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Tiger Mom vs. Mama Bear

by Meika Rouda February 21, 2012

By: Meika Rouda

I just finished the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. It is unlike any parenting book I have ever read. Chua is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and has three sisters; she and two of her sisters have multiple Harvard and Yale degrees and her youngest sister, who has Downs Syndrome, holds two international special olympic medals. You get the picture. She comes from a driven family, a family with a strong work ethic, a family that practiced “Chinese” parenting.

When Chua refers to herself as a Chinese mother, she is over generalizing but the main theme is the idea of the virtuous cycle. That through hard work you become competent at something and that instills self confidence and the desire to learn and do more. Competence and confidence go hand in hand. Her method does not nurture, respect individuality, or allow children to make any decisions themselves. It is a tyrannical form of parenting, one that produces virtuoso piano players (her eldest daughter preformed at Carnegie Hall at age 14) and straight A students who are accomplished violin players (her youngest, who ended up “rebelling” from her).

I admired a lot that Chua said. I know I am lenient as a parent; my son pushes boundaries all the time and I give in. He is isn’t even potty trained yet and he is four because he constantly says to me “I’m not ready.” Western parenting says not to force him, this will have a negative impact on him, let him decide when he is ready and one day it will happen. It is vital for him to be in control of his body, to do things on his own schedule, that is how to build confident, healthy children with self esteem. After two years of battling the potty with him I am beginning to wonder.

Chua admits she is not good at enjoying life. Her average day starts at 6AM where she runs her dog, drops her kids off at school, teaches a full course load at Yale, picks her kids up, has piano and violin practice with each child for two hours a day (that means four hours of practice), then she works on her book or papers and helps with homework. She obviously doesn’t sleep or eat. Maybe I need more Chinese mother in me as I never get anything done, but Chua manages to get everything done. She is a super human. I have a feeling I might not like her much if I met her in person.

But I do think she has a point. While I am quick to let my son decide not to continue swim class because he doesn’t want to, I realize this only hurts him. He can swim if he tries, he just doesn’t have the confidence because he is afraid of the big pool. I know if he tried he could swim. I have seen him do it before, yet I don’t force him. I let him dictate his swimming evolution. If I pushed him I know he would succeed and that success would lead him to try more new things like, maybe, the potty. That if he knew how much I believe in him he would have confidence to take risks and work hard to learn new skills. Perhaps he could get caught up in the virtuous circle.

I come from parents who never pushed me to do anything. They sat back and let me make most of my young adult decisions, sometimes to disastrous ends. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to have a parent who really believed in me like Chua does her daughters. Who doesn’t let me quit because I don’t feel like practicing the piano that day. Who forced me to get straight A’s and be great at everything I do instead of mediocre and uninspired. I consider myself a bit of a late bloomer because of this. I just started writing with some dedication a few years ago although I have long loved to write. I plan on taking an intensive Spanish class to become fluent in another language, another longtime goal. But I also feel there is something to be said for making mistakes and being an independent child. Maybe I am not fluent at Spanish or haven’t written a book yet but it is just taking me longer than the Chua girls. And I can say that I had a lot of fun figuring out life on my own even if it meant experiencing heartache and navigating social situations with horrendous teenage girls who were out to get me. There is something formidable about me because I know who I am. I know who I am because I was able to make choices to become who I am.
I don’t know the Chua girls. Perhaps they are well-adjusted teenagers who are also amazing overachievers, but there is something to the saying “let kids be kids.” We have our whole lives to work hard and achieve greatness, do we really need to start as toddlers?

So how can a Tiger Mom mesh with a Mama Bear like me? I don’t have the answer and neither does Amy Chua but I am going to do a little more pushing with my son. I don’t expect him to be a concert pianist as a teenager but I do expect him to be potty trained by four and half. ROAR.

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Meika Rouda
Meika Rouda

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