Controlling the Tiger Mother Within

Tiger Mama Power

As much as I love my mother and appreciate all her sacrifices for me, I don’t want to be her—at least the negative aspects of the Tiger Mother.

She claims that now that she’s old, she is a toothless tiger. All her true power is gone and her roar is all that she has left. (Never to fear—my family and I can attest that her teeth are still in fine working order.)

Mom wasn’t as extreme as the Tiger Mother in Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I was allowed to watch TV and go to sleepovers. However, I did have to study hard and practice at least two to three hours of piano every day—sometimes more as we approached a piano competition. She made sure I knew that sacrifices would have to be made in order for one to succeed. Each minute not studying or practicing was a lost opportunity. One could not chill out like everyone else—not unless one wanted to be average like everyone else.

Now with a child of my own, I battle the infamous Tiger Mother within—the strict, dictatorial, overachieving mother who wants her cub to be accomplished in everything she does. Not only that, but constantly striving for perfection and to never be complacent.

In my heart I know that nothing good comes from pushing a child beyond her limits or making her feel like crap in order to get her to work harder. Ultimately, the child needs to be able to motivate herself and to say, “I know I can do better, and I’m going to keep working hard until I get there. Because with enough hard work I can do it. I can do anything if I put my mind to it.” In order to do anything, she has to believe deep within that she can do it.

I also know that nothing good could come from being a perky cheerleader parent who turns a blind-eye to missteps or bad habits. “Good effort, good effort,” is a hollow echo saying “OK, maybe you’re just not good enough. That’s OK. The world is full of mediocrity. What else is new?”

As someone who was considered “gifted” while growing up, I would say the greatest disservice one can do is to constantly praise—even the weakest effort. A person becomes lazy and does not grow to her potential without being honest with herself—that there IS a significant difference between average and excellent.

Nothing upsets me more than to see a child who gives up without trying, or when she does a half-assed job just to complete the assignment (when deep inside she knows she can do better). Worse is when a child refuses to try harder for fear of what her friends/peers might say. That, if anything, will definitely elicit the raging Tiger Mother in me. Although I would rather cut off my right hand than strike a child, I know there is always that potential threat of violence—the desire to strike fear in her heart and to stir up anger so she does prove to me and herself that she can do it—wavering at the surface.

I, too, have limits. There’s only so much disrespect and talking back I can take before my “superbark” (from the movie Bolt) comes out. By that time, she knows she’s crossed the line and nothing good will come of continuing her destructive path. It generally takes a lot to get me really upset, but once I lose my temper, it takes me quite a bit of time to cool down and let go. Although my mom never used the silent treatment on me, I’m quite a master, having practiced it on my siblings while growing up.

In Korean dramas, it is often said that the parent, in the end, always bends to the will of the child. I know the love I have for my child would transcend any selfish need to impose my order or idea of happiness on her.

Her achievements are not mine. They are her own. As is her life. All I can do is prepare her as best as I can for when she goes out on her own in a highly-competitive, meritocratic world.

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