Being Tiger Mother


I was just putting down Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother, when another equally exciting book—Things Around Your Neck—arrived in my mail. Yes, it has taken this long to read both books; notwithstanding my great longing for both books! I have read plenty or reviews and contributed to the storm that ensued since the publication of Tiger Mother, and the praises heaped on Things Around, but put off reading either book.


Finally, thanks to the urging of my good friend, I borrowed “Tiger Mother” from our local library. My friend had just read the book, and suggested that I read it too, and share with her my take on it. Arguably because, “She [the author] reminded me of you in a sense that you are both extremely disciplined”[sic].
I said to her that she was being too kind, but I would take it as a compliment. Funny, I did not find Tiger Mother as crazy as with her [and her hubby’s] The Triple Package.

Things Around, is my “Santa came too early from the North Pole”—literally—gifted to me by my Scottish BFF via Amazon. Funny enough, I had just stumbled upon a review of American Embassy—a chapter in Things Around, yesterday, while binging” on “All Things Chimamanda Adichie”!

Come to think of it, I am noticing interesting similarities about both books: 1) written by strong, controversial women; 2) authors have a relationship with Yale —a professor and a [former] student; and 3) authors belong to “The“Triple Package”, Chua-Rubenfeld’s “Exclusively Superior Club of the World’s Most Successful Cultural groups” – Chinese and Nigerian. Was it Sidney Sheldon or Robert Ludlum who said, “There is nothing like a coincident?”

Where do I start? Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother or Tiger Mother is as gripping as it is unsettling. Which explains why it has taken me longer than acceptable to finish reading it. It is a “one-sit-down read” book, but I had to put it down three times, just to resuscitate myself, to catch my breath. I loved it as much as it terrified me. Perhaps it is true with me, as with my friend, “It [the book] reminds me of myself!”

First off, Amy Chua’s characteristics of a “Chinese mother”: (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever disagree with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold. [p.5]

Here’s why Tiger Mother intrigued me. 1) She reassured me that, I am not deranged, and gave me the confidence to keep ‘drilling’ my now 7-year old. Just when I was starting to slip into “Western parenting”, to “allow my child have a happy balanced childhood, and avoid him hating me in future, or become alienated from the social world.” 2) She reassured me that children are more resilient than society may prescribe them, and in fact, society tends to dwarf children below their capabilities.

Tiger Mother also reminded me that, we can never be certain how our children will turn out as adults, whether raised through Chinese or Western parenting. Or as I often ponder out aloud, whether our children love or hate us now, or will appreciate or regret our parenting, in their adulthood. Regardless, we should not be afraid to be the parent, and/or apply what we wished for, or appreciated from our own parents. Parents who knows what’s best for our children! Parent is boss, too!

Tiger Mother makes perfect sense to me, from personal experience with African Mothers. Like Tiger Mother, I am raising a hybrid child – African and American, in a hybrid culture – of Uganda and United States. Or perhaps we are both raising tai-breed or mixed breed – Chinese, Jewish and American? Unlike her [or my upbringing], I am a single mother, I was not born in the United States but Uganda, but my child is US-born. Perhaps Tiger Mother and I are also different, in that I am raising more than hybrid, but a tri-breed —African, American and African American child!

While, I am not American born, I have spent close to two decades in America, and have been infused with as much Americanism as my own Ugandan-ness. Plus, my child’s father is American of not the “new” but “old” African Diaspora descent —categorized as African American, sometimes Black American vs Uganda, African American and American children?

In parenting my child, I borrow a lot from my Ugandan upbringing in my family household. A child is raised for the world, as a member of the larger society beyond your immediate household comfort and gratification. You want your child to stand upright and respectable in society, and represent your household, and the society in which s/he finds himself, identifies or is identified.

That means, a child can be scolded for poor behavior, does not talk back to parents or elders, and respects elders at home and in the community. Generally, whatever parents do is out of love, support, and in the best interest of their children. Same thing I say to Child of Mine,

“I am your best friend in the whole wide world, and everything I do with you is out of love and belief that you are the best.” 

Perhaps that explains why, even when I am hard on my child, he still comes back to me with joy and love. He swears his love for me repeatedly. When he is disappointment in himself, he confesses to me, promises and strives to do better. And he always does.

Similar tactics Tiger Mother used on young Lulu, demanding perfection in playing violin or “she would take and burn all her stuffed animals”[p.28]. Yet, grown up Lulu is quoted as, not resentful, but ’thankful’ to her mom, for drilling her to play the violin [p.227] for six hours a day! In fact, both Tiger CubsLulu and Sophia— have praised and defended their Tiger Mother in several interviews and writings, and confessed their plans of replicating the Chinese Parenting with their own future families.

The Tiger Mother in me, is not afraid to hone into my child, how lucky he is to have his mother around, fully focused on him: ironing his uniforms, making him breakfast and lunch everyday, walking him to the bus stop, sitting down with him to do his homework, and reading with him. Because not many kids have similar opportunities, of living with their parents, spending precious moments with their parents, and constant parental attention.

I have observed how those children without constant parent attention suffer tremendously at home, in school and in society. I have seen many acting up and underperforming, while working within public schools. It is not by coincidence that most students in the  “Gifted and Talent” program are children who receive extra parental reinforcement in their academics and extra-curricular activities. They are children of teachers, stay-at-home or work-from-home or hands-on parents.

Almost all US-born children I met in “Intervention Classes” said they lived with their grandparents, guardians or foster care, while their parents work out of town or out of state, and only come home two or three days a week, or were separated from them or are serving prison sentences. In some cases, they children lived in the same household with their parents, who came home late night from work, too tired to look over or work with them on their homework.

Like Chinese parenting, children under African parenting are assigned responsibilities from a young age. Children have the responsibility to wait on, not to expect to be waited on by their parents or elders! Tiger Mother says she dug a swimming pool at fourteen, and built birds houses in her childhood. I had chores growing up in our family household —washed dishes daily, planted, weeded, and harvested food in our family garden, and babysat for my older siblings.

As a teenager, I carried on washing dishes, plus cleaned the entire house, cooked for my the whole family, and any other everyday chores assigned during my school holidays from boarding school. As one of the youngest in my family, and among the last ones left at my parent’s household, I took on a lot of solo responsibilities around the house.

I am carrying on the same lessons learned with my child. I introduced my child to chores, systematically, after he turned five years of age —putting away [and sometimes washing] our dishes after meals, putting away his toys, to cleaning his workspace and play place, and wiping the bathroom sink after brushing his teeth.

At six years old, I scheduled weekend chores in addition to his daily list  —cleaning the bathroom sink, mirror, toilet and storage space, organizing the shoe rack, helping out with laundry, and folding and putting away his clean laundry – socks, PJs, shirts and pants.

Now at seven years of age, he knows without question that, every Sunday, after breakfast, it is time to do his “routine” – that is brush, floss and rinse his teeth—followed by his “chores”. Thereafter, it might get playtime or “Mommy School” or anything else we might have on schedule. If he is sick, he gets a break from chores. Beside, we bake together, he helps out with the dishes from time to time and setting the table for meals.

Similarly, Tiger Mother gave her children responsibilities —carrying heavy objects, taking out trash and carrying their suitcases on family trips [p.23], to avoid raising decadent children.

That is education, not torture, as many reviewers of Tiger Mother have suggested. And the Tiger daughters did not complain, but clarified on their childhood, and defended their Tiger Mother’s “Chinese parenting”:

Battle Hymn—whose self-parody was lost on many readers—has been profoundly misunderstood by many Westerners who confuse “tiger parenting” with “helicopter parenting,” Lulu explained: “My mom is never the type of person who hovers over me to make sure I do my homework.” The essence of tiger parenting, instead, is in believing that a child can succeed, and pushing her to go all out. What makes the Tiger Mother truly happy is not that her child gets all As, but that the child is  able to look back and say, “I couldn’t have worked any harder.” Her mother’s tough love has taught Lulu that blindly showering a child with praise without seeing actual results will not enhance self-esteem, and that, “It’s important to push kids to reach their full potential.”

Amazing, some think the Tiger daughters are brainwashed! It is the kind of parents, whose kids take over the dinner table at home and restaurant, with play toys and electronics, throw tantrums when toys are taken away, and cannot fall asleep on their own at night, unless they are driven around in the neighborhood. Their kids get out of bed without making them, litter their clothes on the floor, jump over them, until mommy picks them up and puts them into the washer. They cannot cook for themselves, but let their parents wait on them, and clean up after meals as they lay on the couch. “Western parents” depend on a “pseudo salt-shaker” to turn off all their electronics, so they can have a bit of “family time”.

We are talking about adulscents stuck in “waithood,” with a preponderant ‘indelible right’ to voice their opinion about how awful “Tiger Mother” and “Chinese parenting” are in grooming responsible happy, well-balanced humans! Offering unsolicited ’cautions’ to ensure that children have a memorable childhood, that will translate into a blissful adult life!

Call it “Chinese Parenting” or African Parenting,” I, to, push my child beyond his comfort zone. I do not want him encumbered with unnecessary insecurities he manifests, sometimes. That, “His classmates do not like him,”…”they did not play with him at recess,” when in fact he did not ask them to play with him. I do not want him trapped in a “popularity contest,” because he is not as cool as everyone else at his birthday party, who has two glow sticks,” when “he has only one.” I tell him to ignore, and remember, “They are mere material possession, which the holders will abandon as fast as they fall asleep. Then, he can pick them up, and keep all of them all to himself, or throw them in the trash can. Better to be grateful for all the people who came to his birthday!”

Child of Mine is not encouraged to sulk, feel incapable, or justify underachieving, because the teacher said, “It is not good to win all the time, or you might start bragging, and become a bully.”

I remind him that I do not mind him winning all the time, but I would not let him brag. “In fact, winning is great; it proves that you worked so hard and did your best,” I emphasize to him. I remind him of the times he cries, because he did not win, when I run faster than him in a race or when he does not break the board on first attempt in Tang Soo Do. [Moment of silence, he internalizes that deeply!]

“Plus, winning gives you many opportunities, you will not have to pay for your college after High School.” [Yes! Him and I are thinking of college, already!]. Because that was my nursery school rhyme growing up in Uganda: “I will study so hard and make it to Makerere [University] Hill, – The Harvard of Africa, as fondly referred to in world wide intellectual circles, and the only epitome of higher learning to the imagination of all young children of my era in Uganda!

And while Chinese Parenting seeks to instill confidence, handwork, discipline, humility and hope in her children, it is also scary, filled with a lot of uncertainties, frustrations and self-doubt. Not just to the “Tiger Cubs” but the “Tiger Mother,” as well. There is no guarantee that the children will pull through or get to a point where they will enjoy all the dreams and lessons from their parents.

“No certainty that they will fit into society,” loathers of “Chinese Parenting” point to the suicide rates among East Asians as the evidential side effects. Yet, ‘conveniently’  oblivious that the mass shooters, drug addicts, adolescents, are part and parcel of “Western Parenting”!
Perhaps, my only quarrel with Amy Chau, the author is her labeling of other parents or parenting styles similar to hers, as “Chinese Parenting”.

True, she starts with a disclaimer,

"I’m using the term ‘Chinese mother” loosely.” [p.4] 
 
But then…. 
"I know some Korean, Indian Jamaican, Irish, and Ghanaian parents who qualify too.” [as Chinese Mothers] [emphasis mine] [p.4]

My question to Chua is, “Why don’t you just let them be “Korean Mothers,” “Ghanaian Mothers,” ….? Why do they have to qualify, or do you qualify them as “Chinese Mothers?” Anyway!

And no! I let my child have a playdate, play sports for enjoyment, and have a sleepover — ok, one sleepover so far…and that had to happen [I much confess I am wary of sleepovers!], plus, he does not practice six hours a day, and enjoy some TV restricted to PBS, and we watch together Shark Tank – because he has to learn to found a business, pitch an idea and attract investors starting early. Plus, any family TV he might catch a glance at while I am watching. But we are going back down on TV-time.

BTW, I should mention here that something about Chimamanda Adichie. I I disagree with her version of Feminism. True 1) we should all be feminist — her definition makes sense to me, “A man or woman, who says, yes there is a problem of gender, as it is today. And we must fix it, and do better.” The label “Feminist”, I desist. Plus, I do not quite agree that, 2) by linking “masculinity of boys” to monetary provision, we are stifling humanity, and nurturing ‘pickpockets’.” Plenty of men who take on the role of providing for their female partners and families, without feeling the urge or resorting to pickpocketing, or feeling unequally and unjustly treated.

Please do not kill chivalry! Plenty of men take pride in the “small cage” of masculinity” that Adichie is worried about, and they should. Otherwise, what would be their purpose, if they cannot biologically carry a baby, just yet! I want my child to know that, it is ok, to take care and provide for a woman, and your family, like my father did.

As Tiger Mother, it would not matter if it is a male or female cub. I would still instill in my child/children that life is not necessarily about your comfortable options, but things you have to do —inconveniences now might be your source of future happiness. Evidentially, single parenting is a huge inconvenience no many of us take voluntarily, but plenty of us learn to embrace it and keep learning, and aiming to excel and win! Because we do not know what the future brings, but we can try to prepare for it now, as Toni and Slade Morrison’s Who’s Got Game? The Aunt or The Grasshopper? (2003)

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