Friday, January 29, 2016

Why I don't want to be a Tiger Mother

I read the famous (or is it more correct to say 'infamous'?) book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother not so long ago.  I'm sure you've heard of it: Amy Chua's articulation of why many Western parents are failing their children by being too soft. I suppose part of her philosophy is in the name; she's a self-described Tiger Mother, not a Rabbit Mother or Butterfly Mother. Tigers are badass and scary. The philosophy of tiger parenthood is as well - children have to study and work, but not play and go to sleepovers. They're not allowed to do subjects like art, and anything less than an A is not good enough. Participation couldn't be celebrated for its own sake: the only thing that matters is success. Being a Tiger Mother is, according to Chua, the way to raise successful children who aren't "soft and entitled".  Apparently Chua's two girls were brought up this way - they played their instruments for hours and hours, weren't allowed to go to sleep-overs, and were called 'garbage' if they failed i.e. came second in something, 

For me reading the book was like watching a bad reality TV show: watching someone live their life in a way I never, ever want to copy myself. I was appalled and enthralled in equal measure. Here are my biggest issues with the idea of tiger parenthood:

Firstly, who gets to define success? The whole time I was reading, I was struck with Chua's narrow interpretation of what success looks like. Academic success, getting a degree, getting to Carnegie to play your violin - these are only some markers of "success" in my book. There are so many other things that make for being a well-rounded person: resilience, empathy, social skills, the ability to not act like an a-hole in the workplace. Her daughters may have studied more by not going to sleepovers, but I wonder what other experiences they missed. 

The other question I have is - does pushing kids even help them? Some kids respond well to being pushed, some don't. Some kids who are pushed by their parents make it to great career heights, and some live their entire lives feeling like a disappointment and a failure. Besides, what happens if you try your very hardest and still don't succeed? Character is formed by failure as much as success. I want my kids to do their best and to achieve something that brings them joy, but I don't want them to feel like they have let me down if they choose to be penniless poets instead of astrophysicists or the like. 

Lastly, it's not rocket science to say that different kids are different. Some might want to play the violin, but some might be better suited to maracas and a conga line. I don't see how any one-size-fits-all approach is a good thing.

I'm glad I read the book - it was interesting, as also a good reminder at the value of not giving up on things too quickly. But, tiger motherhood isn't for me. I don't agree with it, and I am glad my own  mother wasn't one. After all, I used to love sleep overs. And to me the idea of depriving a pre-teen of all of those gloriously scary ghost stories you tell at them is just too cruel to comprehend. 

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