Are you a Tiger Mother?

I (Linda) love reading and because of that I truly love long plane rides because that is the only time I can find to read for any length of time. When we’ve got a 14 hour plane ride ahead of us, I am probably the only one on the plane who is honestly excited. And after all that time, when they announce that we are descending, I panic. I’m usually not quite finished with my delicious book!

This week we spent about 15 hours on planes. From SLC we flew about hour hours to NYC, then another three and a half to Puerto Rico. On the way home it was another three plus, back to Atlanta and another four back to SLC so I had a hay-day diving into books that I’ve been dying to read. My favorite was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand which is an incredible story of a distance runner and bombardier in World War II. We’ll save that review for another day because the one I finished as we were descending into Salt Lake was The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.

I had read excerpts when the book first came out last year and was fascinated and a bit angry. I found the paper back edition at the airport had arrived and finally had the chance to digest the whole thing! Amy Chua’s premise is that Chinese Mothers are different from Western Mothers not only in degree but in kind, which is why they uniformly produce academic and musical geniuses. How I admire her ability to keep her eye on her goals for her children at all costs. Every night she spent hours not only drilling math facts to get her two daughters ready for their tests the next day but also rushed home from her work as a consultant and author to be sure that her daughters were practicing several hours on their instruments (piano and violin) each night. Her help sometimes included notes about exactly what they should be working on with each phrase. Her method for compliance was yelling, screaming and using language that I’m pretty sure any Western mother would consider abusive. I’m not sure she ever figured out that she was a perfect study for OCD (Obsessive, Compulsive Disorder) before the condition was widely known.

I’m not putting Amy down. Her efforts have produced two beautiful young women. One who complied quite happily and ended up playing at Carnegie Hall and one who rebelled and still survived her mother’s iron hand. Even though Amy felt that she might be going too far from time to time, I think she would say that she couldn’t help herself. It was ingrained in her fiber from her own parents. I do think that demanding that kids are successful is much more a cultural norm among the Chinese than among Western mothers but there are always exceptions. Just as a vast number of Chinese mothers who read the book balked at the idea that they were all like Amy, there were also Western mothers (and I know some) who could rival Amy’s undeviating dedication to making sure that their children succeed in whatever she chooses at all costs.

In addition, I had a Tiger Mother of my own but with just the right amount of moderation. My sister and I were the only ones in the Bear Lake Valley who could play the violin. When the one violin teacher in town moved, she took us to Logan (three hours round trip) every other week for lessons from a professor at USU. We also took piano lessons from the best local teacher (next to her). In High School we were required to practice 2 1/2 hours every day, five days a week in addition to our homework before we could ever do anything with friends. I remember her standing over me many mornings at 6 a.m. as my tears dripped down the piano keys because I couldn’t get something right. There were arguments and when I begged to quit, she would say, “Someday you’ll thank me for this!” And I do….almost every day! I became a music major in violin and my sister is a fabulous accompanist, a skill that she uses almost every day.

Though our children did get up at 6 a.m. to practice and we did manage to eek out a little string quartet for some years, none are concert musicians and I don’t regret it. They appreciate music but many drifted on to their own passions, of which photography (about which I know nothing) was a huge favorite. There is a fine line between an iron hand and constant requirements that children reach their potential. That line may be different for every family. Still I do think that we Western mothers need to pay attention to being a little more like those Chinese mothers who insist that their children be successful despite their vigilant complaints.

Are you a Tiger Mother? Did you have one? Your comments would be fascinating!

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