What the “Tiger Mother” Got Right

by Tonya Ladipo

I’ve been inundated with commentary about what the “Tiger Mother” has done wrong. She’s “mean”, “hard” and “unloving” are a smattering of comments that I’ve read and heard.

But what about where she’s right? Before I go any further let me be clear that I have not read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua. I read the except posted in the Wall Street Journal, but I have not read the book. Based on what I read in the excerpt I think that Ms. Chua has some important things for parents to think about.

What’s wrong with pushing children to excel and to be their best? Why can’t we tell them things they don’t want to hear? The last time I checked, that’s what parenting was about — loving your children by providing them boundaries, guidance, and encouragement, not telling your children that they can do whatever they want whenever they want. I think that some people confuse parenting with friendship. It’s not. In fact being a parent means not being a friend to your child. They will hate you and say mean things to you — if you’re doing something right that is.

I really appreciate Amy Chua’s ideas about pushing her children towards excellence and building their self-esteem through action and not just words. How often do we believe people telling us “you’re so smart/pretty/wonderful”? Not often. We believe them when we see it in ourselves because of something we have said or done to feel smart/pretty/wonderful. I feel smart when I can solve a problem that was difficult for me. I don’t feel smart because other people tell me that I’m smart.

Children are no different. Self-esteem comes from mastering a skill, doing something well and taking pride in it. Until children take part in something that they are good at, it is up to the adults around them to help them find experiences where they can be challenged, grow, and thrive from it. It means that our children will not always succeed. They will fail. And we will teach them to stand up, dust themselves off, and try again.

It means teaching our children how to succeed through commitment and practice. It also means teaching our children how to have grace in failure. The next generation will never learn this if they are constantly coddled and told how wonderful and excellent they are. Children will only become excellent when their parents expect excellence in them. Not perfection, not elitism but excellence in what they do and who they are.

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