12 February 2011

on being a tiger mom, or not

Following a recent discussion with friends about the Tiger Mom phenomenon, a friend leaned into me and whispered, "Face it, you're a Tiger Mom." She was joking, of course, mostly.  While I haven't read the book and don't plan to really, I have read the excerpt, seen the good professor interviewed, and have read tons of opinion pieces on the subject, both by those actually being paid to write and women like you and me, as well as by women who were raised by Tiger Mothers.

No, dear friend, I'm no Tiger Mom.  While I don't expect my daughter to be the best, I do expect her to do her best. Every. Single. Time. Admittedly, my expectations of what that means are fairly high.  Why shouldn't they be, really? I believe in her more than anyone on this planet; I know her strengths and weaknesses. As her mother, her number one cheerleader for life, I owe it to her to expect much from her.  I do assume strength, not fragility -- the fundamental concept of this parenting style. She can do it AND she can do it well. When she's not doing so well, it is my responsibility to intervene, to encourage, to guide. It's called parenting. It's the commitment I make to her and anything else is not acceptable.

As I type on this foggy Veneto Saturday morning, she is nestled on the couch watching cartoons waiting for the neighbor to arrive for a play date.  Last night she and I went to a movie, and later today a few of her friends will arrive followed by their much-loved teen babysitter (who, btw, has a quasi Tiger Mom). Not exactly Tiger Mom behavior on my part, is it?

Also, she is the child of an excellent K-12 certified, experienced music educator, and at six-years-old hasn't started formal music lessons. She didn't read or write early, nor could she perform odd tasks like identifying pictures of a stream of American presidents when she was three. She's not the best in the pool or at the gym, nor was she a standout on the slopes in January when she was left behind while her best friend progressed to a more advanced class.  My message to that teary-eyed, disappointed  face: "Hard work, Young One, that's how you'll get there, too. It's up to you. Are you doing your very best?" This was followed by hugs and hand holding and words of encouragement, but it was important that she understand that it's all up to her, and her alone, and that I believed that she could do it. No, she wasn't good enough.  No, I wouldn't ask to have her moved with her friend.  No, it wasn't the instructor's fault, the friend's fault, the snow's fault. Yes, she could change that.

However . . .

I am not among that 70% of American mothers who believe that stressing academic success is not good for children or that learning should be fun. I believe it's important to teach children that good things are worth working for, worth waiting for, worth striving long and hard to achieve. It's not always going to be fun, especially not in the classroom.  Academic success is important; expecting it to magically happen solely as a result of what happens at school is just plain ignorant. (On a side note -- kids don't always want this fun either.  After a semester of getting to know her first grade teacher, I can tell you that this woman's objective is not at all related to fun, quite the opposite, in fact. My girl loves, loves, loves her school, even without daily doses of teacher-created learning fun. You can likely surmise that this expectation of fun in the classroom creates a lively discussion among my colleagues . . . but I digress.) Kids need routines, clear expectations, and the opportunity to do well. They need to know that you believe in them and that you are honest about that.

However . . .

Richard and I do (very) systematically and routinely provide opportunities for learning, in ways that she considers fun. Again, we see it as our role as her parents. We drill her, often. On the 30 minute drive to school for the past several weeks, he and Young One quiz each other with complex mathematical word problems:  "If Matteo has 11 cookies, and he shares three with Daniele, while Yama steals one, but then Rosy gives him two more. . . .then how many cookies does Matteo have?" Over and over. She loves the mental math. It's fun. She and I have created a "Word Book" where we have an ongoing collection of similar words in English, all in my master plan to teacher her to read in English without a prescribed program. Fun. Baking together is to teach her measurements. Planting seeds together is for beginning botany. Fun, I tell you. Richard's iPad is loaded with carefully selected apps for, you guessed it, fun. Some nights, the reading routine is switched for time on a music app . . . it's no accident. . . but it's also no pressure . . . and she's learning alongside her father, even without expensive formal lessons and arguments about practicing.  Fun.  Most importantly, we play a key role in her education and don't expect it to develop solely from fun times at school.  Give me a break.  As a result, we do have high expectations for success.

She gets a lot of down time, but she also gets one of us -- one who assumes strength and not fragility -- ready to read, create, inspire, learn, challenge, and, most importantly, to just BE WITH, just as frequently. My hope is that her confidence will stem from her feelings of success from her achievements, her true achievements -- not some artificial sense of worth created by dishonest praise by parents afraid to wreck self esteem.  And, yes, I expect that academic success will be a part of that. Why should I expect or accept anything less?

So, if that makes me a Tiger Mom. . . all I can say is  ROOAARRR!


Note - -

1. This confident parenting post comes on the heels of an excellent first report card (translated to straight "A's" with a smattering of "A+'s") for Young One.
2. This confident attitude of mine is subject to change at moment's notice.
3. I will always believe: Kids of all ages need routines, clear expectations, and the opportunity to do well, backed by people who care and believe in them honestly.


  1. I can't believe it, I just sent you an email about this! Now I'll read your post. Ciao!

  2. Interesting stuff. Sounds like you are doing all the right things with your lucky daughter! I'm totally not a tiger mom, although I don't think learning should be "fun" necessarily. I guess I'm somewhere in the middle ground!
    p.s. Congrats to your girl on the stellar report card!

  3. Tiger Mums, just grateful that I do not have to cope with such things any more! There is after all an advantage to ones children growing up, no more parenting worries. Sorry that is not exactly true but it is different :)

  4. I love your confident parenting approach--assume strength, not fragility--and I'm really curious about that book. I think I'm going to read it when I finish the one I'm reading now, but I'm fairly certain I'm not a tiger mom. At any rate...great post!