Battling the Tiger

I can’t keep current with media, I don’t watch much TV and I rarely find time to read these days but when Amy Chua’s book came out a few months ago, I wished things were different.

Instead, my loving (Chinese) husband forwarded me articles and retroactively I went on-line to watch YouTube clips of Amy Chua interviews. Then, finally, two weeks ago, I broke down and purchased her book (since I was 17th in line for it at our local library).

I can’t say I’m devouring the book but I’m definitely intrigued; intrigued because I married a Tiger Father.

OK, well, it’s not quite an apple-to-apple comparison, for one thing, neither of our children play instruments of any sort (unless you qualify plastic, egg-shaped maracas, a wooden train whistle or a Chicco brand kid keyboard as such) and the applied level of strict-parenting in our house is a mere fraction of the near manic levels of Amy Chua but still, I am the first to admit that the way DH was raised, the level of parental respect he and his sister display and the sense of work ethic and stick-to-itness they each embody far exceeds my own, soft, Western upbringing. I wanted to know why.

Now that I’m half-way through the book, I vacillate between thinking Chua is a loving, intense, stereotypical Chinese mother and thinking she’s a total whack-job. I’ve had brief conversations about the expectations and pressures of Chinese parents with DH but–though his parents, like Chua’s, also immigrated to the US (the former as children, the latter as young adults)–he did not experience the same level of high-expectations nor militant standards Chua and her kids were subjected to.

Instead, his parents established themselves as successful, Chinese business people and settled in one of the top, overachiever communities in the US: Greenwich, CT. Like many immigrants, they didn’t fall victim to the social pressures of joining country clubs and spending lavish amounts on vacations, cars or gadgets, instead, they were shrewd, focused and careful, allowing the exposure to affluent, American society to preach its own lessons.

In the beginning, they sent DH to a well-heeled, private day school but later pulled him out to attend the well-funded, local public school. He had sleepovers, played sports, chose which instruments, if any, he wanted to “try out” and developed into a well-rounded, forward-thinking, successful adult. Granted, he wasn’t pushed to his greatest potential (his parents were too busy with their companies) and he didn’t attend any Ivy League schools but he’s done well for himself and he holds his parents in the same high esteem so common among Asian offspring.

Which brings me to the topic of our own, slightly different parenting styles. In our house, DH is the bad cop and I am the softie. He’s the Tiger Father and I am the Teddy Bear Mom. His tolerance for insolence, bad manners or disrespect is practically non-existent yet so are his goals for his childrens’ education and extra-curricular activities. He doesn’t see the need for private schools, believes in the mantra that doing something simple together far exceeds doing something extreme apart. Feels that group swim classes at the local Y instill a better sense of value than private lessons at an elite club (who cares if it takes three times longer to learn the same skills). In short, based on Chua’s definition, I guess he’s really only part Tiger.

I, on the other-hand, strongly believe in the value of private education. Feel that sacrificing my personal desires for my childrens’ extra-curricular endeavors is more important. Hope to expose our children not only to a standard of high-society taught at home but also applied in the real world. Want to push our children to the best of their abilities and not just settle for mediocrity. In short, I guess I’m part Tiger too.

So whom am I battling? This morning, I got in touch with my Tiger-side.

Our daughter, now finishing pre-K and entering kindergarten this fall, is wound pretty tight. She’s gregarious, take-charge and fairly inflexible, a little bit of each of her parents. But she’s also pretty savvy. She likes to do things her way and is easily unraveled when things don’t turn out right.  Though she shows a clear love of books and of making up the stories within (no one’s willing to tell her it’s not reading), I haven’t pushed teaching her to read or write. I think there’s a time and place for everything and there’s no need to rush childhood. At the same time, I know she’s capable and old enough to master some of those skills.

So when I asked her to write a very short note in a dear friend’s birthday card and she didn’t give it her best effort, I lost my temper. At preschool she’s been learning how to write her letters so if we spell words out for her, she can usually write them correctly. In this instance, however, the words involved the less common letters of “v” and “z.”

Since starting Chua’s book, I find myself pushing my kids harder (especially our daughter) and dolling out praises less. I feel smug and a bit uncomfortable in some instances but I fear that the converse outcome of praising kids for every minutia, accepting half-hearted efforts and not challenging them, does a far greater disservice.

So I sat her down at her dry-erase, alphabet place mat and required her to practice her V’s and Z’s. No breakfast until she produced an admirable one of each.

Of course it brought tears, of course she complained of being hungry, of course I wondered if this new hard-line approach was right but I stuck to my guns. Eventually, she produced acceptable versions of each but after much resistance, frustration and stalling.

In the end, she told me she hated the letters V and Z and that she wasn’t ever going to write them again. I had to wonder, was this my Lulu? Who was the Tiger now? DH? Me? or this half-sized hybrid of us both?

Only time will tell…

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. slightlywonky
    May 17, 2011 @ 16:58:24

    I think that “moderation” might be the safest route, and this sounds like what you’re doing. I just heard an interview today from an author who talks about, “the bamboo ceiling”…which may or may not be the result of extreme tiger-moms. Parenting seems like a tightrope walk…too much one way or the other leads to a fall. But what exactly is that middle road? Who knows…therein lies the challenge…

    Reply

    • growingmuses
      May 17, 2011 @ 20:05:42

      Tight rope? Man, you’re not kidding! the pendulum swings both ways and somewhere in the middle is the balance (I always think of Foucault when I think of pendulums except I guess it’s only my pins being knocked down).

      Reply

  2. Karyn @ kloppenmum
    May 17, 2011 @ 19:45:14

    It’s trying things and changing them if they don’t work out that often matters with parenting (and the rest of life). Praise for smarts is certainly over-rated (Nurture Shock – the book is a great source of info about this) – and working hard *is*important. Mind you, so is food. 🙂

    Reply

  3. cecile
    Jun 03, 2011 @ 17:46:06

    Wow. I would not describe you as a Teddy Bear mom, I don’t know what you would say of my much softer approach… But I think that probably what matters most if that you believe on what you are doing. And your daughter is great.
    By the way, mine was really sad I missed you yesterday, apparently they had a playdate planned !? Let’s try and do that before I move (that is, next week ), OK ?
    Cecile

    Reply

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