What I Love about the Tiger Mom

January 19th, 2011

By Dr. Jim Taylor

If you look at the title of my recent post about Amy Chua, What Chinese-American Mothers Do Wrong (and Right), and the title of this piece, you may be thinking that I have Multiple Personality Disorder, excoriating her one day and expressing my affection for her the next. I have since thought more about her wsj.com article and learned more about her. I began to look beneath the surface of her words and consider what underlay her seemingly outrageous (at least for many of us) treatment of her daughters and saw much to admire. And I thoroughly agree with many of her criticisms of what is severely lacking in the parenting approach of her predominantly white, educated, and affluent counterparts.

Here is what I love about the Tiger Mom:

1. Amy Chua knows what she values and lives those values. I may not agree with her values, but I respect that she’s willing to “cowboy up” with her values. In my private practice, at speaking engagements around the country, and in my own community north of San Francisco, I see too many parents who either don’t know what they value, don’t have the courage of their convictions to live their values, or are just plain too lazy or selfish to raise their children in accordance with their values.

2. Ms. Chua doesn’t give a damn about public perception. Though bragging about calling your child garbage is probably not a great social lubricant at a cocktail party, I respect that she isn’t swayed by what others think, say, or write. Too many parents today are more concerned about how they are viewed as parents than what kind of children they are raising and only too willing to get on the “runaway train” of what everyone else is doing.

3. Ms. Chua is totally committed to doing what is best for her children (even if many of us disagree on what constitutes “best”). In both my work and family lives, I hear far too many parents talking the talk, but not walking the walk, on raising their children. You have to hand it to the Tiger Mom; she’s willing to do the “heaving lifting” of being a parent in a culture of parenting that is often unwilling to work up a sweat.

4. I respect Ms. Chua’s willingness to “rage against the machine” of pop culture and pop psychology; she knows that most of it is a bunch of hooey. And she’s prepared to protect her children from popular culture’s mostly awful messages and resist pop psychology’s absurd messages about how to raise children (e.g., you should be friends with your children).

5. Ms. Chua has been willing to subject herself to sometimes vitriolic criticism. At the same time, she has ignited a much-needed national conversation about raising children in 21st Century America.

6. Unlike so many insecure, conflicted, and angst-ridden parents in our demographic, I appreciate Ms. Chua’s unrepentant confidence in her parenting style. She has faith in the path she has cleared for her daughters (and I believe that confidence is beneficial for them) and doesn’t waste psychic energy questioning, doubting, or otherwise beating herself up about whether her approach is right or wrong (though admittedly there are some downsides to such certitude).

I had sensed a real narcissism in Ms. Chua’s maniacal behavior toward her daughters. But now I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she has been willing to fight the good fight for her children based on what she truly believes. In a culture of parenting that is sorely lacking that kind of conviction, I think all parents can learn a few things about raising their children from this Tiger Mom. And, as the father of two little girls with a maniacal streak of my own, I can only hope that I have the fortitude to make the tough decisions and take the path of most resistance when it comes to raising my daughters.

(This article was also posted at Dr. Jim Taylor’s Blog.)

(Visit Dr. Jim Taylor’s YouTube channel to see some of his television interviews.)

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7 Responses to “What I Love about the Tiger Mom”

  1. larry ennis |

    Dr. Jim
    Your gracious consideration of a different point of view should be applauded. A great many of us tend to set everything in stone. The very thought that someone else has an equally productive way of doing something is out of the question.

  2. Lisa |

    I find it odd that for someone as educated as Ms Chua is, there are no shades of gray in her distinctions between Chinese parents and Western parents. I did not find evidence of humor or satire within her article to suggest she was not being completely serious. I kept wondering where I fall within a vast imaginary gray area.

    The Chinese/Asian way of parenting is very well-known where we live. My daughter sometimes finds herself in the minority in different classes and is well aware of the challenges her Asian classmates face outside the classroom.

    For me, the key to parenting has been to set the bar high in academics and citizenship and create a very balanced lifestyle to make it happen. That can be challenging dealing with teenagers but for mine, if she wants to go away to summer camp, she has to get straight A’s.

  3. Tom Carter |

    Seems to me that every family and every child are different, so approaches to parenting are necessarily going to be different. However, there are some parents out there who do a pretty rotten job with their kids. I still think maybe there should be a license required before people can even have them (OK, I know it’s stupid. But still….)

    Lisa, from what I know of your daughter, you’ve done a heck of a good job as a parent. Maybe you should write a book, too!

  4. Lisa |

    Ha ha, Tom. You know I cannot write!!!!

  5. Tom Carter |

    Pshaw, Lisa. That’s not what I remember!

  6. Brian |

    Dr. Taylor, we’re in agreement again. Too many parents seem not even to know what it means to be a parent. At the risk of sounding like an uncaring beast or a horrible cynic, most kids are little more than hunks of meat that can do little, if anything at all, for themselves. It is the job of parents to turn those hunks of meat into civilized adults.

    To that end, a few days ago I saw a 50-something dad asking his 2 little boys (7 and 3 years old) where they wanted to sit in the car for the ride home. It may seem inconsequential, but a squabble ensued between the boys about who was going to sit where. Part of the civilizing of children is to teach them to respect people, including other people’s time. The only thing these kids learned is that they can do whatever they want without regard to what it might cost someone else, even if it was just 3 or 4 minutes of the dad’s life.

    The consequence of this shortsightedness on Dad’s part is that these these kids run roughshod over him, then he gets pissed off at them and starts yelling at them because they won’t behave. They have no earthly idea how to behave because he doesn’t teach them to. They are not worldly enough to make anything but the most inconsequential of decisions. Ultimately, these boys are going to learn that they need to behave just well enough to avoid making Daddy mad. That may work OK until they graduate from HS and move out. I say “may” because it is entirely likely that they’ll do whatever they can to hide those things that might make Daddy mad. This is not an uncommon trait amongst all kids, but I’ve observed that it is much less a problem for parents who make discipline about right and wrong, and not about avoiding making Mommy/Daddy angry.

    We certainly need to teach kids how to make decisions, but that starts with offering them choices on things that cannot affect anyone. An appropriate choice to offer little kids might be “would you like strawberry, vanilla, or chocolate ice cream?”.

    Kids are not merely “miniature adults.” Even with firm, consistent discipline and teaching, they’re going to make the stupid mistakes that all kids make. What is the utility in yelling at them? We all lose our cool from time to time and take it out on our kids, but this should most assuredly be the exception and not the rule. If kids did not need the lessons of life drilled into them over and over and over again, they’d already be adults and would need little tutelage.

    The geniuses on Madison Avenue have determined that the average adult needs to see a commercial about 30 times before he/she might be influenced enough to buy whatever is being advertised. If sentient adults need that kind of repetition in order to be influenced, how many repetitions of life’s lessons do barely-sentient kids need in order for those lessons to sink in? Hundreds, perhaps?

  7. drjim |

    @Brian: In agreement again? That’s scary!

    You are spot on in your insights. And your example is great and shows how subtle, seemingly unimportant interactions are powerful.

    My new parenting book that comes out in May is all about the messages that we send our children, overt and, more importantly, subtle. How many repetitions of life lessons? Thousands upon thousands often. But I have found that most parents give up after a few tries because their children don’t get the messages (duh! They are little kids). To be a great parents, wherever you lie along the Tiger Mom to Banana Slug Mom continuum, you must be maniacal and committed to the messages you want to send to your children.

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