Tiger Mother Unleashed

If you follow the media themes you’ve probably noticed the brouhaha created by Amy Chua’s book, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” I blogged my own small voice to the public outcry two weeks ago. In fact the “tiger mother” concept has taken root in our house in an unexpected way. When our youngest daughter reported to me that her current grade in English was 89.5, she half-jokingly said, “You’re not going to go all “˜tiger mother’ on me, are you?”

No I won’t. I’m much more likely to go “Nazi sergeant” on her given my German heritage.

Me, a tiger mother or some version of a dictatorial soccer mom? Well, I’m afraid that Jennifer does have a point. I guess that’s why the book resonated so strongly with me…and several million others judging by the number of follow-up articles, rebuttals, and media appearances by Ms. Chua. And it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. At the recent Davos international conference of business leaders, Ms. Chua, a Yale law professor, was asked to debate Larry Summers, a former Harvard president and more recently, President Obama’s top economic adviser about child-rearing techniques.

But back to why one side of me relates to Ms. Chua’s rule that only A’s are acceptable and the other side of me wants to rescue my children from being pushed into something that they really don’t want to do.

In raising our children, Steve and I have struggled between being overly nurturing (permissive), and very demanding. Our oldest, Ethan still remembers the time we put all of his toys into a box, and put the box into the garage after we learned that he had spurned a gift at his 2nd grade Christmas gift exchange because he didn’t like it. Of course, he’d behaved so badly because we’d spoiled him.

Valerie, the middle child, internalized this good cop / bad cop conflict in her characteristic angst over satisfactorily completing school assignments, which would frequently consume her time, mine, and Steve’s…and anyone else who didn’t flee the scene.

Jennifer, having witnessed the child-rearing pendulum in our house swing from tough to timid and back, has found some sort of middle ground on her own. Though she’s remarkably free of homework angst, her grades are every bit as good as Valerie’s. So, why would I go “all tiger mother” if she hits a minor bump? Because while reading Ms. Chua’s article, I had a twinge that maybe Ms. Chua was right about not giving children an option and I should have insisted that Jennifer stay in tennis, ballet, swimming, karate”¦the list goes on”¦until she had gotten good enough to have some success at it.

Chalk up the confusion to my own tiger mother who, suffice it to say, was a stern presence on her best day. And I guess that goes to the root of my own fascination with and conflict about the subject.

So on those times when I feel my tiger mother wanting to roar, I’m going to remember two points that Mr. Summers, a guy with some impressive academic credentials, made in his debate with Ms. Chua. First, “A” students tend to become professors and the “C” students become wealthy donors.

Secondly, and more importantly, here’s what else Mr. Summers had to say, “People on average live a quarter of their lives as children. That’s a lot. It’s important that they be as happy as possible during those 18 years. That counts too.”

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