Photo by: Picture Taker2

The Tiger Mother in Me

Photo by: Picture Taker2

There have been visceral reactions to news of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (Penguin Press) written by Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua. I was, however, not so much horrified by her techniques, as wondering if I could apply them effectively.

My 5 year-old was doing his homework recently: tracing letters and coloring in pictures. At the end, I have to review and sign it. I looked and said, “You weren’t paying attention. I know you can color in the lines when you’re interested.” As the words came out of my mouth, I thought: is coloring in the lines too much pressure? If I show my displeasure about this, will he feel bad about himself? After learning about Amy Chua’s book, I felt a little better. At least it wasn’t a birthday card, and I didn’t throw it back in his face telling him it wasn’t good enough. It was homework – it has to be good. Right?

I wonder, if I took it to the extreme, if I ensured that they practiced musical instruments until perfect, would they become neurosurgeons? Would Zach practice piano until he got a piece right if I threatened to burn his toys? I think he would just say, “Burn ‘em,” and walk away. My stance has always been that I don’t have control, I just try to set limits – really wide limits—within which they operate. But when it comes down to it, I don’t want anything interfering with school work. For example, for sick days I need empirical evidence such as throwing up or high fever before anyone is getting to stay home.

How does she do it? How does Chua get the high standards, the obedience? Screaming and threats, it seems. Apparently, she managed this with one daughter, but the authoritarian approach didn’t work with the other. The child rebelled. Do I want my children to obey? Or do I want them to develop critical thinking skills and creativity? I’d love them to obey, but what I really want to engender is a love of life, an ability to think independently, creativity, and a certain amount of street smarts. Note-I also want achievement at school. Because… well, because I’m a nerd at heart.

I’ve had Asian friends in high school, and I lived in Asia for a while as a teacher. I’m familiar with the work ethic, and I know that sometimes it can be no fun being an Asian-American teenager. My friend in high school was told that she was not allowed to date UNTIL SHE FINISHED COLLEGE. They wanted her to wait until the end of law school, but she negotiated down. Did she stick to this? Not entirely, she’s a human female after all. But she wasn’t boy chasing or wasting any time on the phone with them. Did her parents relent in the end? Yes – she got to openly date someone during her junior year as an undergraduate at an Ivy League school.

It’s a balancing act between the tiger mother and the tiger cub in me. I think it is for Amy Chua as well.

Lory Manrique-Hyland is a freelance writer and stay-at-home Mom. She has a BFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU and an MA in Creative Writing from City College. She’s also a certified adult educator and teaches fiction at the Munster Literature Centre. Her first novel, Revolutions, was published by the Lilliput Press. Read more at The Mom Blogs

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