The last word on Tiger Mom: Hu?


The final list isn’t official yet. But if San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan are among the guests at tonight’s state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao, then surely someone in the Obama administration can make space for Tiger Mom.

Tiger Mom?

Unless you’ve been living in a media blackout while being forced to play piano scales in minor keys ad nauseum, then certainly you’re aware that the most talked about Asian American woman on the planet is Amy Chua, a/k/a Tiger Mom.

Of course, if you’ve been living in a media blackout, forced to do piano scales in minor keys incessantly, then you can’t afford to care.

Amy Chua is your mother.

Chua is the Yale law professor who’s published a memoir on her Asian-style parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. And it’s made Chua either the most praised or most vilified Asian American around.

One blogger said she was promoting xenophobia. Another said there goes the Chinese teen suicide rate.

And yet how many others have secretly envied Chua’s resolve and declared, “I wish my kids were just like hers!”

The turn-off is Chua’s parenting style, which makes a Marine drill sergeant look like a major wuss. It’s a belief that parenting is a full-combat martial art.

If Chua were a Catholic school nun, she’d skip the ruler and go straight to nunchucks.

That’s what you’d call a hardcore disciplinarian. For Chua’s two teenage girls, it’s meant the life of the focused drudge. Chinese workers who put together my fake leather shoes probably have more fun than they do. Chez Chua, it’s all hard work, no playdates, no sleepovers, no TV.

Nothing gets in the way of the ultimate goal. And that’s the problem.

The goal sort of gets lost. Is the ultimate goal maximum achievement?

If that’s so, then what happens when playing scales incessantly doesn’t get you to Carnegie Hall, no matter how many hours you practice?

You may become a skilled technician. But that doesn’t mean you’ll have the gift of a Lang Lang.

And what if all that forced piano training actually prevents a child from discovering his or her true passion in some other field, artistic or otherwise?

Oh, the hazards of being Tiger Mom. Uncovering your children’s real burning desires doesn’t have to mean threatening to ignite their stuffed animals if practice isn’t perfect.

Of course, Chua has used that extreme approach.

Confessions of a Tiger-Like Soccer Dad
As an Asian American parent who has lived in a leafy suburb, I experienced first hand the pressure parents of all races put on themselves to raise the perfect child.

It’s not just the clothes from BabyGap. It’s all the best training to raise the finest Frankenchild possible.

While some pursue ballet, piano and math team, I helped my daughter on the athletic field by being her unbearably Tiger-like Soccer Dad.

What ultimately made me more “bearable” was when I saw that no matter how many hours of tire-runs and wind-sprints, my daughter would never be Mia Hamm.

I lightened up. My younger children are all very grateful. My daughter is now studying geology and wants to drill water wells in Africa. Soccer? Out of her life.

At least with soccer, she did draw much benefit by developing a sense of teamwork and play. And as it turns out, that’s just as important as the drudge work of academics and the arts.

That also was New York Times columnist David Brooks’s main critique of Chua. Coincidentally, perhaps, Brooks has his own book about how social activity does more to bring about accomplishment, fulfillment and happiness than we think. It’s not all book learning that’s important. (So I guess we don’t have to buy either Chua’s or Brooks’ book.)

It is good, however, to have these public discussions as funding for public education dwindles, and more participation is asked of parents. What kind of parenting is best? The over-coddling, self-esteem lifting approach? Or the fangs to the floor Tiger style?

Chua’s may seem like a Model Minority blueprint, fine if you want to live that stereotype. But perhaps a far richer method may be something slightly more balanced. Discipline with a little warmth. In her interview on the Today Show, I noticed how Chua was quick to mention a word that hardly ever comes up in critiques.

She uses the word “love” a lot.

Makes her slightly more bearable. Enough to make her a nice state dinner guest with Hu.

Now that would be like a Tiger Summit. Tiger Mom meets Tiger Dad.

Hillary Clinton talks about creating more East-West exchanges in the coming decade. Can you imagine Tiger Mom as an education and parenting consultant? It may be sweet revenge for what happens to all the girls in China.

So I hope Chua gets in tonight. Republican Speaker Boehner said he isn’t going, saying he’s “not a state dinner guy.” (What is he, an egg foo yung guy?)

Let Chua take his place.

And if that fails, I’m sure she can call up those gate crashing Salahis.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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