Tiger Mother?

No! Western mother!

When I first knew my oldest kids (I am their Mom 2.0) they were six and nine. They astounded me by singing all the time, in harmony (the older did the improvised harmonies,) with or without accompaniment. Folk songs and pub songs mostly, but also Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. My husband and their mother both played guitar and sang. I never sang. My family never sang, except occasionally my father who had been a choirboy in St Mary’s, Warwick. Obviously musically talented, later the two kids learned instruments (brass) at school and in the town brass band. One has a career in music now, in New Zealand, and the other has been semiprofessional even though sidelined by illness while still in the Royal Northern College of Music. My younger two, also talented, keep music as an interest.

Amy Chua’s two daughters, by contrast, were intensively coached from the age of three, in piano and violin, which she points out  are the Chinese parents’ instruments of choice. Both were required to practice for many hours a day, and entered into concerts  and competitions at a young age.

The life styles that are indicated in those two families are the stuff of Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Brought up, in the US,  in a traditional Chinese style of obedience, respect for parents and elders, responsibility and achievement, she is fierce in her determination to bring up her children the same way, even though it is not the style of her Jewish husband’s family. She would accept nothing less than an A in school, where we actually bribed one of our daughters, a worrying perfectionist,with a dollar for anything that wasn’t an A, though she couldn’t do it, except in P.E.- so Chinese of her!

I value education highly; our kids got lots of books and reading, and only one TV program a day. They felt out of things at school. But Chua’s girls had no TV, no playdates,  and free time was family time. Their dad and his parents loved the outdoors and a lake they had been going to for years. On holidays, even abroad, they still had to practice their instruments for hours daily.

Chua’s older daughter thrived under this parenting; the younger rebelled, at least for a while and in some cultural ways. As the author said:

“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.”

That is so (western) thirteen year old. I had a terrible year with one of my daughters. We couldn’t talk without shouting and getting angry with each other, even though I kept saying to myself “I’m the grown-up. I shouldn’t be getting into this all the time.” Then the skies cleared. Who knows why?

I feel lucky in all the next generation in our family. The way they developed with us was very different from Tiger mother’s ways – including that our older two had a completely different style of parenting from their own mom, and yet all have turned out with their own capabilities and talents and interests in what I consider pretty successful ways. That’s another enormous difference between Tiger Mother and me.

I absolutely do not accept ambition as a goal or wealth and “achievements” as measures of a worthwhile contribution to the human world, or the value of an individual’s life. If I did I would be writing off the many whose potential is so much more limited than Chua’s children or mine, because of physical limitations, like Chua’s own youngest sister who has Down syndrome, or because of backgrounds of poverty, accompanied often by lack of books, of verbal or emotional support, not to mention malnutrition and its effects on children’s brain development. Kids can turn out well with different styles of parenting, but some lacks can never be compensated.

Chinese mother or western mother? Just let’s make sure there are enough jobs, a minimum wage people can live on, safe and healthy housing, schools that are adequate, health care, and a safety net for those who were not born in middle class or wealthy families which could nurture or push them.


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