Tiger Mom vs. Ostrich Dad

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Have you heard about the Tiger Mother? She makes me feel like Ostrich Dad — scared and with my head in the sand.

Amy Chua is an American-born daughter of demanding, unyielding, Chinese, immigrant parents who is raising her kids in the same demanding, unyielding fashion.

Naturally, she has a memoir about it — “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” — and an excerpt ran in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.”

Needless to say, it provoked a good deal of discussion — most of it negative.

And why not? Chua discusses how unwavering she was in her push to create academically and artistically excellent children, raising them in the manner that cowboys will domesticate a wild, unruly mustang.

She calls this the “Chinese” parenting style, as compared to the “Western” approach practiced by parents who “seem extremely anxious about their children’s self esteem,” who blame schools and teachers, rather than their own kids, for poor performance, and “who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly.”

As you might imagine, “Western” parents are pissed.

Me, I’m just scared by the certainty with which Chua molded her kids. On a good day, I think I’m doing OK as a parent. I’m involved, active in my daughters’ lives. I set rules and, mostly, enforce them.

Other days, though, I’m filled with self-doubt, often when confronted with parents who seem more lenient, more successful, more hip.

You know, parents whose kids still talk to them.

Maybe I should be more like them. I’m susceptible to my kids’ lament, “EVERYONE ELSE is allowed to … fill in the blank” (the latest are “go to parties in Manhattan at 3 am,” “walk home barefoot at sunrise,” “sneak into 21-and-over clubs to hear a hot band,” etc).

But Chua stirs up the fear that I have let my daughters down, that I don’t push them hard enough, that I’m raising kids who won’t achieve their potential. Her conviction, her faith and belief in the way she raises her children preys upon my uncertainty and doubts. How can I know what is best for my girls? How is it possible for any parent to really recognize, at each moment, what the right choice is for their child? Yet she seems to.

The greatest fear is that my kids will have to compete with kids like hers — well trained, disciplined, programmed children who have a leg up for college placements, jobs, recognition, promotion, the presidency.

What chance do my daughters have in the real world when they can’t seem to fold their clothes or get themselves out of bed?

What if Chua is right? What if I really have put my head in the sand and hid from the real work of parenting? Chua forces her girls to practice their instruments hours each day, restricts them from friends so they stay focused on school work and extra drills, bars them from e-mail, texting and TV. She is ready to battle her girls at any moment because she knows she is right.

I’m such a wimpy parent. I couldn’t even stick with a No-TV-On-School-Nights policy.

I’m intimidated by Chua’s arrogant self-certainty, but her parenting reeks of tunnel vision and near-sightedness, loving and rewarding her children only for grades and recitals, rather than simply because they are her children. She teaches them they are the merely the collected entries on future resumes rather than creative, flexible, loving human beings; that relationships are emotional and complex, not simple transactions.

Perhaps it is Chua who has her head in the sand, hiding from the fact that no matter how many A’s your kids bring home or how many concerts they perform, you can never control the adults your daughters will be.

I teach my kids some values they will hopefully use when they’ve moved out of my house, like make choices and stick with them: You want to play soccer? You’re in for a whole season, even if you hate the coach and your uniform is the wrong size.

And face the consequences of your actions: Start your homework late, you’ll have to stay up to finish, and still drag your exhausted butt to school on time in the morning.

Chua has the same goals, but does the work for her girls. By abusing them until they’ve achieved excellence, she fails to teach them how to motivate themselves. Everyone works harder when faced with a loaded gun or an angry mother.

Childhood is a time to try, and fail sometimes. To find out that not everything is easy or fun (but some things are); to begin figuring out what YOUR choices will be, not your mother’s.

My daughters fail sometimes, and I stand by with Band-Aids when they pick themselves up. Broken toes, broken curfews, failed exams, I get frustrated, but love them no matter what.

Ostriches can be fierce and cuddly.

That’s me, Ostrich Dad in a Tiger Mom world.

Updated 5:22 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

bitter Tiger cub from California says:
Tiger Moms beat "confidence" into their children because they don't have it in themselves.
Tiger moms have no self esteem.
Tiger mom tells other moms how to raise their children because she does not know herself.

Does it sound painful? None understands her pain better than a Tiger cub. Karma's a b*tch.

Tiger mom is as low class as Richard Heene. No class, no face.
Jan. 24, 2011, 12:34 am
Me from Dallas says:
China has horrific suicide rates.
Jan. 24, 2011, 1:17 am
good chinese mother from NYC says:
I am Chinese, and I am a mother. That makes me a Chinese mother which is not the same as a tiger mother. I have my own ideas of what constitutes good parenting, and they are very different from those of the tiger mother's.

Here are a few examples.

My daughter did not like taking baths. I let her go without a bath for three days. I would have left her unwashed for a week, but she got so itchy, she begged for a bath!

She wanted to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to watch television, and I let her. Of course, she missed school the next day, and I refused to write an excuse letter. She had a long talk with her teacher, and we never argued about bed time again.

She also missed school to watch the Oscars, and her friends gave her a hard time for it. Their American mothers would not let them stay home. Gasp! Could there be American tiger mothers?

She had to learn Chinese characters, and instead of making her write them over and over, I ended up writing them over and over! I wrote little stories using the characters she had to learn for the day, and put them in her lunchbox to enjoy with her peanut butter sandwich.

By now, mothers of all stripes and breeds must be disowning me! But there is more.

I let her enjoy all the things my parents would not allow me, playdates, sleepovers, school plays, and yes, middle school...

Or should I still call it playdates?

We bonded regularly by watching television, and playing Super Mario...for hours...

She had piano lessons for years, but she will never play Chopin in Carnegie Hall. She can barely read music notes, but she plays The Carpenters to relax. It is a good thing I like Karen and Richard.

And surprise, surprise. She turned out all right. Near-perfect test scores, and offers of admission from Harvard, Yale and Princeton. You bet I am proud of her academic achievements, but because I am a not a tiger mother, what really matters to me is that she grew up to be warm and kind, with an easygoing, unassuming demeanor.

I never pushed. I encouraged. And I loved unconditionally.
Jan. 24, 2011, 1:41 am
OhioOrrin from Wburg says:
I'm a single parent raising 2 teen daughters. I encourage & support their involvement in academics, arts, athletics, community service, & active social lives.

My oldest was voted by faculity & staff as the 15 yr old HOBY rep for the HS. And she earned a full scholarship in Vball to a well-regarded university where she's in a top 20 architecture program.

My youngest is interested in the Air Force (Im a vet) for the national service, the travel, & for the VA benefits including tuition assistance for college.

Both are well-rounded young women who are at ease in virtually any environment & willingly accept responsibility for their conduct.
Jan. 24, 2011, 11:34 am
Brian from Sheepshead Bay says:
Having read her book, I find some of her points valid. Children needs structure. Discipline and good work habits must be instilled early. I'm Chinese and have been brought up by a Tiger-ish mom, but my mother neither had the time or the resources to do half the things Amy Chua did with her kids. Her parenting style can only be sustained by upper middle class parents. Mixing parenting styles seem to work for my kids. Not everyone will agree on what methods are best, but we can all agree that our children will not be successful if we do not spend the time and put out the effort. Not every kid can be a rocket scientist, but with hard work, they stand a better chance of achieving that than being a pro athlete or rock star! Lazy parenting is bad parenting. It's important to know that you're a parent first, and friends second.
Jan. 24, 2011, 1:26 pm
D from Brooklyn says:
This is a really good response to something that has been looked at in many ways since it came out. Whatever your parenting style is (you say ostrich dad...) you seem to be doing something right, and I'm sure your kids appreciate it.
Jan. 27, 2011, 2:55 pm
Jennifer Grant from formerly of ProspectHts says:
I love this response. Go Ostrich Dad. I don't think you're an Ostrich, by the way. I just think you're a good Dad.
Feb. 11, 2011, 5:36 pm

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