Virtues of a Tiger Mother?

In case you missed it, there is a parenting debate raging. This debate has been fueled by Amy Chua’s new book titled, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Released just a couple of weeks ago, Chua’s book is a memoir about the effectiveness of a parenting style that is stereotypically Chinese, strict and high pressure. She justifies her parenting style with the fact that her daughters are exceptional musicians who earn perfect grades. In the Boston Globe, Chua is quoted: “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.’’

To the free-range or slow parenting movement, Chua’s book seems – at first glance – to be everything they are against. We say, ‘hands off;’ a Tiger Mother says, ‘micro-manage.’ We say, ‘relax,’ a Tiger Mother says, ‘more hard work.’

While I admit that I haven’t read the book, the reviews I’ve read speak to a culture of ultra-competiveness. It is a parenting style that is focused on a very clear idea of what it means to succeed. To heck with thinking about the world around you, kindness, taking care of your neighbours – success is about obliterating your opposition and rising to the top of a chosen rank.

Interestingly, Lenore Skenazy, founder of Free Range Kids, comments that there are some similarities between the Tiger Mother style of parenting and free-range parenting – we don’t believe in coddling children to the extent that they become incapacitated to rise to an occasion on their own. I would also add that both styles extol the virtues of believing in your children. And believing in your child is, of course, an arguably worthy virtue.

So while the Tiger Mother style creates a high pressure world so that children rise to their ‘success,’ free-range parents leave children alone to discover that they can rise to the occasion on their own and define their own successes. I believe slow parenting is about being the structural supports for your child to explore and learn about the world without influencing how your child is going to use those supports. For example, give them snow to play with, just don’t show them how to play with it. Most importantly, don’t mistake parental micro-management that masquerades as support.

So, how hands-off are you as a parent? Are your child’s activities based around your hopes or is it on their terms? Are their days mirroring adult aspirations of success or are they sincere childhood interests and explorations?

Read more about Chua’s book and the response to it:
New York Magazine
Boston Globe
Politics Daily
Parent Dish (with Lenore Skenazy)

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1 Response to “Virtues of a Tiger Mother?”


  1. 1 Michelle February 8, 2011 at 7:07 am

    Ooooh, this woman makes my blood boil! There’s something to be said about free-thinking and PLAY! My eldest isn’t great at soccer, but he LOVES to play and we help him out by taking him to games/practices and playing soccer with him in the yard at his request. Over the past year he’s definitely improved, but that’s because he likes to play, and not because we drill him. I truly think this woman has it backward….in fact, things are fun and we become good at them (sometimes) because we enjoy them. My job as a parent is to offer opportunities and support, allowing my children to make their own decisions and, occasionally, mistakes.


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