A Regretful Non-Tiger Mom (Sort Of)

Leslie Hsu Oh writes:

When I first became a parent, I refused to be a tiger mom. My parents were proud to be labeled as tiger parents. But I was an American Born Chinese and I didn’t want to be associated with this cultural stereotype. I promised myself I would never force my children to play an instrument or pursue a career that I wanted.

…But now with college on the horizon, I suddenly feel the tiger mom inside me surfacing.

Leslie has second thoughts about her parenting choices.

While I did provide high expectations on grades and unconditional love, I’m worried that I was too much a Western parent, the kind Chua described as being worried about their child’s self-esteem, who respects “their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment.”

I realize that I do expect my kids to attend an Ivy League. I stay up late prepping them for exams and make sure their art projects will make jaws drop. But when I try to get them to work hard, the only leverage they respond to is access to their TV, Xbox, or cell phones. I never taught them that greatness comes from hard work and sacrifice.

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it,” wrote Chua. “To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.”

The specific bar of Ivy League colleges — attending Lesser Brand Private U or State U instead — is unnerving. She seeks some refuge in Facebook, and finds it. She writes:

Reading Chua’s daughters’ words admittedly sent me into a panic. Maybe I did not have enough fortitude to be a tiger mom. Maybe I was selfish and I used my precious hours when my children were little to advance my own career and let Sesame Street parent instead. Looking for support, I asked on my network on Facebook what they thought about tiger parenting.

Steven Flanagan, father of two high school kids in Arizona posted, “I’m just trying to get my kids to adulthood without drugs, suicide, STDs, or pregnancy. If I can keep my kids from becoming a statistic, I win. Also, just decent contributing members of society.”

Melissa Menchavez, mother of one high school and one middle school kid in Virginia posted: “Are the children involved in the decision-making? Do they want the path their parents have chosen? My biggest goal is that my girls are happy. That’s my measure of success.”

Kelly Raftery, mother of a high school kid, posted, “In today’s hyper competitive world, kids are being pushed to severe anxiety and are under a huge amount of pressure to ‘succeed’ – but what if success is living a happy life, not making it into an Ivy League. In a time when so many parents are pushing, it feels counterintuitive almost to not push, but having my son be on his own two feet, mentally and emotionally sound is more important than any ‘achievements’ he may notch as a teenager.”

Chua wrote at the end of her book, “To succeed in this world, you always have to be willing to adapt.” This was the lesson she learned and ultimately the secret to making tiger parenting work. Every child is different and as the world grows more complex, a tiger parent can’t narrowly define success as only academic or intellectual achievement. The critical lesson here is to show your child how to succeed.

I can appreciate the uncertainty Leslie feels. I share that sometimes.

One challenge is that Ivy League admission is a scorecard by which a parent can say “We won. We won at parenting.”

There is no clear equivalent for Panda Parenting. No simple, clearly-defined indicator that would say “Happy, moral, self-reliant, self-aware kid.”

It makes me wonder if that is actually a credential worth creating?

“We will evaluate your Whole Kid through a mix of observations, interviews, peer reviews, etc. We’ll give you a Scorecard that doubles as a Holistic Parenting Evaluation.” Available for Grades 3, 6, 9.