Tiger Moms Come in All Stripes

Amy Chua's Parenting Style Isn't Embraced by All Asians

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Bill Imada
Bill Imada
Author and self-professed "Tiger Mom" Amy Chua hit a few raw nerves with moms of every stripe across the country when The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt from her book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Her roar even had a rippling effect in the blogosphere. But is there any bite of truth in what she's saying or are these the same stripes we see on every piece describing overbearing Asian moms? I guess I should explain.

Tiger Moms are individuals who allegedly have specific character traits that begin with the word, "over." Overbearing. Overachiever. Overreacting. Catch my drift here? Some Asian cultures believe that girls born during the Year of the Tiger grow up to possess many of the character traits described above. It is interesting to note that Ms. Chua just happens to have been born in a tiger year according to the Asian zodiac. Coincidence?

Ms. Chua talks about being a Tiger Mom who didn't allow her daughters to participate in typical kid-friendly events: sleepovers, school plays, play dates, or selecting their own extracurricular activities. She also wouldn't allow her daughters to get anything less than an A in school, and prohibited them from playing anything other than the piano or a violin.

Regardless of the widespread criticism she has received, there is evidence that there are plenty of Tiger Moms in the Asian-American community and in many other segments of our population. We hear about these overbearing moms (and dads) all the time. Moms who enter their daughters in beauty pageants at a very young age (often before their young ones turn 6). Or that mom who conspired to murder her daughter's high-school cheerleading rival. Or even the mom who pretended to be a young boy flirting and romancing a neighborhood girl she actually detested, which ultimately resulted in her suicide. There are plenty of stories about Tiger Moms (dads, grandparents and step-parents) to fill dozens of books. (To be fair, Ms. Chua acknowledges that such mothers exist outside the Chinese community.)

Yet, for every Tiger Mom espousing a tough-love approach to parenting, there are plenty of moms who parent by encouraging and nurturing their kids. These moms see value in sending their kids to a slumber party or allowing them to choose an extracurricular activity. These same moms see value in having a daughter or a son get a C, D or even an F grade on a homework assignment without resorting to physical abuse and/or emotional threats.

While Ms. Chua is talking from her own experience and her own set of cultural lenses, her writing perpetuates some tough cultural stereotypes that many Asians and Asian Americans have been trying to shake for years. Overbearing parents who won't accept any grade except an A. Or even those Asian parents who allegedly question their kids as to why they didn't receive an A-plus because A grades just aren't good enough. Certainly there are parents and caregivers who insist on the best grades, but what Ms. Chua fails to address is that the best parents often provide their kids with a more balanced approach to living.

I didn't get all A's. My traditional Asian-American parents probably would have loved seeing me get A's (which was rare for me as I struggled through school), but realized that getting lower grades was a teachable opportunity for them. I wasn't prohibited from playing the piano or a violin. When I chose an accordion over piano lessons, my parents also used that as another teachable moment. If I insisted on lugging around a large instrument, then I'd better make a commitment to practice and carry it wherever we went out for my lessons.

Furthermore, I attended a state university (since I wasn't smart or rich enough to get into Harvard or Yale). I also attended a few sleepovers and neighborhood birthday parties, and even participated in a school play.

Fast forward to the present. I think I turned out just fine. I am a founder, chairman and chief executive officer of a successful advertising and communications company. I am an adjunct professor at a leading university. I am an active and contributing member of the Asian-American community. I blog for Ad Age. And, I give a lot back to the communities I serve.

My mom was a tiger, but had different stripes. Unlike the self-portrayal that Ms. Chua paints of herself in her writings, I'd like to believe that Asian moms --including my own -- just want the best for their children. And maybe Ms. Chua, despite her strict rules as described in the WSJ piece, also wants to be just that -- a good mom.

From my vantage point, not all Asians and Asian-American moms raise their children in the same manner as Ms. Chua. In my particular instance, my mom encouraged me to think for myself, allowed me to pick my own friends, helped me pick myself up when I failed, and gave me the latitude to chart my own career path. If I had a Tiger Mom like Ms. Chua, I might have attended a school I didn't like, entered a profession I didn't appreciate, or lacked the socialization skills I would have needed to succeed in life.

Smart moms don't need to bite, scratch or intimidate to be great moms and role models.

Thanks, Mom!

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