Grace Liu, archetypal accomplished Chinese “tiger cub,” pays tribute to her Tiger Mom on CNN this morning. The opinion piece, “Why tiger moms are great,” is a sincere memorial to the unflinching, relentless and demanding influence of Asian parenting and the beneficial results it can have on offspring following years of diligent academic carnage and hard work. It’s very heartfelt and I tip my hat to Grace Liu. I grew up with many tiger cubs. In fact, I married one (though now divorced, of course). I am no stranger to the tiger mentality. It is an alien experience to a Mexican boy who was used to sloughing off all the rigors of schoolwork because there was simply no external, thus internal, motivation to do well in school for posterity’s sake.
Tiger parenting works, obviously. It raises standards, cements focused work habits, the sort that are in pitifully short supply in American society. Some mock it, praise it, dismiss it, but ultimately, tiger parenting is simply another model of parenting that we can’t single out as worse or better because context is all. Surely from the perspective of Western consumerist capitalism, the tiger mentality is the paradigm of success and should be upheld as the parental template we all should use to raise our children.
I owe everything I am and have accomplished to my parents. My family expected a lot from me only because they believed in me and wanted the best for me. They pushed me to excel because they valued me as an individual.
Tiger parents express their love through expectation of greatness, not in acceptance of mediocrity. Some people interpret such expectation as parental rejection of their worth as individuals. I always interpreted such crushing expectation as the ultimate belief in my self-worth. I knew that I was not being set up to fail.
My mother did not push me to excel because she prized my accomplishments more than my feelings. She listened to my feelings, but she also knew that my teenage feelings were volatile and irrational. She knew better than to let my future be derailed by such feelings.
My mother also knows that life has many obstacles, some external, many internal. She loved me too much to let me give up easily when confronted with those obstacles. For that I am eternally grateful.
I gained confidence and resilience from tackling my endless workload and from fighting through sleep deprivation. I knew that I was capable of getting through seemingly impossible situations. I knew that if I failed, then I just had to try harder. Failure is not a permanent state, but merely a temporary challenge that had to be tackled creatively.
The knock against tiger parenting style is that it does not foster emotional and social development.
Well, it partly comes down to expressing love and affection differently. Tiger parents may not often say “I love you,” but actions speak louder than words. My family never would have spent the time, money and effort—not to mention the emotional energy—on me if they did not love me. They never said this, of course. But I knew.
Sure, my mother viewed socializing with others as a waste of time. She wanted me to be valedictorian, not homecoming queen. I didn’t attend my homecoming. I was probably studying or working on my science project.
I have no quarrel with tiger parenting, per se. My only hesitation with it has always been its motivations. Many tiger parents, and much of East Asian mentality in general, is “anti-nihilist.” This mentality believes everything matters too much and obsessive stock is placed on status, reputation and belongings. Peer pressure is the antidote to misery for the tiger mentality. I can’t hang with this. This is the recipe for taking yourself too seriously and worshiping your own meaningless existence at the expense of pragmatism. Tiger parenting has no sense of subdued gloom or negative subtext (other than the occasional tiger cub who commits suicide in a college dorm). The focus and persistent vision of “keeping up with the Wong’s” (or Jones’ I suppose in multi-cultural America) discourages any sense of cynicism or skepticism because there is no time for realistic nihilism when you must stay up until 3 in the morning finishing the homework for that stupid AP class.
The tiger cub lives in a lofty land of ambition and status accomplishment. Any inkling of catharsis, like low test scores, does not make the cut. The tiger cub has much yang, but little yin.