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Tiger Mom: Are There Alternatives?
Amy Chua, in her new book, openly praises the Tiger Mother approach to parenting – obnoxiously insisting, demanding, and controlling her children’s lives. Rules, expectations, and no sugar-coating the criticism – that’s what really works. It explicitly rebukes the focus on “self-reliance” which, for her, is the unfortunate groupthink of modern life here in the West.
Frankly, I love the boldness – even in spite of her deliberate provocations – and I’d be thrilled if her book actually generated a useful conversation about good parenting.
Her main point is that parenting through a chaotic world is a job that requires a mom to be fiercely, unapologetically focused on actively directing her children, and that Chinese mothers have a leg up: they deploy the backbone and emotional leverage provided by a 5,000-year-old. -old culture – rising again. The clear duty of a Tiger Mom is to demand that her children navigate a flawless world that they both move in – and also shape.
In my work, I particularly notice two styles of parenting here in the United States – neither of which would meet with Ms. Chua’s approval. One style is to be so busy and overwhelmed that the parents are barely functioning well enough to maintain middle class respectability – career, household, cash flow, and the endless, accelerating choices. They are just too busy, too exhausted and too stressed to even try to even minimally go toe-to-toe with their kids because of “stuff” like cell phones, television, video games and the internet – let alone attitude, disrespect, and questionable companions. They would be offended to be called negligent, but they just wring their hands or cross their fingers hoping that the children will not be what we all fear they are becoming: shallow, selfish, indifferent – and unemployable.
The other type of parenting style is being the totally involved “helicopter” parents who hover – pick up and drop off the kids at school five days a week, completely choreograph the extracurricular activities, fuss over the friends and also monitor homework. such as the completion of some other schoolwork and projects. They are pseudo Tiger Moms. They have the energy, but they are not so firm about insisting on continuous effort and achievement, and do not want to be fully in control – for fear that it will damage the child’s self-esteem.
I should also add that either style can produce parents who think “being there” for their child means being automatically, aggressively opposed to the school if it dares to discipline or give their child a low grade – an unintended consequence being the ongoing, diminishing “authority” from the school
My biggest beef – and the focus of my coaching and consulting to parents – is the absence of sober, clear parenting learning. Yes – some children need, and thrive under, close parental supervision, direction, nudging and constant involvement. If that’s what they need, and what helps them, that’s far more important than staying late at work.
Other kids need looser reins and less pushing, not micromanager-level control. But the parents of those children still need to remain “on duty” – engaged, having expectations, and therefore noticing if those loose reins are getting results rather than being the cover for avoidance, poor performance, excuses and wishful thinking. The obvious point is that children need what they need, not what parents want them to need, which only parents who are active learners themselves discover. Children need active engagement from parents who send a firm message: we have expectations and we are here with you for the long haul.
Finally, one of the most important expectations parents have of their children is that they behave. Bad behavior at the age of seven is no the sign of artistic temperament or free spirit. It is avoidance – rude, disruptive, not nice, not right, and, most importantly, hurtful to the child allowed to misbehave. There is plenty of time to develop individuality – later.
Acting out and sabotaging school because of a lack of self-control fictionalized as the child “being different” is not just wrong – it’s ridiculous.
Aside from the clearly unrealistic and provocative things that Amy Chua recommends, having expectations and making them stick is crucial. You don’t have to be a Tiger Mom, but your child needs to know that he or she can’t stand you, only wear you down. Manner, cooperation and effort should be non-negotiable – it’s not that you’re going to yell and scream; is that you will not leave it until your reasonable expectations are met.
One of my pet phrases is: “Good parenting is hard, bad parenting makes everything even harder.”
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