he said, “Children don’t choose their parents.”  Her response to this more than reasonable point was, “This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.”  Whilst I think that parents are owed respect and honour, in return, I believe parents owe their children love and support.  I’m not looking for a better deal than that.

Whilst I don’t agree with the Tiger Mother’s approach, I understand that there are people out there looking for strategies that will improve their parenting.  However, when she happily recounted the time she called her daughter “garbage”, I couldn’t help but worry about the effect this book was going to have on others.

Amy’s father once referred to her as “garbage”, and although upset by it, she understood where he was coming from and the point he was trying to make.  That is why she had no qualms with repeating the dose on her poor daughter.   So comfortable was she about referring to her daughter by this term, she goes on to recount how she upset people at a dinner party by frankly discussing how she called her daughter by this name.

Amy, a professor at Yale Law School, should know better.  “Garbage” refers to something that is both useless and worthless.  Calling your child useless and worthless is just not acceptable!  How can a parent be proud of calling their child by such a terrible name?  I don’t care if that type of putdown turns the kid into a Nobel Prize winning scientist, it is not acceptable.

What the Tiger Mother’s  of this world have all wrong is their definition of success.  Success isn’t outdoing people, becoming famous, obtaining wealth or becoming a prodigy.  A successful person in my opinion is somebody who lives with integrity, cares and empathises with others and uses their gifts and qualities to help improve the lives of other people.  Anyone can be successful. Receiving  an A or a C for a maths quiz is not a determining factor.

The Tiger mentality is an extreme one, that combats poor aspects of Western parenting with another equally dismal style of parenting.  What you are left with is a maths whizz that may never enjoy maths, a musical prodigy that never got to enjoy music or properly express themselves through music, a person who thinks parenting is about entitlement rather than love and who is brought up to believe that a friend is anybody that doesn’t dare perform at their level.

It’s time that we preached balance and perspective rather than extremism, we dispensed with “dog eat dog” in favour of “dog support  dog”, and motivate our children without the use of put downs.

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5 Responses to “An Obsession With Success Leads Tiger Mother to Failure”

  1. Carl D'Agostino Says:

    Read Tiger Mother , Asian parenting in Time mag. That stuff would not work in USA. Such acceptance of complete parental authority is becoming increasingly rare USA. Did 34 years teacher inner city high school violent drug invested areas. This debate is completely foreign and irrelevant with large populations dysfunctional children and dysfunctional parents. Found you from Margaret. So many problems and variables and so few solutions.

  2. Margaret Reyes Dempsey Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I, too, cringed when I read this article and then thought it MUST be some kind of joke. But no, she’s dead serious. I found her methods abusive and I don’t believe that her kids are not negatively affected. She’s even abusive to her husband when he protests her handling of the piano incident. She’s a bully. I think her self-worth is too tied up in how her kids perform.

    Her comments about Western parents are obnoxious and insulting, not to mention gross generalizations. And I’m sure there are plenty of Chinese mothers who would not consider her their spokesperson.

    Sadly, her book will probably be a best seller. Let’s just hope that those who choose to read it see it as a guide on “what not to do.”

  3. learningwoman Says:

    I’d never heard of the ‘tiger mother’ but if what you’re saying is what she does, then I agree with you. I liked the way you wrote about it too, measured and considered. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the world has people like you to write and balance her methods with an alternative view. 🙂

  4. janekatch Says:

    I am also a teacher and I agree that it is important not to judge parents. I learned that lesson when my youngest child had a very hard time separating from me. I thought “Oh, the teacher is probably judging me, thinking that I’m encouraging her to cling to me!”
    But I think that your take on this author’s parenting style is valid, just as we might recommend a book that helped parents deal with a particular parenting challenge.
    For a book that I think gives a much more balanced approach to solving some of the issues of over-protection in parenting today (and compared her own culture with the current popular culture without grating) I recommend The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogul.

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