• Tue, Feb 4 - 9:00 am ET

IHTM: This Tiger Mom Post Made Me Want To Eat My Young

tigerIt happened to me… I read this tiger mom post on xoJane, and it did nothing but annoy the shit out of me. If you haven’t heard of the tiger mom parenting philosophy, it was popularized by Amy Chua when her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was published in 2011. This was a book that set out to explore the Chinese parenting philosophy of “tiger parenting” and how it compared to us softie Westerners.

xoJane delved deeper in a post written by a child that was proud to be raised by a tiger parent. The anonymous author identified a tiger parent as one who “set enormously high and unreasonable expectations for [their] kids.” Well, that turned me off right away. Technically, my first reaction was not to eat my young—but I feared that a tiger mom on the playground might eat them if they didn’t slide down the slide in perfect formation.

The author went on to say that stereotypical kids of tiger parents aren’t allowed a late curfew, they’re forced to do extra credit even with straight A’s, and they rarely ever hear the words “well done.” This tiger-like behavior is also referred to as authoritarian parenting.

The post author is Jamaican-Chinese and was raised by a second-generation immigrant father that was considered a tiger parent. The author admits to having issues, but she defends her childhood as a “tiger cub” and says she’s the better for it. The author also admits that she wasn’t raised as a full on tiger kid. Maybe if she was, she’d be singing a different tune.

In today’s world, parents are allowed to raise their kids any way they please, but the idea of iron-fisted tiger parenting freaks me out. I was raised somewhat authoritarian in a religious home with strict rules. Maybe I’m riddled with childhood issues, but I always think of how those rules made me feel (shameful, lonely, frustrated, etc.) every time I go to discipline my kids.

I’m not a totally permissive parent because I think that is also harmful to a kid. My toddler loves boundaries and routine, and he freaks out if we give him too much leeway. Though that hardly makes me a tiger parent.

Tiger parenting as I hear it takes all the fun out of having kids. I can speak from personal experience when I say that kids that are forced to meet strict expectations often struggle with self-esteem for the rest of their lives. If a tiger parent can boast that their kid got into an Ivy League college, good for them. I’d rather my kid be so-so and have a good time doing it. Rar.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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  • Kay_Sue

    IHTM: I have sporadic urges to eat my children and a new understanding of spiders.

    This sounds like a lot of work to me. Parenting is work, yes, but this just seems like soooo much more than I signed up for, personally.

    • Bethany Ramos

      LOL – IHTM: I Am Too Tired To Critique Your Form As You Slide Down The Slide

  • K.

    I feel like I need to set some of the record straight about tiger parenting (I had a tiger mother as well), which is that it’s not a case of simply placing demands on the child and then holding them accountable. A good “tiger parent” is someone who puts A LOT of energy into helping the child meet goals–so, for example, my grandfather (another tiger parent) insisted that my mother and her sister play tennis and they got up every day, rain or shine, at 4am to practice for 3 hours before school, from the age of about 5. He did not, however, just drop them off at the courts and say, “I expect a medal this weekend.” He ALSO got up at 4am and was there with them feeding balls. Another example is the fact that Barack Obama’s mother reportedly got HIM up hours before school to do extra credit homework–even though he was a straight-A student already–but sat with him while he did it. In other words, you can’t be lazy and be a ‘tiger parent’–you have to put substantial investment of your own time and energy into childrearing.

    The trade-off, and this has been true in my life, is that it DOES in fact teach kids not only that they should hold themselves to high-standards but that they CAN hold themselves to high-standards while teaching them the discipline and work-ethic that’s generally required to achieve those standards. It taught me that I’m not constrained by natural ability (within reason–I’m not going to ever play for the WNBA!)–that my capacity for work is more powerful than my fears or doubts.

    Now, is tiger parenting the ONLY way to bestow that message? No–and I’m not necessarily defending the parenting style, by the way, because it’s been both helpful and hurtful in my own life, but I do think that the assumption among people who aren’t familiar with the style it’s just a parent making demands. It’s not.

    And by the way–Amy Chua’s new book sounds pretty racist and I’m not defending her either!

    • SnoozyPuppies

      How on earth did your mother and aunt get enough sleep? School-aged kids typically need 10-12 hours of sleep. To meet that goal, the absolute latest bedtime they should have had with a 4 am wakeup is 6 pm. Given that I’m sure your tiger-grandpa also had high expectations of their performance at school, I imagine they had a lot of homework in the evening so I really doubt they were in bed that early. Given the vital importance of sleep to brain development and learning, I really don’t see the value of waking up at 4 am for, well, anything, really, not just tennis. (Full disclosure: If I had to get up at 4 am, I really would eat my young. And I wouldn’t feel bad about it at all)

    • K.

      Well, I wasn’t around, so I don’t know. It’s likely that they didn’t–because, as you point out, my grandfather did place high demands on academics and everything else (they did Girl Scouts and 4H and surfed and all other sorts of things).

      But my mother was her HS valedictorian, graduated summa cum laude from college, and was among the first of women to graduate from Yale Law (Chua’s own stomping grounds). So it doesn’t appear that lack of sleep had much affect on her brain development or learning. I mean, yes, perhaps she didn’t get her fair share of brain development and maybe she could have, I don’t know–won the Nobel or something–if she had gotten more sleep as a kid, but I think she did okay. I know that she’s proud of her childhood and the life she’s built for herself and I think she would express tremendous gratitude to my grandparents for helping her to achieve those things.

      I mean, I’m not saying that the method is appropriate for everyone in all cases and I’m not saying it’s perfect; I’m just trying to adjust some of the assumptions that people have about it.

      Oh yeah–my mom also still plays tennis :)

    • SnoozyPuppies

      So, sounds like being raised this way certainly didn’t hurt her at all! I think it comes down to cultural and personal values, in the end. What kind of childhood do we value for our children? Sounds like in your family, childhood is a time to intensively prepare for your future, while in my family, I view childhood as a time for a slower-paced, more exploratory life than one gets as an adult. I was raised this way because my parents had extremely stressful childhoods themselves, being born into the middle of a war and then as immigrants having to shoulder adult responsibilities while still children. They vowed that their children would get to enjoy a more carefree childhood than they had. (and we all turned out to be university-educated professionals, so it worked out well in the end) I suppose those values stuck because now I like to see childhood as a more carefree time and that is how I am raising my children. We do incorporate structure and many activities so it’s not a complete free-for-all, but I highly value downtime and time for unstructured, creative play. And sleep. Beautiful, beautiful sleep. (That 4 am business really struck a chord here)
      Full-on tiger-parenting isn’t a choice that I would make, but I can see why people do it and I can see that there would be some benefits (and drawbacks, as there is with any parenting style). I think a lot of people react somewhat viscerally to the concept because of how it was articulated by Amy Chua. From what I’ve read about her, Amy Chua seems pretty judgey of other parenting approaches, and sorta seems like an awful person. But I haven’t actually read either of her books so I can’t really comment on them myself.

    • K.

      I think we all parent imperfectly, no matter which style you
      choose. My experience with tiger parenting was a mixed bag—notably, I have to
      admit that a lot of my childhood accomplishments don’t feel like MY accomplishments
      because they were in areas I didn’t choose for myself. That seems a big
      criticism of Chua in general because she believes in her own hierarchy of
      accomplishment (such as being an ivy-league educated lawyer or doctor is the
      pinnacle of being), and wants to propose it as some universal parameter (in which,
      incidentally, SHE happens to have achieved quite well). To me, she has a point
      in that the whole idea of “doing what you love” or “living a life that makes
      you happy” is generally a very privileged outlook—most people have to spend the
      bulk of their time responding to various obligations. I associate that with a more
      “American” perspective that’s not aligned with any particular ethnicity and admittedly,
      I may only be saying that because I work with a lot of undergrads and HS
      students and there IS a millennial blindspot when it comes to the fact that no,
      not everyone gets a trophy just for trying, no, teachers do not ‘give’ you
      grades, you *earn* them, and yes, you have to build a career from the ground up—you
      don’t get to enter at management level. Most things in life take grit; most
      jobs aren’t soul-stirring; most people don’t win the MacArthur, even if they
      are very smart and very accomplished—and it is perhaps a disservice for parents
      to hide those realities from children. I am NOT saying that tiger parenting is
      the best way to help your children adjust to adult responsibilities that will
      come, or that there aren’t many OTHER parenting styles that one could employ,
      but I’m also illustrating that it’s not
      always as crazy or damaging as people believe and that that there is some
      wisdom to its perspective.

    • Heather

      I really respect this view and I think the best take-away from reading this is that being INVOLVED is the thing that helps these kids succeed, not necessarily the pressure of achieving incredibly high standards.

      I succeeded in school and accomplished pretty much everything I intended to accomplish and I did that because my dad put absolutely ZERO pressure on me to perform. He didn’t even incentive-ize success that much. While I was always assured of how proud of me he was, I didn’t get parties for straight a’s (or dollars, or really any rewards other than a hug and a “great job, sweetie). He emphasized the fact that anything I wanted to do was for me. I wasn’t going to school for him, he’d already been to school and gotten his grades. My schooling was for me, and I intended to get as much out of it as I could and I sought out the extra-credit and extra learning opportunities available. That said, he came to my games, meets, plays, performances, and competitions for all the various things I participated in. He took note when I was making strides towards accomplishing my goal. He did everything in his power to provide the resources I needed to meet my goals, including sometimes getting up extremely early on a Saturday to drive me to the school to catch a bus across the state to compete in something. He was involved, but placed no expectations on my shoulders.

    • LiteBrite

      I think that’s a good point. Tiger parenting isn’t about setting high expectations then leaving to take a long nap. Tiger parents put a lot of effort into helping their children meet and exceed their goals.

      This is why I would suck at being a tiger parent. I’m more like a fat housecat. I’ll sit on the couch and watch your from afar, and maybe clean your ears, but I will hiss and growl if you wake me up too early.

      Note: In all seriousness, my husband and I are pretty involved with our son, particularly with his education, but I’m still not getting up at 4 a.m.

    • Kat

      You made some excellent points, thank you! Like Bethany, I was raised in a home with high expectations but, unlike you and your family, didn’t get the support to meet those goals. I remember wanting to be a ballerina and while my mom did find me lessons (for which I’m still grateful), that, meeting the minimum uniform requirement, and driving me were the extent of their support. I’m not complaining about that – I realize that was a sacrifice for her and she’d much rather not have had that obligation or expense.

      That’s not the problem. The problem was the inevitable looks and comments I got every time they watched the Olympics and engaging in their favorite past times of asking why *I* wasn’t a star figure skater or gymnast. It never failed to make me feel like I wasn’t good enough and should push more. Same with school. Why wasn’t I winning spelling bees or already attracting colleges’ attention? It wasn’t until college that I realized that I’d been set up for failure. So when I read about tiger parents I read it through my lens and that of a friend who became legitimately OCD after growing up with her Never Good Enough father. It’s good to hear how it can be done well.

  • http://mother--bored.tumblr.com/ Aimee Ogden

    Yeah, I’ve never wanted to be my kids’ best friends, but I’d like them to want to spend time with me as adults? Insisting “the moon or bust!” doesn’t sound like it’s doing them any favors in terms of long-term happiness even if it does get them a pre-med spot at Harvard. I’d rather have kids who love to learn and who are willing to take chances on harder and more interesting paths than kids who just REALLY WANT THAT A.

    • Brainspace

      I’m a teacher and I work in a district with a lot of students who have Tiger parents. Generally, I find that my students who come from this mentality of “A or nothing” are more prone to cheating. Ironically, my kids who just don’t study at all are willing to fail with flying colors (also frustrating), but my “Tiger kids” have this mentality that even if they study, they’d better make sure they’re absolutely the highest.

      Don’t get me wrong; these kids are also some of the hardest workers with the very best attitude and commitment to school. It just saddens me that many of them see education solely as a vehicle, rather than ever learning for the joy of learning.

    • http://mother--bored.tumblr.com/ Aimee Ogden

      Haha, I used to teach too and that was exactly what I was thinking of – all the grades-lawyering, ugh. On top of the kids who felt entitled to an A after putting in X hours of studying, I had one parent in partucular who would call within 20 minutes of me entering in grades electronically to see why her son had only gotten a 92 on that last quiz. Time to land that helicopter, lady!

    • Brainspace

      Ha, yes! And when you show clearly why full credit wasn’t earned, they argue with your answers. No, the author of The Crucible will never change, no matter how hard you argue, and yes, it is a fair question considering it’s on the cover.

  • Jan

    My siblings and I were raised part tiger- although to be honest the effort waned as it trickled down to me. From the age of 5 we were expected to practice our handwriting, our multiplication tables and recitation skills for at least 2 hours a day.

    We weren’t allowed to watch tv, and sling anything extra circular that my parents didn’t think beneficial to our education was out of the question. We were never even allowed to watch television. As of a late curfew- what curfew? We weren’t allowed out full stop. Our only main difference is my parents rewarded us for good results – so we did hear plenty of praise when we did well. However doing well meant nothing below an A level standard.

    As my eldest siblings got the most of the tiger parenting- I realised their childhoods weren’t very happy- and this comes out in their parenting. They tend to be very lenient on their children- emphasising on “happy memories and happy childhoods”- this ha unfortunately resulted in very little discipline of their children. So while educationally wise they’re very successful people- my brother is a heart surgeon and my sister is a neurologist- they have got very undisciplined – even spoiled and rude children. Every time I see them they are glued to the tv or iPads and rarely greet me.

    As the effect trickles down- my younger brother and I has happier childhoods- although still fairly strict by Westernised standards (we finally had a curfew… That was 3 hours earlier than our peers). I still instil some old practices that my parents passed down- although my children are very young so right now I don’t know how long that’ll last or what the effects will be. So far I have a balanced 8 year old and 5 year old who academically surpass their peers by several years. I allow some tv time- not much on weeknights but a few hours over the weekend. I think my children will recognise they had a strictish upbringing – however we do try to balance it out and reward their efforts – such as more screen time if they finish the next 3 math problems within a certain time frame and correctly.

    I think one of the main detractions is that tiger parenting seems to indicate that the love will stop if the children don’t succeed. This will never be the case with us- but we simply don’t give up until the children do succeed

    • Guest

      I feel like this happens in lots of families- each generation kind of does the opposite of the parents. I know my grandparents were harsh, my parents were really lenient, and I know I’ll be more strict with my kids.

    • Bethany Ramos

      This is so interesting because I am way more relaxed than my strict parents, so will my kids be stricter?? I never thought of that.

  • kate

    I have a hard time understanding how someone else’s parenting philosophy would “annoy the shit out of” you. To each their own. If we’re going to support each other in the mommy world and not tear each other down, we should respect choices other people make, even if different than our own. What’s the big deal? I mean, we love diversity, right?

    • Kay_Sue

      “I read this tiger mom post on xoJane, and it did nothing but annoy the shit out of me. ”

      She was referring to a specific post, not to the parenting philosophy itself. She does not attribute this to the parenting philosophy itself, so taking the statement as anything beyond what it says is assumption.

      “In today’s world, parents are allowed to raise their kids any way they please, but the idea of iron-fisted tiger parenting freaks me out.”

      This one, on the other hand, would more accurately reflect the author’s actual perspective on different parenting styles, methinks. “Freaks me out” is worlds away from “annoys the shit out of”, and I have to say, there are parenting styles that freak me out too. Bethany’s putting this piece in the context of her own upbringing, which she points out several times.

      And disagreeing with someone and having a difference of opinion doesn’t negate one’s appreciation of diversity and the fact that the opinion can exist to be agreed or disagreed with.

  • Rachel Sea

    For what it’s worth, one of the things Chua talks about in interviews is that she took it too far and fucked up her relationship with her daughters. Like with everything, there is a way to do tiger or authoritarian parenting right, and a way to do it wrong.

    • CW

      Except she just wrote another book about how Chinese parenting (and that of a handful of other cultures) is superior. So if she previously expressed regret, she’s singing a different tune now.

    • Rachel Sea

      Her regret wasn’t for her parenting style, only that in some ways she did it poorly.

    • K.

      I read “Battle Hymn” and it struck me as a standard memoir, in which the author talks about how their life has caused them to change (and yeah, she does admit that her daughter rebelled against her parenting styles)…But my take on Chua is that she’s basically carving out a career in which she desperately crafts a value structure that is about validating HER OWN lifestyle and choices—ie, “Tiger parenting is great because it produces Ivy League-bound kids who will one day be high-powered doctors and lawyers…Like me, of course, because I am the standard of all that should be revered.” Chua is a Harvard graduate, a professor at Yale, a best-selling author, and a wife and mother…yet I get the sense that all of that isn’t enough for her—her way has to be indoctrinated as everyone else’s brass ring too in order for it to be of value to her. That’s why she’s all about individual competition and always being “the best”—the “best” doesn’t exist if everyone else refuses to join.

      Now, like I said, the key about tiger parenting is showing your kids that they
      should demand “the best” from themselves—and for themselves as well. Chua’s version falters because “the best” is really about her more than it is about the child.

    • Rachel Sea

      Any time I read something where the author claims to have found The Answer I assume they either have serious issues with externalized self worth, or are forming a cult (or both).

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    To be frank, I don’t care what level of professional success my son achieves so long as he’s capable of supporting himself, having the family size of his choosing, and following some dreams. Most importantly, I want him to be reasonably happy in life, and part of happiness I think comes from having good memories to draw on when things are hard or boring.
    All work and no play makes life just not worthwhile, in the humble opinion of this lazy type B parent.

  • CW

    My parents were strict, but warm and affectionate at the same time. Very high expectations coupled with a lot of love. I didn’t like all the rules when I was a teen but now that I’m an adult, I’m very thankful to my parents for them because they kept me from making a lot of the mistakes that my high school classmates did. It’s a total myth that strict parents will make the kids rebel or otherwise mess them up for life.

  • K Jones

    The only disagreement I have with this method of parenting is it seems to have a narrow definition of ‘success.” Not everyone can or wants to go to Ivy league schools or become a doctor, lawyer, etc. My daughter struggled in school. My encouragement was always the same. Do your best. There were times when she would slack and I would give a gentle push, but no demands. She is a happy, well adjusted young adult now and has a job she loves teaching preschool. Whenever we are out in public (we live in a small town), invariably I will here a little voice yell “Miss K, Miss K!!!!” Before I can turn around, some small child is clinging to her leg, telling everyone within shouting distance that “Miss K is my teacher!!!” The smile on both their faces says success to me.

  • SarahJesness

    Do female tigers eat their young? I know first-time mothers will sometimes abandon their first litter, though I’ve never heard of eating. Wouldn’t be surprised if it was a thing, I guess.

    • Shonda

      They rarely do but there have been times were all animals (especially felines) can experience infanticide. Which is not only when they eat their young but when they will also each other, such as when a lioness dies and someone from her pack eats her.

      This has gotten way to gruesome lol

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