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Should I Become a Tiger Mom?

Feb12

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I often feel like a failure as a mother. I question my parenting choices and replay my decisions, hoping to find a little more direction in a complicated maze of ever-shifting boundaries and beginnings and dead ends and obstacles. Then I look at my daughter, who is now 14, and push aside the doubt and fear so that I can marvel at the stellar person she has become. Cal is self-motivated. Empathetic. Earnest. Funny. She is a straight-A student. Basically, she is everything I was not at that age…or this age.

When other parents take notice of Cal’s achievements, they are not shy about asking: What exactly did you do to produce such a motivated student? How long do you force her to study each day? Do you punish her if she doesn’t bring home all “A”s? Is she allowed to go to sleepovers? Does she get to pick her own extracurricular activities? Was her first toy an abacus? Is that why she’s so good at math? Can she do my taxes next year?

They deliver the questions as casual jokes, but I get it. Since I am Asian, I must, of course, be a Tiger Mom. Some crazy shit must go down in our home, and Cal probably never has any fun or a reason to smile. My child probably doesn’t even know how to smile.

Do animals have opposites? What is the opposite of a tiger? If “overparenting” sums up a Tiger Mom, then I am an “underparent.” I am not neglectful nor am I uncaring, but my personal parenting style is less about the end result and more about the process. Edging out my daughter’s childhood for the sake of realizing every last ounce of her potential just isn’t worth it to me. This is not to say that I don’t have my moments. I recently told Cal that if she didn’t stop watching online videos and start her homework, she would end up working at a dry cleaner like I did for part of my 20s. I also once asked her if she was serious about college when she brought home an A- in science. Look, contrary to what a lot of people are saying about me, I’m not perfect, okay?

Amy Chua perpetuates the model minority myth and the cultural stereotypes that surround Asian mothers with her hyped-up, fantasy-like narrative in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The book depicts a tense home environment, rife with threat tactics and hours of forced practice. She pokes fun at the western style of parenting for being too lax and producing unmotivated, less accomplished, dependent kids.

I expected her parenting methods to blow up in her face. Don’t prisoners revolt when conditions become unbearable? I saw that happen in a movie so it must be true. Then her oldest daughter was accepted into Harvard. And then her second daughter got into Yale. She set out to raise overachieving students. Which she totally got.

Hmm.

Perhaps I need to rethink my parenting choices.

I mean, yes, Amy once called her daughter “garbage” and threatened to burn all of her toys, but now that garbage is going to Harvard. While I don’t believe that an Ivy League education guarantees success or a happier life, elite schools can offer more opportunities and it still looks pretty damn impressive on a resume.

My highest completed level of education is high school. I didn’t boost my marketability by pursuing a college degree or vocational training. My lack of skills and higher education meant a lack of opportunity for my younger self. I flitted from one low-paying job to another. At one point, I was the temp of a temp of a temp (like, seriously) wrapping gifts for eight hours a day in a warehouse. I worked for a high-end retailer that mostly sold European children’s toys. All day long, I was surrounded by toys that I left behind at the end of my shift because I could not afford to bring them home for my own child.

I want my daughter to have an abundance of opportunities. Lots and lots and lots of opportunities. I want her to know what it’s like to have choices.

I probably spent a SOLID seven minutes thinking about becoming a Tiger Mom. By choosing that route, I might increase Cal’s chances of being accepted into an elite college and would lay the groundwork for a successful career. She would make stacks of cash and buy her mother lots of beautiful jewelry.

I thought about it. Then I decided against it. The balance we have in our family is hard-won. Cal is a good kid and tries her best most of the time. That’s a lot more valuable than any bling.

About the author

Elizabeth Jayne Liu

http://www.flourishinprogress.com/
Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she survived, and now records a series of weekly challenges called Monday Dares. She fails a lot.

Elizabeth writes candidly about her former addictions, love of four-letter words, and her affinity for all things rap. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, whom she married after dating for just eighteen days, her 13-year-old daughter, and her complete collection of Yo! MTV Raps Trading Cards.

Connect with Elizabeth on The Huffington Post, Facebook, and Instagram (@flourishinprogress).


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13 Responses to “Should I Become a Tiger Mom?”

  1. df Feb 12 at 5:49 pm Reply Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I think that one of the most important things that parents can do is have a family culture while also identifying what each child in the family needs. My first child is a classic overachiever who is highly self-motivated, and my youngest is a child who has needed a lot of support in a variety of ways, and I just can’t see having the same expectations of them. It’s my job to make sure that I support them and make demands of them in the ways that seem most fitting to their individual personalities and abilities.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu
      Elizabeth Jayne Liu Feb 13 at 1:39 pm Reply Reply

      I agree!

      While it’s sometimes hard not to project what we as parents want for our kids, it’s such a worthwhile exercise in restraint. Viewing and supporting each child according to who they are makes for happier kids. 

  2. Misty Feb 12 at 9:14 pm Reply Reply

    Going to an ivy league school is a wonderful goal, but if you raise demoralized robots, what the hell is the good of that degree? I couldn’t imagine living in a home like that, either as the parent or the child. Her kids are going to need SO much therapy. Granted, with their jobs as CEOs, they can afford it, but still. And I have no doubt that Cal will actually go to some sort of Ivy League school. And will be happy and well adjusted when she does. Because of you.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu
      Elizabeth Jayne Liu Feb 13 at 1:44 pm Reply Reply

      I would love for Cal to go to a great school and become successful in whatever career she eventually chooses (she’s mentioned that she wants to own an auto repair shop and she would also like to play professional basketball or become a teacher so, um, obviously a wide array of possibilities), but I’d also like for us to have a functional happy relationship in 20 years as well. 

  3. Autumn Feb 13 at 1:54 am Reply Reply

    I was the valedictorian at a school who secretly credited me with my win, but didn’t publicize the knowledge of it.  I “won” high school, and nobody really cared.  Including my parents.  So I embraced that fact.  I’m now a physical therapist working in a short term rehab unit, and I couldn’t be happier.  Winning the school game doesn’t equal success.  

    And I’ve lived it.  My goals were my goals, not my parents.  I know without a doubt they would love me just the same if I were a straight B student.  Because they love ME:)

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu
      Elizabeth Jayne Liu Feb 13 at 1:45 pm Reply Reply

      Out of all the valuable lessons and knowledge any parent could instill in a child, I think this one is most valuable- to know that we are loved just as we are and not for who we could be. 

  4. Jon Nugent Feb 13 at 2:31 am Reply Reply

    Props from a fellow HS grad.. you’ve raised a well adjusted free thinking young lady, not some drone that does well with standardized  testing and can recite what she’s told. Getting into a great college is not always the key to happiness and success. My boy’s a good kid, he’s caring, smart, hard working and climbing the mountain he wants to die on. I’ve had my doubts on my parenting skills as well but when I see he’s healthy and happy, I know that just by my love, support and advice, it worked out.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu
      Elizabeth Jayne Liu Feb 13 at 1:50 pm Reply Reply

      I can’t remember where you wrote this now, but you once wrote about your now 20 something son used to make you things and how you still tote some of them around because you’re so proud of him no matter what. 

      I thought that was such a wonderful, loving testament to your parenting skills… which are clearly off the chain. 

  5. Victor Feb 13 at 2:41 pm Reply Reply

    Once again, sooo THANKFUL for your insight.
    You just gave me the words: we work to help our kids have choices.. They must make their choices when the time comes.

    I read only a couple of days ago about Amy Chua’s ideas and made me wonder…. I’m all new to this (our kid is actually my wife’s son from her previous  marriage), specially because our kid is totally focused -and enjoying – in sports.. which couldn’t be farther apart from my personal experience. 

    I’m gonna share with my wife your blog. It really helps with the choices we are  making right now, so our son can have choices, have fun and enjoy the life he has yet to discover…

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu
      Elizabeth Jayne Liu Feb 17 at 2:39 pm Reply Reply

      It totally just put a smile on my face to see you say “our kid.” 

      Lucky kid. :)

      Cal is so different from me and because the things she loves and devotes a lot of her time to are so foreign to me, I don’t quite understand them…but I try to find ways to help her understand that different choices are not wrong choices and I just celebrate her as is. 

      • Victor Feb 17 at 4:03 pm Reply Reply

        Just a thought (once again): you wouldn’t believe how you shed light and fresh air into other people experiences. You truly have a gift: your life and your talent to communicate it as you do.
        Best !!!

  6. roller scrapper Feb 15 at 2:35 am Reply Reply

    Liz Liu, you’re the best :-)
    Funny thing, just yesterday my mil asked me if she should read that tiger mother booI, because it reflected my parenting style. Resisting the urge to accuse her of being a racist in the children’s section of the library I let her continue, she went on to day, you know how you sleep with him and stuff….ohthen said, do you mean attachment parenting? Why is it socially acceptable to joke about why Asians are smart and or diligent students? Congrats on raising a great kid :-)

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu
      Elizabeth Jayne Liu Feb 17 at 2:41 pm Reply Reply

      One way I try to explain away those jokes is my reasoning that people think it’s sort of a compliment because being smart and diligent are good qualities. 

      But, like, I’m none of those things so it personally makes me feel bad about not being the things I am “supposed to be.”

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