As a father to two kids ( 2.5 years old and half year old), I read the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” will great interest.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

This is a perfectly controversial book with very polarizing opinions on both sides. A lot of Asians decried Tiger Mom style of parenting, calling it tyrannical or inhuman, but a lot of Westerners also applauded this style of parenting, precisely because the western kids nowadays are just too lax. Reading the response to the book is even more fun than reading the book itself.

It will not do anyone’s good if I add my own opinion about the book, but it maybe of interest to many if I share the variant of Tiger Mom that I’ve gone through, East Malaysia style.

Though I wasn’t raised by a Tiger Mom, the scenes she describes in the book are all too familiar to me nonetheless. Hailed from a small town called Sarikei in Sarawak, and was subsequently raised in Kuching, I’ve at least heard of such fiercely competitive Tiger Mom in action many many times over from my friends: no sleepovers, no TVs, As and only As are acceptable, verbal abuses for “not being good enough”, strict disciplines, tuition, tuition and tuition all year round… When Tiger Moms are disciplining their kids, the scenes aren’t pretty, the kids are going to fight back, you would wish that you were not there. It’s like World War 3 erupting and there is no escaping!

The end result of Tiger Mom?

I would say it’s undeniably quite good, at least on the surface. Many of the offspring of the Tiger Moms are doing quite well professionally. Many seem to be thankful for that kind of strict parenting.

But,

I would also say that this type of parenting is not for every kids. The reason why I only hear “success” stories about Tiger Mom is probably due to survivor bias. But even without any published contrary example, I still know for sure that it wouldn’t always; it would certainly not work on me.

The Tiger Moms of my generation tended to promote only a single definition and path to success, and that means good and stable professionals like doctors, lawyers and engineers ( Hmm.. aren’t all the Tiger Moms the same?). For us back then, this translated into straight As for all subjects in schools, including useless subjects such as Moral Education, brainwashing subjects such as History.

Just in case you think Moral Education is any good, let me disabuse you of this notion by saying that it’s not. How can you measure whether a person is moral on paper? Our curriculum designers came up with a brilliant idea: let’s test to see whether they can memorize moral definitions from strings to strings! Can you tell me what is the exact definition of “Baik Hati” ( Good Heartedness)? You can’t? Then zero marks for you. That’s how I almost flunk my Moral Education.

What’s the point of scoring well on such subjects? For Tiger Moms ( and a lot of poor and middle income kids), a lot. Scoring straight As give you a shoot at getting prestigious government overseas scholarships ( JPAs). But for imbecilities like me, apparently getting overseas scholarships didn’t worth a damn. No wonder I failed to get the scholarship. Serve me right.

Do you want to raise smart robots who can faithfully carry out instructions without much questioning? That’s what our education system at my time aimed to produce. And the Tiger Moms were happily going along with it, if that’s what it took to raise successful kids. I’ve no problem if the adults told me to go along with a mindless, rote memory education system because I had no choice or because my career would otherwise be terminated by the system prematurely, but the problem is that a lot of the adults were either defending it, or not even bother to acknowledge my point. Their attitude was “I’m the adult and I know best, I don’t need to address your point, you shut up”.

Tiger Mom demands absolute obedience, for which I’ve trouble complying. You see, I always have problem with “respecting” the authority. A lot of the times it’s not the bending to the authority that is the hard part, but it’s the fact that the authorities can’t explain their decision in a clear, consistent manner that does it in for me. Sometimes “respecting authority” is just an excuse to stop the kids from asking further sharp questions.

I believed that forcing others to blindly follow your way is debasing them as a human, I still do.

A lot of my friends who were raised under the strict disciplines of Tiger Mom vow to never touch books again after graduation, and some even promptly forgetting the exam materials right after they have no use of them. Maybe they are just being utilitarians? But I tend to believe that if their moms weren’t so tyrannical, they could have retained their curiosity and not lost their love for books. What good is someone in a changing world, if he is no longer curious about the world, and is no longer learning? In good times they might do well because they are set on a stable career path, but what if a day comes when the stable career path is no longer stable and you are required to improvise? How you can improvise if you have no desire or skills to learn new things?

So, should I adopt the Tiger Mom parenting? I think this is a difficult question to answer, and maybe my answer will change as my kids grow up? But anyway, for the time being, I’ve decided that:

  1. I would not force my kids to go to tuition. I would even go as far as to forbid my kids to go to tuition. I don’t want them to engage in a rat race of scoring meaningless As. They should be able to score A without going to tuition
  2. I would never call my kids with ugly adjectives like “stupid”, “fatty” as some Tiger Moms love to do. Maybe they think that it will give their kids extra incentive to improve, but speaking from first person experience, I would say that such labels are unhelpful at best and destructive at worse. Your kids are what you call them. You call them stupid, and the label shall stuck with them, either at a conscious or unconscious level for a long time.
  3. I would be more open and listen to my kids point of view. Maybe they are right? What to do if they are still stubborn despite massive evidence to the contrary? I have no answer to that part. But as adults, at least we can make a good example for them by being a person with strong opinion, but weakly held.
  4. I would encourage playdates and sleepovers. My kids need to know how to be independent on their own. What if the sleepover parties contain– God forbid– drugs? Then my kids need to be able to say NO out of their own volition. Protecting them from dangers simply won’t make them grow up.
  5. One thing good about Tiger Moms is that they hold their kids to high standards– that’s why the kids aren’t allow to get anything less than A+; Tiger Moms believe that they can do better! But I’ve no idea yet how to do that without threatening or shouting at them.
  6. For careerwise, I would encourage my kids to try different things before settling on their path. Sometimes choosing the wrong career path is all about not having alternatives. Someone wants to be a painter because that’s the only thing he is growing up with, all the movies he sees lionize painters. But does he know that becoming a mathematician or an engineer is just as rewarding and as fulfilling as a painter? Never try, never know!
  7. What if my kids tell me that their mode of pursuing their career and happiness is by lazing around the house and watching TVs? I haven’t figure that part out as well… hmm.

Parenting is hard! There is probably no one-size-fits-all solution. Even in the book the author somehow indicated that her style might not work on her second daughter. That’s why it’s good to read different parenting books, all espousing different styles. You are then made to think. The outcome is certainly better than no thinking at all.

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