Should You Be a Tiger Mother (or Father)?

I’m going to go a little off the topic of money here, to discuss one of my other pet topics, that is, education. If you’ve paid any attention to the American media over the past few weeks, you’re probably aware that one major topic in our national conversation has been Amy Chua, author of ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother‘, about how she raised her daughters to be highly successful using the same methods as her Chinese immigrant parents.  (In spite of the fact that Ms. Chua maintains that she did not write the book as a ‘How-To’ guide.)

Those same methods are why the book is getting so much attention (and causing so much controversy).  In contrast to our ‘Western’ method of giving children a great deal of freedom, allowing them to grow and explore without any pressure (a ‘kids will be kids’ approach, if you will), Chua stressed discipline and high achievement to her children.  She (and the other Chinese parents after whom she monitored her approach) would withhold praise, use insults when her daughters didn’t achieve the desired results, and maintain practice schedules that would strike most Western parents as closer to torture than tough love.  As a reviewer for Slate noted, while discussing a passage where Chua talked about forcing her younger daughter to practice violin for hours, not stopping for breaks, food, or even to use the bathroom, “It’s appalling.” And for most of us in the West, it certainly seems to be.

"Tigers" and "Mothers" are not usually a good combination

If it were just a book about tough love child-rearing experiences, though, the book probably wouldn’t be getting nearly the amount of attention it has.  One of the major causes for so many people discussing this Battle Hymn is the achievements that Chua’s daughters have accomplished.  Her elder daughter, a piano prodigy, played at Carnegie Hall…at the age of 14.  Her younger daughter, even though she eventually stopped playing the violin, currently spends many hours training at tennis.  By almost any standard, they are highly successful, very devoted to improving themselves and more accomplished as teenagers than many of us in the West are by the time we’ve hit middle age.

Welcoming the Tiger

And therein lies the draw.  Even reading and hearing about these accomplishments second hand, it gets you thinking about how you were raised.  “If,” you think, “I had parents who pushed me as hard as Chua and her husband pushed their daughters, what could I have accomplished?  Becoming a famous musician, developing into a great athlete, getting into a prestigious school?  Who knows what I could have done?”

If you have children, or eventually intend to have children, your thoughts probably go to them before too long, as well as your own parenting style.  You think about their future, what they could accomplish, and how to help them achieve those accomplishments.  If you start thinking that being a ‘Tiger Parent’ will help them get there, perhaps you head out to get this book for tips, regardless of whether it is technical a parenting manual.

All of this doesn’t even touch on the fact that, if all Chinese parents treat their children (and their children’s achievements), then you think about the billion plus residents of China proper, and how their economy seems to gaining more and more steam as the West seems to be continuing a downfall.  Are we on a decline that can’t be reversed until we practice REALLY tough love with our children?

Fighting the Tiger

Of course, such a provocative book is sure to draw counterarguments, both from people who experienced the ‘Tiger’ method first hand, and those who take a view on the American economy and think that a nation of highly focused workers might not be in our best interest.  In the former category, you have Christina H, a writer for (and a Chinese American who apparently experienced this type of parenting), who notes that there are flaws in the Chinese method, as there are flaws in the American method, and that opting for one to cover up the flaws of the other isn’t a good strategy.

On the broader subject of American competitiveness, there’s another article on Slate about American society, China, and parenting.  The point made there is that different countries have different skills; China focuses on high precision tasks that require tight concentration, while America is the land of big thoughts and bright ideas.  The idea there is that by allowing children more freedom than a Tiger style of parenting permits, you can develop their imagination and allow them to form those deep thoughts and bright ideas to potentially change the world.

Where I Stand

So, where do I stand on how I’ll raise my children when I have them in a few years (God willing)?  I’m torn, as I often am.  On one hand, I see the advantages to having such a disciplined, focused parenting style and trying to make your children continually improve themselves; on the other, I realize that there are advantages to allowing a child time to think, and dream, and enjoy themselves.

My solution comes from the realization that it doesn’t have to be all of one or the other.  I don’t have to choose between pushing my children to be their best and improve themselves in some way OR letting them have an unstructured, imagination filled childhood.  What I hope to be able to do is help to encourage them to build up their skills, preferably finding something that can teach them discipline and focus, but allow them time to be kids, and run, play, and imagine at the same time.  Given that my future wife is an artist, perhaps we can help them to develop artistic skills, as that strikes me as a task that requires both imagination and (as I can tell you from experience) lots of practice to build up your skills.

Regardless of how much of a Tiger couple we decide to be, I’m sure that our children will end up doing well, as long as we support and encourage them.

What do you think of the Tiger Mom concept?


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