When we think of the term “Tiger Mother”, what comes to mind? To most people, this term is synonymous with Asian culture with its strict parenting style. This term was made popular a few years ago by Professor Amy Chua, a Yale law professor and possibly the most famous Tiger Mother in the world. She certainly launched a very important conversation among Western readers of her book and dozens of reviews and articles on the topic of strict Asian parenting.
Chua’s Tiger Mother story is quite representative of the experiences of most of my Asian friends. What most Asian children have in common is parents who have done everything within human power to pave the way for their children’s economic success by providing them with endless resources – the best schools, the best tutors and the best IQ-boosting activities money can buy. It’s Asian parents’ selfless nature that makes all these resources attainable regardless of the monetary cost. Asian children are brought up to work hard but also under the pressure that they cannot fail. To win a standing ovation from the admissions committee of an Ivy League or a high-ranking medical school or business school is the dream of almost every Asian parent in North America since before the child is even born. Not every Asian kid’s parents are part of America’s elite like Chua’s parents, but it is almost an unspoken axiom that second-generation Asian children are going to be in the upper crust of the socioeconomic ladder, and their immigrants parents are going to help them get there. The ticket to economic freedom and life of prosperity is a highly-regarded professional credential and better yet , acquired at a top-ranked school.
This begs the question: is the be-all and-end-all of life to win a standing ovation from strangers for your academic prowess (a result of thousands of hours of homework tutoring courtesy of a Tiger Mom) or your mathematical genius (that genius being the product of thousands of hours of math drills courtesy of a Tiger Mom)? Is the purpose to win approval from your family and community because you are doing as you are told? What about parents just helping their children identify their natural talent and encouraging them to make the best use of their talent to contribute to the world? I don’t think these questions have ever been popular within my Asian community.
I think everybody needs some guidance growing up. Ideally, parents should be the first people to turn to in every child’s life. However, guidance may not come from a strict disciplinarian such as a Tiger Mother. If somebody is intrinsically disciplined, having a Tiger Mother may cut off a person’s natural creativity; a strict parenting style is going to create a generation of drones and not people who think for themselves. It is important to recognize that the the point of life is not to win approval from other people. What a Tiger Mother fails to see is that the only standing ovation her cub needs comes from within themselves. Nothing beats doing the best you can to make full use of your talent.