My question about the book ‘Battle Hymn of A Tiger Mother’, or more about the response to it, or to Chinese parenting versus Western parenting is; does it have to be black and white?
Do our options only include whether we hate Amy Chua or love her?
While I do think it is unimaginable to call your own child ‘garbage’, or to threaten to burn your kids’ stuff animal or to go through hours and hours of drilling without reasonable breaks, but at the same time, honestly, I think the tiger mom has many good points there.
I was raised by a ‘moderate’ Tiger Dad. Why moderate? Because he never called me with bad names, very rarely shout at me, but I had fewer options too when I was a kid. I had to study English with a private tutor even when English wasn’t a part of elementary school curriculum back then. Coke (or we call it coca cola), chocolate, sweets, was a luxurious thing in our house when we were young, but he bent over backward and went as far as buying the powder milk for us from our neighboring country, Singapore when there was a milk crisis in Indonesia. He accepted it when I came home with an A minus, but he told me he was expecting an improvement with my next test. He never drilled us for hours and hours, but he never accepted it when we said we couldn’t do something because it was too hard, before we even tried it, and tried hard. Tried our best. Birthday presents are not a routine thing for us, and presents usually something that we got after an achievement, good grade, winning competitions, etc.
No video games for us during school days (we call it ‘game watch’ back then, lol) no TV after 9 PM or before our homework was done. No sleeps over at friends’ house but my friends are always welcome to ours. He bought us a set of Encyclopedia Americana while all we want was a set of Barbie doll and toys. He ‘softly’ made me go to med school even though I wasn’t interested in becoming a doctor and wanted to choose other major.
Granted, he paid for our tuition fee (including grad schools), living cost, etc, and we never had to work when we were at University, but there was an unwritten agreement that in return, we had to work hard, get a good grade and graduate in time.
We aren’t as successful as The Chuas, because our tiger dad never drilled us for hours and hours and probably there were some leftover potential that we didn’t dig out there, (and we became a moderate tiger cubs instead, lol) but we are doing OK. My sisters and I (there are six of us) are all independent, with career and we always have something that we can be proud of.
And more importantly, was it that bad, having fewer choices growing up and less chance to ‘explore’ ourselves? And how are we now, six grown ups raised the way we were raised? Are we pushovers? Are we incapable of making our own decision?
It turned out, I become someone in between. I made it to become someone that my dad expected, but I ended up not fulfilling all of his expectation. I don’t regret the fact that my dad made me go through med school and residency, but when I found out that practicing medicine isn’t the only thing that I want to do with my life, I chose to go against my dad, live outside Indonesia, and become a researcher. We hurt each other during this transition time. He ‘gave me a chance’ to leave Indonesia and went to pursue my PhD, and when I (stubbornly) decided I didn’t want to go back and return to medical practice after I finished my PhD, I let him down. Trust me, it hurt me deeply, letting my father down like that.
We used to be close and it was the first time ever, I stopped talking to my dad about everything as every communication we had mostly ended up in tears. I guess the stubbornness run in the family. But even during those period, I knew that he loves me and proud of me.
Once, I talked to a colleague who is a surgeon and knows my dad. He emailed me and congratulated me of my paper, which was just published in an international journal. He said he heard about it from my beaming dad. I called my dad right away, and we talked for about 15 minutes until he said he wished I would just go back to Indonesia and to practicing medicine, and the rebellious tiger cub returned, again.
Back to the parenting part. Seeing my sisters, with their children, I see tiger parenting here and there (I have a nephew who is a year away from getting his M.D and he’s only 19, and a niece who is 14 and already in the 12th grade), but I also see some ‘western parenting’ (as Amy Chua said it) style as well. I talked to one of my sisters once, and she was telling me about her son who seriously want to join the military. I know she was 100% against it and I know that her son is 100% dead serious about it. And this had been going on for years. So I asked her the million-dollar question: when he graduates high school and he still want to join the military, what will you do. And she gave me her million-dollar answer: ‘well, it’s been going on for years and he hasn’t changed his mind. So maybe, it is time for me to change my mind’. Growing up the way we were raised, I was so proud of my sister I could burst.
So, it is not a vicious cycle after all. Raised by one parenting style doesn’t mean we will automatically follow the pattern. I see my sisters learning how to be a parent and all of them have one thing in common: they love their children and want to prepare the children for their future with skill, working habit, and inner confidence, as Amy put it, that no one can take away. My dad and sister might not drill their children as hard as Amy, but it doesn’t mean that they care about their children less. Or they don’t give their children as many choices as western parents do, but it doesn’t mean that they are all just control freaks. I truly believe, there is love behind all parenting styles (and in some cases, sometimes parenting goes beyond adulthood).
Me, I am still having my battle hymn with my dad, lol. No, it is not as bad as it was, not at all. We are OK now, talk regularly, avoid the subject of me not being in Indonesia regularly, lol, but once in a while, it still popped out. ‘I wish you were….’and I wanted to reply with: come on dad, it’s been five years already, give it up…lol. Well, to be fair, since it’s been that long, it shouldn’t bother me anymore, and just take it as a loving wish, but honestly, it still bothers me. I guess deep down, no matter of how a grown-up-I’ve-become- I am still my dad’s little girl, who wants to please him and make him proud of me. And both my dad and I are still learning how to accept each other, without any further expectation (yes, I still expect my dad to just accept my choices in life, like most western parents do, and like I said before, this whole tiger parenting thing, sometimes goes beyond adulthood, lol).
And the next question is: if I can turn back time, and I have all kinds of choices in the world, would I change it all?
Well, as much as probably there are some things that I wish that they could have been different, but for the most part, I think I don’t want to change anything. Imperfection makes a good lesson of life anyways.
So, here comes the last question: will I be a tiger mom myself? Honestly, I don’t know, maybe I will, but I think my better half (who were raised by a western mom) have more potential of being a tiger dad, especially when it comes to drilling your potential, hard-working ethic, etc. Someone once told me that parenting is like going to a war: you don’t know what you will face until you actually face it. But one thing for sure, I want my kid(s) to be be able to explore their potential to their best. They don’t have to be the best, but I want them to try their best, work hard, full of confident, but most of all, I want them to be happy.
For now, I am just grateful for my tiger dad. For what it’s worth, I will always be grateful for my dad, and his parenting and I humbly admit if it is not for the opportunities that he gave me, I won’t be where I am right now.