My Tiger Mother
My mother was a typical strict Asian mother when I was growing up. Otherwise now known as ‘Tiger Mom’ from the famous book by Amy Chua, it was instilled early to me that life was tough and being second best was not good enough.
My mother came from a poor Chinese immigrant family in Christmas Island where she had to work at the age of nine selling my Grandmother’s food to the locals. She didn’t have the opportunity or choice to finish high school, attend university or pave her own future without looking after her younger siblings. After having me (and having two autistic sons) she put all her hopes and dreams into me. She knew no other way to parent than the ultra-strict tough love approach that her own mother gave her.
There was no other expectation after school besides going to university. Boyfriends during school was definite a no no. I never got grounded because I was never allowed to go out anyway. I was not encouraged to pursue the arts even though I enjoyed it the most. As a tiger cub, you never get told you are doing a great job or that your parents are proud of you. Report card time was the most dreaded period as I knew my mother would never be happy unless it was full of A’s.
Basically, I had limited freedom or choice. Even clothes were selected for me because a) I didn’t earn money so my Mother said she had the right to make the decisions and b) I had to focus on my grades rather than fashion while I’m still in school. I even had to beg to be allowed to wax my legs – at 16!
My mother was very frank and honest. She would say I was too skinny and although she never said I downright ugly she never said I was beautiful either. Quite harsh but she didn’t see the point in lying for the sake of making me feel better when she thought there will be a time that I had to face the truth one day anyway and she’d rather let me hear it early on from my own mother.
As a result, I had pretty low self-esteem and it was hard for me to make friends unless they had tiger mothers too (difficult in school with very few Asians). Bullying was common as teenagers are particularly cruel when you are wearing old season shoes or were never allowed to go out to parties.
On the spectrum of ‘tigresses’ my mother was probably not as strict as some of my other friends’ mothers. I never got physically punished when I got a B and my parents didn’t go berserk that I didn’t want to do Medicine or Law (I know lots of people who did!). But during high school and university with all my raging hormones, I became very bitter towards my mother and accused her of wanting a mindless robot that followed all of her instructions rather than an individual human being in control of their own destiny. It wasn’t until I moved out and went abroad and came back that our relationship became better but I could never live other the same roof as her again – I enjoy being in charge of my own destiny again!
It’s easy to see the pitfalls of this type of parenting. Although effective during the tough times such as post war and surviving as a fresh immigrant, it’s difficult to see how any of these kids can develop any sort of creativity, free thinking and develop any sort of self-esteem or sense of fun adhering to such strict guidelines.
I look at my fellow tiger cubs and some are very successful: mostly as Doctors, Lawyer and Engineers. And they all credit their strict tiger mothers. But I also have a lot of my friends who are not so happy when things didn’t go as planned and are still trying to figure what they really want to do in their 30′s after being denied their own choices for so long.
I love my mother and given how she was brought up, I truly believe she was trying her best as a mother to me and my two autistic brothers. Eight years later my sister was born and then sixteen years later my other sister was born, and I have to say she has evolved her parenting style to be less tiger mother with them. One of them even pursued the arts!
Am I tiger mother? As I type this, my daughter is jumping on the sofa and her room looks like a bomb has gone off. I can see the benefit of my mother’s parenting with being a firm motivator and learning that I should never give up without working your arse off first. I would like Lily to have the same work ethic but I would also like to give her a bit more control as well because ultimately in the big wide world she will have to learn how to make her own decisions one day.
Did you have a Tiger mother? What do you think of Tiger parenting?