Will 2011 be the Year of the Tiger Mother?

Brace yourselves, modern mothers. Brace yourselves for another round of debate about parenting styles, children’s achievement, and how to raise happy and successful children. With Tuesday’s publication of the new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, “western” suburban mothers will once again be called out. Who is “too soft” and who lets her children quit too soon? Who demands and expects success and achievement? 

In a recent excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” Ms. Chua recounts her own extreme parenting practices, in which her daughters are never allowed to “have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.” She argues that her “Chinese mother” style “assumes strength” in children and produces achieving children while western style parents give up on their children too soon, failing teach them the value of sticking with something that might not come easily at first.

For many modern mothers, these comparisons may be a bit intriguing but mostly horrifying. The prospect of bringing up a tuxedo wearing, soul-less virtuoso through relentless hounding might be disturbing and yet the prospect of sending Beavis and Butt Head to college on the 8 year plan will doubtless be equally unappealing. Clearly, there must be some middle ground: one can encourage children to achieve their potential while also allowing the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Yet, it would be difficult for any parent reading Ms Chua’s excerpt not to contemplate her own parenting, however briefly. 

The modern mother who teaches manners is also teaching standards of behavior. She expects her child to learn to greet others with more than a grunt, to say please and thank you, to approximate appropriate table manners, to write thank you notes and more. Is it such a stretch to extend standards and expectations to academic performance? Perhaps a well mannered mother might re-double her efforts to ensure minimum daily practice of a musical instrument; perhaps she will begin expressing expectations for grades or even household chores; perhaps she will sit back and feel confident in the status-quo. Whatever she may choose, we hope it won’t involve any of the denigration and deprivation Ms. Chua describes in her thought-provoking piece.  


Capability said...

I did reflect on my parenting style (which is very Western) after reading this. I am not going to change my style but interestingly, I found a bit of Tiger Mother in my heart - although without the brow-beating and 3 hour piano sessions.

I do want my children to reach their full potential and to be happy. It's pretty safe to say we all do. It is a great piece and Ms. Chua is to be commended for her honesty in writing it.

Kate said...

That article/book was brought to my attention by my friends over at Brain, Child journal. In fact, they had on their facebook page in response to the article in the WSJ, "I don't even know where to start with this." I don't either. I found it a tad bit horrifying. I'm not a Tiger Mother, that's for sure.

Elizabeth Hammond Pyle said...

Kate -- Funny you should say that: my first reaction was: Really?!! I thought about the article for 3 days, not sure where to start either. Completely over the top, but it did really make me think about expectations we set for our children.

I am clearly not a Tiger mother either since I don't require any daily instrument practice, even 20 minutes, among other reasons.

Come to think of it, maybe I do have a little in my heart, like Capability. We are, according to our children, the only family in the entire country without a Wii .

Anonymous said...

Ms. Chua doesn't seem to have thought it important to use good manners when interacting with her children.

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