Panthera Tigris Mother

Yesterday was a banner day for me. One of my sons feigned illness because he had not prepared for a test, and I (along with the full support of my husband) forced him out of his bed and eventually back to school.

“You are not sick. You are tired. Being a student is your job, and you are responsible for completing your work whether or not you are tired. Please do not complain to me about being tired when you disobey me at bedtime and do not get to sleep when you should.

You are going back to school, and you have two choices. You can go to school in your pajamas, or you can get dressed before you go. Staying home is not a choice you get to make.”

Yup. That was me. Feel free to use the speech in your own home.

And then later in the evening the same son and I spent time going over some music for a band lesson. Please note that he asked me for help. We sat there, and I corrected his posture before we went over cut time versus common time, grace notes and posture. We went over and over and over the lines of music, and I became the human metronome – clapping, snapping, humming, tapping. I pushed him despite seeing his eyes start to tear up because I KNEW HE COULD DO IT. And he did. So there. I was exhausted and then after a few hours exhilarated, with a touch of guilt because I could’ve (should’ve?) changed my tone a teeny, tiny bit and smiled a little more so I wouldn’t look so strong and scary.

But he did get that short piece in cut time, and he did get that piece in 6/8 time.

But this afternoon, he is back where he should be (at school and then at track practice, which my husband and I forced him to participate in) and I am taking a break from reading the overall program director manual for InterVarsity’s Chapter Focus Week at Cedar Campus/Timberwolf. It’s interesting reading if you are getting ready to welcome college students to a week of leadership and Bible training and have very little first-hand knowledge of the administration that goes into the week before the actual week.

But even the best manuals need to be taken in slowly, with feeling, and right now what I am feeling is the need to dialogue and discuss.

Back in January when Amy Chua, the Wall Street Journal and everyone else with a tiny piece of the internet platform jumped into the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother debate, few of us had actually read the book. We read the excerpt and commentary, wondered aloud about the mental stability of mother and children, wrote about success and achievement, compared Western to Chinese/Asian/immigrant parenting, and I put my name on the waiting list at the library.

My number finally came up, and now I want to know if any of you read the book. What did you like about the book? How did Chua’s story make you think about your parenting style or that of your parents? What made you read the book, and was it worth your time? If your children are older, do you have any regrets about not pushing or pushing your children academically, musically, spiritually, etc.?

If you, my dear readers, jump in, I will follow. I promise. Rawr.


  1. wanderingch3f April 27, 2011

    Short response: I agree with your decisions to (1) push your son to face up to the consequences of his decision and also (2) to push him to excellence.

    Longer response to follow in a few days. Dealing with with a mock grant proposal due in 18 hours. May God have mercy on my mind…

  2. wanderingch3f April 27, 2011

    Oh, and for context, I am and will be speaking from my experience as a child of a tiger mom (and equivalent title for dad. Maybe Dragon Dad?).

  3. Jeff Silvey April 27, 2011

    I will save that speech for later when my daughter goes to school. 😉

    I haven’t read Amy Chua’s book, however I never really got into the debate over it. I am interested to see what it really is all about. I wonder if there’s an eBook version of it.

  4. jopanese April 27, 2011

    Hi Kathy! I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m really intrigued! I actually follow Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld’s blog ( and I’m impressed and somewhat surprised at how well-adjusted, witty, and confident. I laugh out loud at least once a post!

    I’m curious to see how Amy Chua grew / evolved as a parent… hopefully I’ll get to read it soon. I’m nowhere close to being a parent, but I know that the “tiger mother” mentality is still in me, and there are things that I do appreciate (despite how entirely screwed up it could be w/o love.) Thanks for sharing a snippet of how you’re parenting your kids too. I think I would do the same thing.

  5. jopanese April 27, 2011

    *how well-adjusted, witty, and confident she is.

    • Kathy Khang April 27, 2011

      I love that you just copy-edited your own comment 😉

  6. Lisa April 27, 2011

    For whatever Amy Chua meant, the term “Tiger Mom” has become it’s own thing. My comment on “Tiger Mom” as a thing/idea is that the discussion has helped me to make hard work a higher value for E. I like the idea of getting her to work beyond what is expected of her age. What I don’t like about “Tiger Mom’ as a thing/idea is that it focuses so much on success. As a white, American, I’m just not there. It’s not my highest value. To put it in my current context, I don’t give a rip if E is the best reader in Kinder and she is two years ahead if it means it creates other adjustment or attention issues. To be perfectly, openly white American, I’ll tell you that I would push her more in reading *if she showed interest,* but since she does not I just push her just until she is uncomfortable, but not broken, and then I wait a few more weeks, days, months, until she shows he is ready. I see the look on my MIL’s face when I try to explain this. My philosophy just does not cross cultures here.

    My theory is that there are opposing values of equal moral weight in the two cultures here. In the status-driven culture there is the expectation that you do not live for yourself, but to fit into the larger society as the greatest possible contributor to society. In the achievement-driven, individual culture you live for your own potential and you don’t fit the mold, you break it. As much as I say I hate individualism, it’s part of the fabric of my being (even my moral being).

    • Joyce May 15, 2011

      This was a really insightful comment, Lisa!

  7. mark April 28, 2011

    This world and of its communities has so many influences today. I don’t know how kids cope with all the demands of understanding, some of these nuances we adults struggle to navigate in. They see it, the children do. They are exposed to so much more than we were, even 35 years ago. At the same time, I remember the fear of not performing well. Whether it was a test or marching band, or the countless teacher who would say things like, “Mr. S. I expect you to know this because your sisters did so well… ” Oh my, the pressure I felt, to live up to a standard regardless of my personal abilities. Ok, I was & am in possession of a very high intelligence and I wish, looking back, that the fear was not part of the experience.
    What I have come to learn is that emotional intelligence is just as important as general studies of math, writing, history, sciences… There is some very reliable data out there for parents concerning the topic. Yes more influences for mom and dad to consider as important to raising our children. Daniel Golemans book on emotional intelligence is a real good place to start.
    I don’t want to comment on your parenting skills or there affect on your children. I don’t know enough about the house or community you live in. I know what you write here and share with us but, honestly that is biased, by a loving mother… In general though, I see todays children as over stimulated. Yep, from the rapidly changing world we live in; its not what we or our parents knew. Put aside secular beliefs, and education, heritage… and we are left with human development. What is known about it today is a game changer from how we were raised.
    I feel for the children more than ever, Because what I have learned is that we make the same mistakes as a culture that is struggling to forever keep up with ever faster changes in the technological world.
    Many years ago, as I traveled, looking for America. I made my way as a semi professional musician, along my way I taught guitar as trade for room and board. So I had a young student in SF. He was a good kid and wanted to learn to play. He already played two wind instruments but he wanted to be a rock star. Mom and dad asked me to teach him guitar. So after I would wake up at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, after a night of performing, I would practice for several hours & then give lessons. Little did I know that there son emotions ran so deep for the music. As I began with the basics of major chord structure and fingering he was transfixed. I was surprised at how fast he picked up the little I had showed him. He was on track, so imagine my surprise to find him balling his young eyes out.
    He was in my room, ready for his lesson, waiting for me. He became emotional. I entered the room and asked him what was wrong?… He said that he listened to me practice the same simple finger movements I taught him but was afraid he would never be any good…. I had never experienced this level of attachment before. I had to take a step back and think, what to say & do next.
    I said there will be no lesson today, we will talk about how you feel and what it is you want most… After he got through his sobbing explanation, I said this to him. Those feelings are what will help you to be a better musician, that one day after hours of practice you will still feel like you don’t know how. Even after you learn the mechanics well, you will have more confidence but, you have to do the work every day. I let him feel the leathered tips of my fingers and told him that I use to play till they were bleeding and I would have to practice in pain till they scared over… he looked at me like I was superman or something and said “but it hurts so much” I smiled and said I know, sometimes we have to suffer to be good at what we love to do. That is the trade we make. But what ever you do in life, when it doesn’t bring joy & happiness that is when you should cry. For now, it is time for you to learn how and practice… to find out what you love most; the idea of making music or the ability to to make music. Ability takes commitment & sacrifice there is always time to do what you love to do. He asked me with those large eyes, Will you show me again the F chord?
    Later I spoke with his Mom and she asked me what had happened. I told her and she thanked me for being good to him and she said that she had never seen him like that. He was always so confident in everything he did… & thanked me again. I often wonder what became of him, as I moved on to my next stop the next week.

  8. Esther Feng April 28, 2011

    I read the book when it came out and loved it. There were parts of the “tiger parenting” aspect that made me cringe, but I could so identify with Amy Chua’s feelings as a 2nd generation AA. The pressures of upholding culture, the desire to help our kids perform rang true for me.
    As a mom of elementary aged kids, I find myself pushing my kids more than most. The seem to be more OK with it when I lay out the reasoning behind it. But I am also extremely sensitive about my relationship with my children, and including fun in their lives.

  9. Helen April 28, 2011

    I read the book shortly after it came out. Couldn’t help myself, I had to know what all the fuss was about! It was definitely a memoir, not a how-to parenting guide; as Chua herself says, she was given a run for her money by her own daughter by the end of the book. It was extremely amusing and fascinating reading (and yes, quite often cringe-worthy). I came away with two strong impressions: 1) Chua’s definition of success is sadly so narrow and 2) yet many American parents, Asian-American or otherwise, aspire to the same ultimate goals because of the way our culture defines success. I don’t think anything is wrong with trying to help our children attain their full potential; I have no problem with pushing our kids past their natural stopping points whether it’s in academic or extracurricular areas. But I’m always clear why it is we do what we do; we invest in our gifts and abilities as in the parable of the talents, ultimately to be able to serve and glorify God and not our own selves. Chua and her daughters may well inherit the earth with their Ivy League degrees and NY Times bestsellers…(and certainly nothing is inherently wrong with Ivy League degrees and writing NY Times bestsellers!)…but you have to wonder if at the end of their lives they will look back on it all and realize that they still lack true fulfillment and peace.

  10. Melody April 29, 2011

    I know my children are extremely bright and capable of so much more! I want to push them, even make them do better.

    But I had a very controlling father and I am still recovering from the damage. I should say he did not control my academic achievements. If only he had. He ridiculed and rebuked me for my laissez faire attitude toward academics, but he did not help be figure out why I wanted to fail. [I know. I need a shrink! ]

    But before it is too late I would like to figure out how to stress to my children the importance of doing your very best in school (simple pep talks do not seem to work) so that you have more options later. Whatever they choose in the end is theirs to pick, in terms of work. But they limit their options by not working as hard as they can. Not to mention how privileged they are, why do they squander their opportunities?

    I have not (yet) read Tiger Mother. And I fear I am more like jumping “Puppy Mother.”

    Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t see anything wrong in anything you mentioned. Your kids are blessed to have you.

    • Kathy Khang May 9, 2011

      Melody, I hear your frustration and resonate deeply: why do they squander their opportunities?!?!?!?!?!

      I told my kids that this summer we were going to have to limit the arguments over video games and late nights/late mornings. Having fun and enjoying summer is fine, but honestly I have moments where I think I should just spend some time going over homeschooling curriculum with them over the summer. Or make them actually practice instruments 😉

      There was something in the Tiger Mother book that rang true that I believe gets lost in translation. My parents pushed me academically and in every other way possible not just because they had a narrow definition of success but because they believed I was capable of doing so much more. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of our children in the end understood that?

  11. Grace @ HapaMama May 12, 2011

    Kathy, I did read the whole book and wrote this review right after:

    I’ve thought about it a lot since then, often in moments of questioning whether my parenting is too lax or whether I’m emotionally scarring my kids by being more focused on schoolwork or doing well than other parents.

    The more I think about it, the more I think there is some grain of truth that she touches upon: the way she tells her kids straight-up when they’re not living up to their potential. I would not use the words garbage or make them practice piano while on vacation (there are no pianos at Motel 6 anyway). I’m sure you are thoughtful and aware of your child’s abilities and emotions, that’s the key.

    But my kids are still pretty young so we are barely getting to the stage where this kind of parenting becomes an issue, so most of what I’m saying is hypothetical!

    Have you seen Chua’s article in USA Today?


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