Power Ballad of the Tiger Mama

By now you've all heard about or read the brouhaha about Amy Chua's book "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." For those who haven't, there are thoughtful reviews of it all over the place (here's the first one I happened to find).

There are myriad problems with Chua's book and parenting style (I will never get over how proud she is that she called her child "garbage" in public), but what makes me angriest is how she took the word "tiger" and made it dirty.

You see, in my family, a "Tiger Mama" is a mother who fights hard for her cubs. It is really the highest honor my own mother can bestow on someone, that she (or he) fights for their kids, in all kinds of situations. And protects them, and teaches them to protect themselves.

When I think about it, the parents I know and love (including you), are Tiger Mamas and Tiger Daddies. So I thought I'd write down what being a Tiger Mama/Daddy means to me.

A Tiger Mama knows that she is not her children and her children are not her. And that she can, and should, help her kids figure out who they want to be and then run toward that.

A Tiger Daddy is working through his own childhood and how he was parented, and takes the good and leaves the bad behind.

A Tiger Mama trusts her gut and gets a second opinion.

A Tiger Daddy gives praise and constructive criticism, and teaches his children to take both and use them.

A TIger Mama thinks about the question "Would you want to be a child in your own house?" and takes it very seriously.

A Tiger Daddy verbalizes the process, so his kids can hear how we work through trial and error.

A Tiger Mama gets a diagnosis, gets therapy, gets an IEP. Rinse, repeat.

A Tiger Daddy stops and listens and when his children say something.

A Tiger Mama sits back and watches, and then steps in with a suggestion about how they can work it out themselves, so eventually she won't be needed to mediate anymore.

A Tiger Daddy thinks about policies more than rules.

A Tiger Mama knows that equal isn't fair.

A Tiger Daddy is proud of his child for choosing a career that brings satisfaction.

A Tiger Mama gets up every morning, scrambles through the routine and dropoff, and goes to work with a good attitude at the job that feeds her family.

TIger Mamas and Daddies get their kids out of bad situations. Even if that means they split up so they can be good parents separately instead of mediocre parents together.

Tiger Mamas and Daddies hug their kids a lot, and laugh with their kids a lot.

Tiger Mamas and Daddies pay attention to their kids.


What would you add?

52 thoughts on “Power Ballad of the Tiger Mama”

  1. Tiger Mommies and Daddies watch their kids sleep, and thank whatever powers that be for bringing this unique little person into their lives.Tiger Mommies and Daddies make mistakes, acknowledge them, and then try to do different next time.

  2. Tiger Mommies and Daddies know that their children only have one childhood and the Mommies and Daddies are responsible for giving it to their kids.

  3. Just thought of one hubby and I talk about a lot:Tiger Mommies and Daddies are excited to watch who their babies are becoming, every day.

  4. Tiger Mommies and Daddies aren’t immediately combative with health care and other professionals who are trying to help. A good Tiger parent doesn’t assume they have to come out swinging at others all the time. A good Tiger parent keeps in mind that others usually have their child’s best interests at heart too, even if the other person disagrees with what might be the best intervention for the junior tiger.

  5. My mom (Korean) was almost exactly like Amy Chua, to the point where both my sister and I had total flashbacks to our childhood while reading the book. Fighting about music lessons and all.And she fought SO hard for us against the world that it brings tears to my eyes, thinking about it. When she decided the school system wasn’t meeting my needs, she went up through the principal all the way to the regional superintendent to find a way for them to be met. When my sister’s teacher treated her unfairly, she believed my sister unconditionally, turned the car right around (we weren’t even home yet), and yelled at the principal until she got a retraction. When my sister wasn’t performing up to her potential, my mom and dad spent hours working with her, which she’s very grateful for now.
    She wasn’t a perfect mom, and we do have issues with some of the techniques she used (but then again, who doesn’t have issues with her parents?), but she was, and is, a tiger mom.
    (I actually thought the book was pretty good, way better than the rather inflammatory excerpt in the WSJ — Chua talks about how she found out that her extreme mode of parenting wasn’t always the best for her kid, and it’s much more evident in the book than in the excerpt that she’s rather poking fun at her own overreactions and inconsistencies as a parent. Have you read the book?
    So, no, I don’t think she made the word “tiger” dirty, although one could argue that the WSJ did, by twisting the meaning of her book in the highly edited excerpt they posted.)

  6. @charlene- the WSJ had a follow up interview with her, in which the differences between the excerpt and the rest of the book come out:http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/01/13/the-tiger-mother-responds-to-readers/
    I haven’t read the book, and I have to say, the WSJ excerpt didn’t make me want to read it. I wonder if the WSJ excerpt increased her book sales or just the number of visitors on the WSJ site?
    All I know is that the ultimate goal of my parenting is to have two happy adult children who are contributing to the world in whatever way suits them best. I don’t know what sort of label that gives me as a mother.

  7. From the excerpt, her parenting does sound pretty awful to me. But I also think she has “Western” parents pegged. I found it interesting that she said Chinese parents are thinking the same things about us that we think about them (i.e., we don’t love our children as much as they love theirs).

  8. I’ll totally buy that the WSJ edited the piece to make it extremely inflammatory, but all of those words were Chua’s and there were lots of individual things that made my blood boil THAT SHE WROTE.So bad editing or not, I’m totally not reading her crappy book.
    Tiger Mamas work hard to learn who their kids ARE, and don’t force them into becoming someone they’re not.

  9. I’ve never heard of this phenomenon. Must be that rock I’ve been living under.However, I read a pretty decent book recently that perhaps could help parents who feel they suffer from righteous “fighter” tendencies to reign themselves in & demonstrate more empathy towards teachers, coaches, principals, school staff, fellow parents, and even their child’s peers. It’s “Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads: Coping with the Parents, Teachers, Coaches, and Counselors Who Can Rule–or Ruin –Your Child’s Life” by Rosalind Wiseman. Not a perfect book by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps a clever “Tiger” could learn a strategy or two from it. (Not sure I’m even using “Tiger” correctly here.)

  10. I’ve heard Amy Chua on the radio and read follow-up interviews with her, and I am consigning her to the dung heap of authors who would rather raise sales than raise consciousness (plenty of room there, over by Ayelet Waldman, Katie Roiphe, and Rebecca Waldman).Tiger parents not only apologize, but unpack their misbehavior for their children so the cubs learn how to decide what do and what not to do.

  11. Tiger Parents know that there are valuable lessons in success AND failures. Perphaps the [safe] failures are more important teachers. There is value in learning what it is like to be unprepared for your music lessons, and there is value in learning that you can acheive your goals with a good plan and perseverance.

  12. Tiger Moms are willing to do whatever it takes, including looking at themselves when needed, to positively and supportively participate in their children’s journey through life.

  13. Seems this is a bit of a culture war. Often, multiculturalism is a value we say we espouse, but when a value of our own culture bangs up against a value of another culture, we have a gut reaction. Examples? How about the Hijab? Or arranged marriages? Western white culture values freedom and independence. Other cultures don’t place the same emphasis on these values. Judging other parents for their choices/culture/values can be sticky.

  14. I agree with Sara and Charlene. As someone raised by parents from a different country, I can say that the values of fostering children’s individuality and independence are very Western, and specifically, very American. Other cultures values vary greatly and I think it is important to reflect on our own biases and perspectives when evaluating differences in parenting styles or any other cultural value. Even here, approaches towards parenting and views about what’s best for children have changed significantly through time. I read the article and found pieces of it that I agreed with and others that I didn’t based on my own bicultural upbringing. I would not call my child garbage EVER, but I also thought that many of her other points made sense. For me, a “tiger” parent’s duty to their child is to make sure their kid has the best chance in life and to encourage hard work, perseverance, and commitment. I’m grateful for the high expectations that my parents had for me, but also for their belief in my abilities and for their commitment to fighting for the best for their children. Our lives are that much better for it now. When we were kids, we never doubted that we were loved and valued.

  15. Moxie I am so disappointed by your post. Not because I don’t like you description of a “Tiger parent”, I think that your list is a great, and yes good parents do those things. Yes most North American parents do not raise their kids the way Amy chose too, but that does not mean we all have the right to say she is wrong. Did you even read the book? While I don’t agree with most of her parenting style I found that the book was more of a semi-humorous look at her style, and she even opening questions her own style. She wrote the book as a parent who raised her kids the way she was raised and then sits back and tries to assess if this was the right decision. I think there are a lot of parents in North America right now going through this exact thing. They are trying to raise their kids to have similar values, principles and cultural ideas that they were raised with, but then try and balance this with the North American style of parenting. I think parenting is a tough job. I know that I have made many mistakes, but I try and learn from them. We may not agree with Amy’s style of parenting but I don’t feel she deserves the kind of criticism she has been getting and certainly has not made Tiger a dirty word.

  16. @Jody, I can see where you’re coming from, but I guess I’d turn your question around: did you read that WSJ excerpt? Can you see why that excerpt would offend, or at least annoy, a lot of parents who choose to parent differently than Ms. Chua did? Even ignoring that inflammatory headline (which she didn’t write), she basically told us all that we’re bad parents.I don’t really care that her full book is more nuanced. She is a law school professor, and no doubt has an excellent literary agent. I don’t think for a minute that she didn’t have the right to nix that excerpt before it ran. I suspect she let it run because she KNEW it would stir up this sort of controversy, and hoped that would translate into more book sales.
    I’m not going to read her book because I refuse to reward that sort of behavior with my money. Besides, I don’t think I’d like the book as anything other than an interesting story.
    When I first read that excerpt, I was annoyed with her, and felt like I needed to defend my parenting style. When I thought about it some more, though, I realized that I don’t really care what Ms. Chua has to say about parenting, because we aren’t even starting from the same place. She equates success in the traditional sense (status job, money) with success in life. I don’t. My biggest goal in life is to be happy, not “successful”. She has been quoted as saying that she doesn’t know how to enjoy life. Given that very big difference in outlook, it is no surprise that we’re parenting in such different ways.
    I’m not saying I’m right and she’s wrong. I am certainly not saying that I think she doesn’t love her children- I am sure she does. But I AM saying that I don’t think I have much to learn from her that would be valuable in helping me achieve what I want to achieve as a parent.

  17. I think a “good” mother (tiger or not) strenuously avoids judging her struggling peers. It’s important to analyze what we see, hear and read, in part to more clearly understand how we wish to live and parent. But honestly, can we all stop freaking out about how “other mothers” choose to sleep/feed/clothe/educate their children? Can we stop freaking out about ourselves? There is so much noise out there about parenting and how to be a good mom…I wish I could turn it all off and just do my job.Sorry for the rant, but women are just so hard on each other.

  18. @snarkadoodle, well said.Makes me sad when parents, moms particularly, gang up on each other. My mom is Korean. She was not very strict or tigerish, but my aunts were. My cousins are fine, upstanding, kind, fun ladies and men today. So are my brother and I. My mother said the reason why she didn’t raise us in that traditional Korean “tiger mom” way was because she liked us so much. I thought it was funny, funny and sad. She and my dad were major deviants.
    Anyway, we all want our kids to turn out to be good ones.
    Seems like my cousins went through more anger and rebellion than me, because it is tough to be raised in the tiger way in white, suburban America. But they love their folks and respect them.

  19. OK, I just read the WSJ excerpt, and maybe it’s just because I was expecting so much worse, but I didn’t find it that offensive. I actually thought it was a mildly funny, interesting exploration of differences in parenting styles.

  20. A lot of people — and Ms Chua is the worst offender, but hardly the only one — seem to see Asian and Western parenting as absolutes, rather than trending towards one side of a continuum. To say that one values individualism is not to say that one thinks the community is worthless or that your only obligation is to yourself, and I would not be surprised to learn that cultures that value community are not uniformly indifferent to individuals and their needs.You can say “I want you to do what’s right for you” without adding “and I don’t care who you have trample to get it” and you can say “You need to think about your family and your community” without adding “and what you want does not matter at all.”
    If you make either of those additions, I am going to judge you and feel just fine about it. But there’s a vast expanse of reasonable-but-different in between those two extremes, and I don’t have the time or the energy to care where you land.

  21. A Tiger Parent raises their child to believe that what they have to say deserves to be listened to.Among the many great gifts my parents gave me, this ranks among the top. I hope to give my own girls that bedrock sense that their words and opinions matter; not everyone may agree with their words and opinions, but they have every right to put them pon the table.
    Interesting side-thread about the culture differences. I may look at Ms. Chua’s style and at her results and feel a little intimidated by both, for a variety of reasons, but I know she’s not me, and I’m not her, and the way I raise my girls is the only way I know how.

  22. I have not read the book, just the excerpts and interviews. I completely agree re: the “garbage” comment and flinched at the story of the homemade birthday card, but was also impressed by one tenet that she emphasizes which is believing from the beginning that her children are strong. I agree with many of the ideas in her book – hard work is important and often things aren’t fun until you work to get skilled in them. I expect high grades and responsible behavior out of my children because I know it’s what they are capable of. Granted my children are young, but if my elementary age daughter brought home a B it would be because she was being lazy which she has a tendency to do as she is bright.Her daughter wrote a piece recently in the NYP about the reactions to her mother’s book and said her mother hugged her before a piano concert and told her she was so proud of her because she had worked so hard – not because of what the end result would be, as she had not performed yet. In fact, I saw in Ms. Chua’s book some of the same arguments other child psychologists have been making that argue against the culture of praise for praise sake – saying “good job” in response to everything, but rather praise the effort involved or comment on the work itself, rather than automatically saying “good job” for a crayon scribble on paper. While her book is an extreme example of this, I think in some ways it’s related to the very pervasive culture of overpraising that seems to have developed in recent times, that has also been discussed in Nurture Shock and countless other books.

  23. What @MLB said.When I was watching “Real Time With Bill Maher” this weekend, he brought up the Tiger Mom and delivered this one-liner: “Chinese kids are #1 in Math and #1 in Science, while American kids are #35. American kids, however, are #1 in Self-Esteem.”
    So he has a point. That being said, I think the danger is in going to these crazy extremes. I think a lot of us knew at least one kid from our school days whose parents obviously pushed them way too hard to excel academically, and the pressure just about ruined the kid. This one young woman I knew who was pegged as a science genius in high school, and even missed senior prom to go to this elite program at NASA; she had this crazy mom who demanded ever since K that every teacher had to call her immediately the moment her daughter’s grade slipped below an A. The poor kid was always getting into these volatile public fights with her overbearing mom over it. Long story short, she ended up flunking out of Harvard, got married very young, now suffers from major depression to the point she can’t get off her couch, and has never had a job despite being probably one of the smartest people on the planet. Actually, come to think of it the way Chua’s younger daughter reportedly pushed back at her mom sounds a bit like my old classmate. I’m rambling now, but I think it takes an amazing level of hubris to put out a self-congratulatory book like this when the kids aren’t even grown yet. Not to mention it is unfortunate that people will forever associate Chua’s kids with their mother’s memoir. Yikes. End of Schadenfraude-tastic rant.

  24. Holy smokes. I think everyone needs to take a moment and breathe. Do your best, and quit worrying about everyone else’s idea of what a good parent is. How boring would this world be if we were all raised according to the same checklist of priorities. In the words of Lloyd Dobler -You must chill.

  25. Jody, I didn’t read the book. I don’t want to give her any more of my headspace. I did read enough responses, many of them from adults who’d grown up the way Chua is raising her kids, to know that it damages people. Lots of those posts cited suicide statistics, and the connection to the style Chua is making money espousing, and that made me really, really sad.I do NOT think there are only two ways to parent. Chua’s idea that she has to be vicious to her kids because the alternative is to parent laxly is not only racist but also misguided. Yes, there are people who are permissive and do nothing but prop up their kids. But you don’t have to pick one or the other. I’d hazard a guess that most of us here on this site are parenting without praising nothing and also without telling our kids their efforts aren’t good enough. Does my son want to memorize the multiplication tables? No, but I’m making him do it. I’m not making him sit at a table for four hours with no bathroom break while he does it, but I’m still making him memorize them. There’s a whole lot of space between the no-thought method Chua is pushing and the no-thought method she criticizes and labels as “Western.”
    If Chua was white, and she wrote a book bragging about what white parents do and criticizing what black parents do, would we be OK with the book?

  26. I second what Betsy said “…I think it takes an amazing level of hubris to put out a self-congratulatory book like this when the kids aren’t even grown yet. Not to mention it is unfortunate that people will forever associate Chua’s kids with their mother’s memoir. “I was thinking the exact same thing. I too know of a person who was pushed in a similar way and it back-fired in the most tragic way possible. I won’t be able to help watching her children over the years to see how they do. If you think a news story won’t be all over it the second one of these girls screws up, then you’re very naive.

  27. I am currently in the middle of reading the book. I bought it because I read where she said that at least half the book is about how she realized that her Tiger Mother way of parenting wasn’t working. She said she also didn’t pick the title of the WSJ excerpt.Right on the cover of the book it says
    “This is a story about a mother, two daughters, adn two dogs.
    “This was *supposed* to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.
    “But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”
    I’m not sure how someone could read that and think that she is intending to present her book as a manual of how to raise children. Clearly it is a memoir about how her way is NOT the best way. From what I’ve read in the actual book so far, it is certainly NOT self-congratulatory.
    In fact, when she talks about her own career path, you can see that this way of parenting didn’t even work for Ms. Chua herself. She seems to have spent her life just trying to achieve more and more only to find herself working in a field she wasn’t even interested in.
    I don’t know how much input she had into what the WSJ chose to run in their excerpt. But I have definitely found the conversations on the blogosphere to be interesting. What’s wrong with bringing something out into the open so that we can talk about it?

  28. Moxie,I was not intending with my comments to say that “Chinese parenting” is better than “White parenting”, or justify any one persons parenting style by calling it ethinic parenting. I do not think what she wrote is racist at all. I feel that by refusing to read her book but making comments labeling it as “racist”, you are choosing to be ignorant and defending those comments by saying it is not your parenting style and therefore why would you read it. I myself have a similar parenting style to you, but that does not mean that I can’t read about or think about other methods/ways. Further, because I read about these methods it does not mean I have to adopt them, or believe in them. In addition to cultural aspects which play into how we raise our kids there are many religious tenants that also affect parenting styles. This is part of our global village. We live in a multicultural, multifaith environment and it is very normal to have a large spectrum of ideas when it comes to child rearing. Just because you choose to raise your children one way does not mean you are saying all the other ideas and practices are bad.
    To address your point about suicides rates of children raised in this style of parenting. I was not able to find this particular study, did they compare suicide rates in other countries and other religions. No parenting method is perfect, and the truth is we won’t know how good of a job we did for many years. We won’t know if our kids will make it through adolescence and into adulthood unscathed, we only hope what we are doing is right for us and for our kids.
    As parents we need to stop fighting each other and attacking each others parenting styles. Instead we need to support each other and practice a little tolerance because we are all in this together.
    I hope you don’t feel I am personally attacking your parenting style, I love reading your blog mainly because you do seem to be very open and tolerant to many different parenting styles and I was just very surprised to see this post on your blog for that reason. I think you have great ideas and insight and our different opinions does not affect how I feel about your blog on a whole.

  29. Moxie and Jody,Your comments strike right to my heart. I actually grew up with Chua and our parents have been friends for many years. I was shocked and disappointed when I read the WSJ excerpt, and although I know that she is a good and decent (if not a slightly neurotic) person, I would have seen her and her story in a very negative light.
    I understand that the book is completely different from the excerpt, but I think what a lot of people are responding to is the blatant manipulation and “shock” tactics to drum up interest.
    Most of the initial response from the Asian American Community was pretty negative see:http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/
    From there, it spread all over the internet and then in to the rest of the media/public consciousness. Authoritarian parenting (which is really what is described in the excerpt) is pretty out of fashion, but can produce pretty amazing results in terms of performance at a price. There have been lots of studies documenting the negative effects of this parenting style–but there is definitely an upside in terms of “achievement”.
    I appreciate that people are finding that this article and book are opening up conversations about different parenting styles, but I take offense to the fact that even though this book is a memoir, it does not leave her off the hook to at least acknowledge some of the other negative studies/literature about this type of parenting technique.
    For some of us who were raised this way, this type of parenting has caused severe psychological handicaps. She may be one of us–but she obscured a lot of the story by focusing on her own achievement and the achievement of her children.
    This is what I object to–Instead of raising awareness of the significant dangers of this parenting method, she has put promoting her book and herself first foremost.
    I agree we should stop attacking each others’ parenting styles, but
    if you write a book about it, especially a book that is not particularly well-researched, and for a memoir, not particularly self-reflective, I think there is good reason for criticism–especially when you have a lot of people’s attention.

  30. PS: A Tiger Mamas and Papa are Individuals who are not only worried about the future of their children; they can remain present in the here and now for them.

  31. it’s too bad you’re too close-minded to even read amy chua’s book before passing judgment on her. it is one woman’s memoir of her struggles with parenting a very strong-willed child. as a chinese parent, I was encouraged by her story even though I do not consider myself to be a “tiger mother.”

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