Should I Become a Tiger Mom?
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.
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.Published February 12, 2014. Last updated February 13, 2014.