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Roaring Back at the Tiger Mom

by on Jan.17, 2011, under Environmental influences, Expectations, Learning, Parenting

Was your parent one who asked, when you brought home an A-, “Why didn’t you get an A?” So many adults have a version of this tale to share. They have never forgotten it, twenty or thirty years later.

Most children really do want their parents to be proud of them, proud for a variety of reasons. While we don’t actually remember the many times that they were, it is the composite of all those moments that contribute to the child feeling significant in his parents’ eyes. This is just one of the ways that a child feels connected to his parents.  But how well children remember the times when their parents are not proud. Being disappointed in your child, communicating that he hasn’t met your expectations is powerful stuff. And it becomes etched in his psyche forever. As such it should be the exception, not the rule.

Like wild fire, the Wall Street Journal article Why Chinese Mother’s Are Superior by Amy Chua flew through cyberspace last week.  I was sent this article by many clients, each of whom was eager for my reaction. Frankly, I got pretty sick of talking about it in my parenting groups, with individual clients, at the gym, and wherever I went. I saw Amy Chua on The Today Show, on CNN, everywhere.  Enough!

Then today as I was preparing a presentation on The Plague of Perfectionism, I realized that so many of my perfectionism caveats hit the nail on Tiger Mom’s head.  I had to respond.

Here are just some of the characteristics of people who suffer from perfectionism:

  • Have exceptionally high expectations and goals for themselves and condemn themselves when they don’t achieve them.
  • Have anxiety about making mistakes
  • Are highly sensitive to criticism
  • Have trouble making decisions
  • Avoid trying new things for fear of failure
  • Procrastinate or leave work unfinished out of fear it won’t be good enough.
  • Focus on their mistakes, rather than on what they did well.

The similarities between children who are perfectionistic and children who have been raised in the dens similar to the Tiger Mom’s are undeniable. Stories abound of those raised with such pressure and stress who crashed and burned as teens, who ran in the other direction as soon as they left home, or who reached adulthood incapable of achieving without the structure or motivation provided by their parents (or another adult.) These are children who grow up to have little sense of their success being of their own making.  They were doing what they groomed to do, following someone else’s dreams.

Of course there are those who make it, who experience the success prescribed by their parents. But at what price?  Growing up is a journey, a long, wild, and wonderful journey. It can be a full quarter or third of a person’s life. Should it be filled with unrelenting efforts to achieve, with pressure and stress and a constant drone of work, achieve, perform, strive, climb, more, more, more?

The pathway of childhood should be cobbled with so many things—the acquisition of skills and tools to be used in future learning, with experiences of all kinds, with joy and happiness and adventure. Along the way, children will cultivate the values and characteristics promoted in their homes.  Children need the freedom to explore and find their own pathways. Growing up is not a forced march.

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10 Comments for this entry

  • Anita

    Thanks for your more providing your wise perspective. Guiding children along their journey of childhood is so challenging!! Thanks for your help and thoughtful voice!

  • joan johnston

    Amen BB, From an old wise granny you hit the nail on the head. Good going. The Tiger Mom drives me nuts.

  • Harley

    Hear, hear, Betsy. I haven’t read the original article, but it sounds like an extension of the “do more, be more, have more, get more” message that is so particularly–dare I say it?– American. We are a great country, but we are not, statistically, an especially happy one. I can’t help but wonder about the ways in which we’re missing the boat.

  • Adam W

    By now we all know that the “article” was merely an excerpt from Amy’s book (an autobiography, btw, not a parenting guide). In the book, the author admits that her way was flawed, and that she would do many things differently if she could. The real story to me is in the relationship between Amy and her husband, who seem to have such diametrically opposed parenting philosophies! THX BBB!

  • Betsy

    Such a good point Adam W made. Children are raised in a context that is informed by many many factors, including the parents’ relationship! I could have written pages and pages. There are just so many points on which to comment, but…At least the article is causing parents to think and is motivating discussions.

  • Jill K

    Thanks Betsy. So many posts on Facebook asking “what do you think?”. I heard th Tiger Mom in an interview just two days ago…it didn’t sound like she’d do much differently!

    Besty, I posted your article on my FB page!

  • Susanna

    I find it quite interesting that she’s said her daughters have wanted to speak out in support of the book but she’s denied them the opportunity because she’s “protecting them from the media.” Really? She’s so concerned that she wrote a book that seems to heavily feature them, including photos. It seems she’s still got a tiger claw on her grown girls!

  • Nelly Bellisario

    You made some decent factors there. I appeared on the web for the issue and found most individuals will go along with with your website.

  • val

    I’m a bit ambivalent to the post. I personally think that a lot of whites/Americanized immigrants are uncomfortable about this whole issue of the tiger mom because they cannot relate to the culture. Each culture is different and you cannot expect other cultures to change just because you don’t approve. There is nothing wrong with expecting perfection from kids and how different cultures do it so none of anybody else’s business. THERE ARE ALSO CONSEQUENCES OF THE ‘AMERICAN’ WAY OF BRINGING UP AND DISCIPLINING KIDS. Sorry people, but you gotta be less discriminating just because it’s another ethnicity’s way.

  • Betsy BB

    I am sorry, Val, that you are viewing this issue as one of cultural bias. This is about healthy child development. P.S. I happen to live in America, hence my perspective is American. But I am an advocate for all children, regardless of their ethnicity.

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