Is Tiger Love Feral or Admirable?

Is Tiger Love Feral or Admirable?

Article first published as Is Tiger Love Feral or Admirable? on Technorati.

Have you read the excerpt from Amy Chua’s new book that has gotten the nation in a tizzy?  I’m sure by now you probably have, but I finally felt compelled to write this because I disagree with most of the blogosphere’s reactions to her words.

Strength of Ego

They [Chinese Parents] assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

This struck me as very true.  We are so worried about bolstering our children’s ego that we are giving them all *participation awards* and often refuse to judge them first, second, and third.  We are yelling at coaches for not playing our children enough, even though it is clear to everyone that our kid isn’t as good as the others.   We switch leagues because clearly there is something wrong with them, the coaches and the directors, if they can’t see how brilliantly our child plays.  We tell our kids they are good at everything they attempt without distinction or honesty.  Have you seen some of the contestants trying out for American Idol?  Were their parents really doing them a favor by telling them they could sing?

Our real world involves competition and defeat, don’t you think we do our children a disservice if we don’t prepare them for real life?

Championing Your Child

If the child’s grades do not improve, they [American Parents] may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials.

We are criticizing the teacher’s competency and dedication because clearly she is a bad teacher or my kid would be progressing more.  We are questioning the teacher’s ability to control her classroom because clearly that is the only reason our child could have acted out.  We are screaming at teachers in principal’s offices because said teacher dared to criticize our child in front of the class – even when it’s warranted.    We are proud that we may have jeopardized the teacher’s reputation and perhaps even her job because it proves what a great parent we are for battling for our child.   We tell the story as our badge of mothering and describe it as I’m Mama Bear, beware anyone who goes after my cubs.

I have heard this spoken of as championing our children.  Is it truly being their champion though? What are we teaching them when we do this?

Aren’t we teaching kids that they aren’t responsible for the consequences of their actions?  That hard work isn’t necessary, just push the right buttons then sit back and smirk while mom goes on the attack?

How does this teach them the social skills necessary to succeed in the real world?  How does this teach them to diffuse tension with well placed humor, or to let things roll off their back and turn the other cheek?  What about empathy that everyone is entitled to have a bad day and let’s give each other some slack.    And most especially, doesn’t this absolve them of learning the rules of a given environment and how to adapt to succeed in it?

I have seen kids pulled out of classes and schedules rearranged too often to disagree with Chua’s statement.  My real life experiences have illustrated her point all too well.

Beholden to our Parents

“Children don’t choose their parents,” he [Chua’s husband] once said to me [Chua]. “They don’t even choose to be born. It’s parents who foist life on their kids, so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids.”

This is contrary to the Chinese Parenting philosophy that children owe their parents everything and on this point, I partially agree with Chua’s husband.   One phrase that my Great-Aunt Jill used to say has resonated with me since my children were born:

Our children are born through us, not to us.

Our kids are not little pieces of my husband and me.  They are not, as was once told to me, 1/2 their mom and 1/2 their dad.  To believe this, a person has to have their ego so wrapped up in their children that the kids don’t have a chance to develop fully.  To believe this, negates the child’s individuality and ability to guide their own lives.  It negates the influence the rest of the world has on a person’s development – fathers, grandparents, cousins, friends, and stepparents play a huge role in influencing a child.  But that’s all we can do.  We influence.  They are not ours.  They are not my kids or your kids – they are John and Mary, Jacob and Elizabeth, Sally and Steven.  They are themselves.

I believe this possessiveness that American’s feel about their children is damaging to them.  They are not chattel, they are not our belongings.  To think so and to see them as extensions of ourselves, negates any sense of accomplishment or responsibility they can take pride in.  If a mom is constantly saying everything they are is because of me, doesn’t that hobble them as clearly as the Chinese belief that they owe everything to their parents?  When does sense of self and independence get a fair shot?


I worry that American’s have lost sight of the finish line.  Our end goal as parents is to raise confident, happy, independent adults.  Not children.   Give them credit.  Give them room to grow.  And most of all keep your insecurities and competitive nature out of the equation when guiding your child’s development.

*photo credit

22 Responses to Is Tiger Love Feral or Admirable?

  1. Daria – wow, I could write volumes in comment. I love what you’ve written. All of it. I find that the amount of tip toeing I do with my girls is in direct correlation to my stress with them. If I’m too accommodating then I do too much for them and then resent them in the end! I’ve been working on turning this around for a long time – making small but steady steps to expecting more of them. Love the post!

    • Thank you so much! I was a little concerned that it didn’t get any comments. I think it is really difficult sometimes to figure out what is reasonable to expect of your children at different ages. However, I am noticing a huge trend of “entitled” kids that I refuse to allow my kids to become. It is so much easier to just do it yourself than have the fight you know is coming by making the kids do chores or chip in, but although I have certainly succumbed to days of not being up to the argument, I bring myself back with thinking about long term outcomes of my “laziness”.

      It is just such a hard balance to strike – supporting and sometimes needing to push them to meet their potential without allowing my own insecurities or dreams or competitive feelings to push them for the wrong reasons or in the wrong direction. Ultimately there is only one things I know about parenting. It is TOUGH! There isn’t a black and white, right and wrong way to raise kids and just when I think I have it figured out on one kid the next kid reacts a completely different way!

      Thank you again for your comment. It is much appreciated.

  2. Yeah – about 3 months ago we took a family trip to Costa Rica and my husband and I came face to face with how “lazy” we had become. The kids’ whining was almost overwhelming. What a wake up call! I’m doing better – a lot better – with discipline and structure now but God! Some days it’s just too damn much! Homework and discipline and healthy meal and not too much T.V. and enough exercise and bedtime routine and more homework – all between 3 and 7:30!!!! Jesus!

    • Exactly! There isn’t enough time in the day (or enough wine in the box) for me to stay on top of everything I’m supposed to be aware of as a mom! A friend and I discussed this yesterday actually, saying that to a certain extent I am pleased that they are fed and dressed and relatively happy. Getting homework done, sports practiced, lines memorized for the play, allowance provided, morals taught, and talents discovered is exhausting!

      LOL – it’s funny you said that about whining. On my about page I mention that I used to think I would find the cure for cancer – now I think finding the cure for whining may be nearly as valuable! :)

  3. Love your post and completely agree! My job, as I see it, is to create a responsible, self-sustaining human being. My kids are only 3 and 5 and I literally have no memory of the last time I picked up their toys… at least 2 or more years ago and then I only ‘helped’. They are easy about it most days and they have no memory of NOT doing it, so it’s not as if setting early patterns doesn’t have later rewards!

    We’re oddly protective of them in some ways (minimal TV) but then let them eat raw cookie dough (I’m going to mommy hell!) But MOSTLY? MOSTLY my husband and I protect them from our own parenting dogma! We don’t rail against media and TV to them. We just don’t have a TV in the living room! We don’t rail against overscheduled kids. We just don’t overschedule them. The last thing we want is to put our baggage on them as we have seen others do to their kids. Being a kid is hard enough. Our job is to protect their childhoods as sweet and innocent and care free as it can be.

    • I agree Elizabeth. I have heard a lot of kids parrot something that clearly came from their parents and they don’t know why the rule is there or what value is guiding it, just that mommy says TV is bad therefore your mommy is a bad mommy for letting you watch it so much. It BUGS me! Showing values by example rather than rhetoric makes much more sense to me, but’s that’s just my opinion. I just had a conversation w/ my daughter about overscheduling. She was upset that she missed soccer practice (was at the same time as a cousin’s bday party). Birthday party was 3 to 5, soccer was 4 to 5. When she complained about not going to soccer, I just said that it was one or other – we weren’t going to leave 1/2 way through and rush to get to soccer just so she could do both. And I made a judgement call that she has soccer all the time and getting together with family happens more rarely so was the better way to spend our time that day. Plus family is more important than soccer practice. It wasn’t a lecture about overscheduling or values, just in the day to day actions it becomes part of their lives.

  4. Hi Daria – I am having trouble understanding why this Tiger Mom thing sis getting so much attention. First of all, the Chinese abandon their girl babies in orphanages and leave them by the roadside to die, and Americans adopt them. Second of all, or maybe first of all, there are reams & reams of evidence-based peer-reviewed clinical research about which/how parenting styles influence development. REAMS of it. So I just dont see how this book contributes to the evidence-based information in any way. It is one person’s opinion. And that is fine as well. It is her opinion, and she can raise her kids according to her opinion. But it is not evidence-based clinical research and I could not use this in my clinical practice. It is opinion. And there is another fact here that no one is addressing. The suicide rate in China is higher than the suicide rate in the the US. I am not an expert in this, so I do not have the analysis behind this rate difference, but if there is someone out there with that info, please step up and comment.

    • Good points Kathy. I have heard that the pressure to be successful on both Chinese and Japanese children does lead to a significant rise in suicide rates in those cultures. However, I didn’t find Chua’s book to be set as a clinical or even opinionated statement that the Chinese way was better. It may have been implied due to using her own experiences as examples, but what I found (from only reading the excerpt) was that it was a pretty honest look at the differences and looking at the weaknesses in each approach. I think there is much we, as parents, can ponder based upon the thoughts Chua puts out there.

      Any time an author encourages thoughtful discussion and reevaluating how we behave, I think they are successful. Chua did so and therefore I am very glad she wrote this book.

      Parenting to me is not clinical. I am not going to read reams of scientific studies telling me how to treat my children. I am going to take the good from my own upbringing and continue it and hopefully not repeat the mistakes (or too many of them) of my parents. Along the way, I also hope to improve my skills to give my INDIVIDUAL American kids the skills and support they need to be successful and happy American adults. Each of them needs something different that no study or book can identify without knowing my children specifically.

      • Hi Daria – Thanks for the reply! I have not (and will not) read the book. As a professional therapist, I have too much clinical information to read. I wasn’t implying that you should read reams of clinical information. I guess I should have completed the thought with, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of available trained therapists in your community you can access with your medical insurance, who are pretty well-versed in the peer reviewed literature about parenting. There are many many excellent therapists and well-researched books that can help people individual parenting skills. I just dont get why this book gets so much press, when there are trained pros everywhere who can assist ppl at a nominal cost. I really dont read the flavor of the month.
        thanks, Kathy

  5. Hi Kathy – I think this Tiger book is a big deal for me because it taps into my insecurities about parenting…and whenever that happens I reevaluate what I’m doing as a mom and try to get less insecure. I also think she really does have a good point when she says American parents over protect their kids and don’t challenge them enough. That’s my 2 cents!

    • That’s what I felt when reading the excerpt too Miriam. There are some truism’s that she brings up for discussion. I am not going to start calling my kids “garbage” because in English I’m sure it has a different connotation than in native Chinese. Nor am I going to change my parenting overnight. However, the next time a teacher calls about my child’s behavior, I will recall this for sure and it may subtly influence my reaction. The next time my kid says “I can’t.” after 30 sec of trying I will also recall this and expect it will affect my reaction as well.

    • Hi Miriam – Thank you for sharing your gut reaction to the book, about tapping into parental insecurities. You know, I guess that is why it has been getting so much press. Tapping into people’s insecurities is probably a well-thought out way to make money. thanks for the insight.

  6. Love it, Daria! Great commentary among commenters, too. I was just finishing up my latest post on #parenting.

    I’ve made many an adult angry when I remind parents that their children are misbehaving in school, and the community b/c of a lack of rules and expectations for appropriate behavior. I guess it’s logical, given they only come to me when there’s a problem (which is usually identified by the school, or another ‘system.’.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking piece;).

    • Why are parents so darn defensive about behavior issues? ALL kids try things at one point or another. It doesn’t have to be such a personal reflection on YOU that you can’t accept it occurred and deny it looking for it to be someone else’s fault. I really don’t like the propensity for people to shift blame versus stepping up and looking for solutions rather than fault.

  7. Interesting ideas…I agree with much of what you have said. American society is overly focused on “self-esteem” that really our attempts to increase self-esteem backfire. We eliminate winners/losers, valedictorians, and make sure everything is “fair” and the bottom line is that all of those things hurt kids much more than they help.

    That said, I couldn’t disagree with Ms. Chua’s parenting philosophies more. Belittling, overbearing, taunting- none of this is good for the soul. None of this supports secure attachment or a positive sense of self. There is a HUGE gray area between this emotionally abusive style of parenting and the enmeshed, no structure/boundaries type of parenting that you discuss here in your article.

    I agree with Kathy’s comment. There is plenty of research that proves (well as much as one can prove- strong correlation perhaps?!?!) that the best type of parenting is one where there is a combination of structure and love. Expectations, not excuses. You don’t need to read scientific journals to understand this. “Kids are Worth It” by Barbara Coloroso is an excellent place to start.

    There are some merits to Ms. Chua’s article- Western parenting philosophy has become a bit whiny, overly focused on “fairness”, and is raising soft children unable to take responsibility for their actions. Ms. Chua’s style of parenting is no better, just with a different, negative outcome. I want my children to be strong minded, compassionate, and to reach the highest point on the moral hierarchy. Berating, ridiculing, name calling, withholding social experiences in no way shape or form equate to superior parenting. In any culture.

    • Thank you Robyn! I agree with almost everything you said. And thanks much for the book suggestion!

      The part I disagree with is that these scenarios are non structure/boundaries parenting. The scenarios that I was referring to and the real life situations that served as the image I used when writing these examples, were made by parents that would argue up and down, backward and forward that they have rules and they have structure. They are so adamant about it in fact that they use that as a reason why the “issue” could not be their or the child’s responsibility – because they are exceptional parents, so it must be you and it can’t be me.

      It is that attitude more than anything that I believe is so damaging. The propensity and cultural support we are giving to parents for criticizing and attacking teachers, coaches and other care givers of our children. I think we have over compensated on the “championing our child” side of things and need to take a strong look at our motivations and drivers. Are we really serving our children well by how we are acting? If in fact, our goal is to raise confident, independent, contributing adults?

      I did not read any of chua’s book except for the excerpt that is linked in the article and I did not address all of the points she made in that piece either. I only took out the ones that I could relate to and felt deserved supporting arguments. It does not mean that I will be adopting her parenting style or that I think it is superior to Americans – just that there are pieces of her discussion that resonated with me for the reasons outlined.

      Thank you and Kathy so much for jumping in with other sides of this! I LOVE hearing other ways of looking at things and encourage you to continue challenging anything I put out there.

      • This would be no fun if we all agreed :)

        The scenario you are describing:

        […parents that would argue up and down, backward and forward that they have rules and they have structure. They are so adamant about it in fact that they use that as a reason why the “issue” could not be their or the child’s responsibility – because they are exceptional parents, so it must be you and it can’t be me…]

        Well, any parent who insists that they have structure, rules, and can’t think of any reason why their parent is struggling because their child is awesome and because they are exceptional parents…well…that’s a whole other problem to me :) and a pretty clean indicator that there AREN’T boundaries and structure in this home!

        And I completely 100% agree with you that this attitude doesn’t serve anybody. I can remember my parents backing me up, but I can also remember them being pretty straight about “Nope, kiddo, you did wrong. Fix it.”

        Anyway, I think we agree! And I see what you mean about taking some points from the article and leaving the rest. As a therapist heavily grounded in attachment theory, I was so dumbfounded by Chua’s idea of “superior parenting” that I couldn’t take much good from it.

        And I agree with Dawn’s comments below too- it is beyond imagination to me that we would not give failing grades, give zeros for plagiarism etc etc etc in an effort to “save self esteem.” Earning something for nothing does not help self esteem, it corrodes it. Helping children achieve things that they did not earn tells them “I don’t trust you to be able to earn this on your own so I am giving it to you.” That does not help self esteem!!!

  8. Awesome, Daria! I generally don’t weigh in on parenting topics because I don’t have children, but as a HS teacher for 10 years I was considered a parent in absentia, per public education regs.

    Two stories: At a faculty meeting there was a big discussion about why we shouldn’t give failing grades because it would hurt student self-esteem. I gave your counter arguments and lost.

    I gave a junior a C on one essay and her parents complained. I asked if they’d prefer I helped their daughter learn to write or wait until they has to pay for a remedial course at college. I won that one.

    I’m with you on this and commend you for taking this strong position. ~Dawn

    • Thank you for jumping in and providing these examples Dawn! The part that flabbergasts me is that parents will complain. Ask for a meeting to discuss how the child can improve next time, clarify expectations and ask how they can help them excel, yes, I understand that. But complain? Do they expect you to say – “oh, my bad, you are right her substandard writing DOES in fact deserve an A. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”? That is exactly the type of behavior that I think needs a great big look in the mirror.

  9. Wonderful post Daria,
    I like to be FIRM AND WARM with my kids. Firm, because they need to know the rules / boundaries. Warm, because they need to know that they are ALWAYS LOVED – not their behavior, but the core of who they are. They need to learn that they have a choice. When they feel loved, they trust themselves to know what right and wrong and can find the courage to act accordingly. I am proud of my kids – now teens – being able to act in assertive ways. And by the way, they hate it when we get angry at a teacher and suggest that we have a talk! They just need to went and then they take care of the problem themselves.
    Love these discussions. You have a talent for taking opposite opinions and writing a post that makes us all think!

  10. From hearing interviews with Chua and more than just her excerpt, she was not writing a clinical book – she was writing about her family and way of parenting. The inflammatory headline to the excerpt – Why Chinese Mothers are superior was chosen by the author of the article, not Chua. By the end of the book, Chua talks about not enjoying her life, realizing that her/”Chinese” way of handling her kids was not the best as her younger daughter dramatically rebelled. I’m saying all this because I don’t want “Chinese” parenting to be the standard to which I or other parents bring up their kids.
    I agree that we need to hold our kids accountable; I don’t agree with grade-fixing to help self-esteem (for 1 thing it doesn’t help self-esteem because the kids know grades have been watered down. They’re not stupid). But I do believe in a lot more nurturing and support than Chua does, especially when kids are young. And as is pointed out in the comments, we as parents aren’t willing to spend the time pushing our kids the way Chua did. This is not a criticism of parents, simply an observation.
    I know I didn’t have it in me to do.
    I guess the aspect of the post that bothers me is generalizations about parents. Helicopter parents exist but is everyone like that? Are they even the majority or is it just that their behavior is obnoxious enough that that’s what we talk about and see, skewing its prevalence.
    I could rattle on. Daria, I agree with the premise of accountability, responsibility and starting out believing our kids are strong not weak and think you wrote a good, provocative post. Cherry

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