The Myth of the Tiger Mom

I shed quite a few tears growing up. When I was a junior in high school, struggling with AP Chem, and, hitting a rebellious teenager phase, I spent all my time not studying muttering unkindness at my mother. But five years later, I have achieved all of the goals I have set for myself to this point, and, looking back, realized I could not have gotten to where I am without my parents.

After Amy Chua’s The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother came out in 2011, everybody and their mother came forth to criticize her and her techniques. What was meant to be a memoir reflecting how she ended up revising her original, very hardline stance when faced with the stubbornness of her children, was instead interpreted and attacked as a manifesto brandishing the superiority of “Eastern” parenting.

Recently, a book entitled Tiger Babies Strike Back, by Kim Wong Keltner, brings back the battle. She says in an interview with Yahoo, “I don't have scientific hard evidence… But I'm 43 years old and my entire life I've met Asian kids who were under so much pressure or were so ashamed that they got a B, because no matter how hard they tried they felt they could never measure up."

This kind of sweeping generalization immediately raised my hackles because it perpetuates the model-minority myth that I, and all other Asians, have been fighting against. I believe that this statement is deliberately disingenuous. The philosophy of “Asian” parenting is not that anything less than an A is automatically a failure, but rather that anything less than your potential is. Because while I found myself under pressure by my parents and was ashamed to face them whenever I got a B, it was only because they had taught me to set only the highest expectations for myself.

My parents’ sole priority was for me to be as successful as possible. Looking back, there was only one instance in my life where I tried my hardest and still didn’t get as high of a score on something as I wanted, and my parents were the first ones to tell me that it was okay because I had tried my best. It was only when I didn’t work as hard as I could have that my parents would immediately (and rightfully) chew me out. During my formative years, I hated the phrase, “You can do better” but because when my mom told me what I did wasn't good enough in accordance to my potential, she was right. I settled for the A- or A instead of putting in the extra hour for the A+. I don’t believe it’s wrong for a parent to expect his or her children to reach their maximum potential.

I don’t hold that the parenting style of my parents is superior, or even necessary, to raise a successful child. Different kids, of course, have different needs. But the bottom line is that dismissing “Asian” parenting as harmful, too authoritarian, and even abusive, is racist and remiss. I also take umbrage to the storm of comments that use the concept of “Asian” parenting as a confirmation of the socially inept Asian stereotype, saying that this method prevents Asian students from expressing creativity or making friends. While there may be valid critiques on adjusting parenting style based on the child, people who trumpet the superiority of “Western” parenting based off of their own baseless stereotypes undermine such critiques.

But I have only just come to the realization that my parents were successful as I navigate my own path of acting in loco parentis. As a teacher, I have never had a student tell me, seriously, that I expect too much out of them – though it’s said in jest multiple times a day when I make them actually read a book in an English class. As a matter of fact, out of all the positive feedback I’ve received from my students, the consistent refrain is that they know I care for them because “I never accept anything less than their best.”

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