Spare the Tiger

Amy Chua’s Confessions of a Tiger Mom: Why Chinese parenting is best is currently provoking a lively discussion of the contrasting parenting styles of traditional Oriental and current Western practices. A strict diet of violin and piano lessons, high academic achievement, no sleepovers, no participation in school plays and no tolerance of failure are among the characteristics of the Tiger Mom.

This parenting style is too extreme for many Western parents, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons to be learned from more demanding parents. As a school librarian I’ve seen the effects of low expectations on students. It can be very frustrating to watch unfocused students waste time in school.

However, I’d like to shift this discussion to a few first-hand observations of the way a Japanese family that was an important part of my childhood from the age of five nurtured their high-achieving children.

Both children, a boy and a girl, achieved high marks in school. The father sat down with his son and helped him with his homework every evening. I don’t recall the daughter ever receiving this help, but she nonetheless did very well. Both children excelled in their piano lessons. The daughter achieved first place in the province in her second grade Royal Conservatory of Music exam.

The son did very well in competitive swimming for a number of years. The daughter was identified as having the potential of being a competitive figure skater at a young age. Dad said there was no money for skating lessons at that level; all the money was being put into the son’s development (an attitude not limited to Oriental families in those days).

So Mom put her education as a dress designer to use and opened up shop in their basement to give her daughter equal opportunity to realize her potential. The daughter continued to excel at school and music while entering the competitive world of the regional & Canadian National Figure Skating Championships and placing in the top 10 nationally.

At no time did I see the parents lay down rigid rules or restrictions. Good behaviour, application and achievement were simply expected and encouraged. In fact it was a very subtle parenting mix, not always easy to identify and quietly administered, but as best I could see the main ingredients were opportunity and encouragement. At no time were pejoratives used when I was there, nor did I get any sense from the kids that they were a part of their upbringing. It was a positive, not a negative environment.

There was never a suggestion that failure would bring severe consequences. The children enjoyed the blessing of wise and loving parents, who encouraged them to persist and not give up in the face of obstacles.

Both children entered professions that should make an Oriental or Western parent proud. The son became a dentist and the daughter earned a nursing, then later a teaching degree. She paid for her education by teaching figure skating and continued to teach skating after graduation and while employed in her chosen professions.

The son put in hot summers at a steel factory to pay for his education, saying it taught him to work hard at school (he did anyway) so he never had to do that again. Both children were provided room and board at home while attending university in the same city, but were expected to pay for their other expenses.

The encouraging conclusion of my observations is you don’t have to be a Tiger Mom to raise achieving children. You do need to have high expectations, provide opportunities, be willing to invest time in your children, then encourage them and shower them with as much love and wisdom as you can.


4 comments on “Spare the Tiger

  1. Great, insightful post.
    I read the Amy Chua article and also noticed that high expectations was a key feature of parenting for high achievement.
    Certainly food for thought for me as the (non-demanding) parent of gifted children.

  2. Very nice piece. I agree with your conclusion. I lived next door to a Japanese family as child. I was always impressed with their expectations, love, and the opportunities they provided for their children. I fell in love with Japanese culture, which they generously shared with me. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Jen! Interesting that we had a similar experience. I’ve retained my fondness for Japanese culture & food, as well. They were a delightful family and I have lovely memories of many happy times with them.

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