To be or Not to be – Tiger Mother

In the past 5 years, the term tiger mom has been somewhat derogatory at least in our household. But I changed my mind as I finally got around to reading Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and I think many of her critics either did not read the book or have comprehension issues. Case in point where they talk about how she ‘locked a three year old outside in the 20 degree winter’ when she really threatened to do it and when she found that her three year old was so stubborn that she would rather freeze than obey, she relented and gave her a warm bath and a treat (hot chocolate with marshmallows, I think). People forget that the book was written to be dramatic and funny so many of the crucial pieces are missing here. Dotted in various parts of the book are her own misgivings about what she is doing. I don’t think she thinks she has been a perfect parent, but seems like she is glad the gamble with using the so called “Chinese parenting” worked out.

They also ignore her dedication as a mother. She sits through music practice with her two daughters while holding a full time job as a professor. She wrote copious notes on their performance pieces and how they can improve.  She didn’t let her tiredness be an excuse for not doing what she thinks what needs to be done. While she is hard on her children, she is equally hard on herself.

Certainly, I can see where her fiery temper, stubbornness and unwillingness to back down has made many situations much worse. Sometimes you find yourself in a place where you  just can’t back down (or as the Chinese idiom goes 骑虎难下, riding on a tiger and can’t get off) , especially if it means you agree with you agree with your child that he is not talented/ your child learns that if she prods hard and long enough, she’ll have her way.  Of course in hindsight, it is easy to say that the key is to not get to that stage in the first place.

I don’t see her book as saying this is why Chinese children do well academically. It is just an anecdotal story about what she did. I think her kids were incredibly intelligent to begin with so a softer approach might have gotten the same results anyway. Many more children who grew up under authoritarian regimes have crumbled and suffer from psychological damage or committed suicide.

I strangely identify with her. That feeling of frustration when you try to hold your child up to standards you know they should be able to achieve but is somehow not – like trying to climb a tree without giving up after a few feeble attempts, or writing neat working for math problems. I’ve done similar things like refusing to budge from the tree until he succeeds in climbing it (I tried it out myself and guided/ helped him up in the end)or let him off from homework until he got it right (homework took more than 2 hours but we both learned what not to do next time….) . It made me terrible after that, but I really wanted him to have the experience of success after working hard on something.

She would even research relentlessly on things like how to train their dog which kind of reminds me of myself. I’d research all kinds of strange and irrelevant things like which basketball hoop is better.

Reading the book really inspired me to work harder on my teaching research and to set higher standards for Calvin now that he’s seven and Primary 2 in Singapore. I don’t agree with her method of learning by rote but it is true that many things in elementary schooling like math and English just have to be mastered by deliberate practice. I mean math facts, no matter how you disguise it and sugarcoat it, just can’t be learnt through only fun and games. Perhaps it’s time to ramp up my ‘tigering’ skills a little…



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