Does the “Tiger Mom” exist at Harriton?

Yidi Wu

Recently, an article entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” by Yale professor Amy Chua, mother of two daughters, was published in the Wall Street Journal. The article was an excerpt from her memoir on parenthood, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, published by Penguin Press.

The article is a surprise. She begins with, “A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it,” and continues with tidbits of wisdom, such as, “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it” and “If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.” She included a short anecdote on how she coerced her daughter into practicing a piano piece by threatening to donate her daughter’s toys and withhold food until she perfected the piece.  She then concluded that the Chinese parents thus prepare their children better for the world by imbuing them with inner confidence and allowing them to shine their inner light out. Chinese parents, “tiger mothers” like her, care enough to push their children to greater heights.

Due to the torrent of replies from outraged readers, Amy Chua then agreed to a series of interviews and published clarifications on her parenting philosophies in the Wall Street Journal. Her memoir charts her progression away from a tiger mother. When her younger daughter rebelled, she began to change her methods and her beliefs on motherhood. However, she maintains that the “Chinese mother way” is only one of many ways to raise children.  She claims that it still acts in the best interest of the child, maybe even more than the method of the average American parent.

Does achievement come from parental pressure?

There are many outstanding students at Harriton. There are students here who regularly sleep – or don’t – at inhumane hours. Mistakes, for them, are painful reflections on the soul. They ace standardized tests of all types, do sports, play instruments, learn languages, participate in clubs, and spend their summers on meaningful learning or working experiences. They may be exhausted, consistently angry, and remarkably embittered for high school students, but they are incredible people.

Are these students created because they were managed in the “Chinese tradition” and discouraged from doing anything that isn’t directly or indirectly related to getting into college? Did their mothers reject their birthday cards because they didn’t “put thought and effort in”?

Does the “tiger mother” exist at Harriton?

The general consensus is that there are wide ranges of parents, most of who exert pressure on these students.  Students are internally motivated, motivated by the students around them, and even further motivated the standards that colleges set for them. The tiger mother does not appear to exist in Harriton because there is no need for her.

That being said, though tiger mother does not exist, a certain amount of parents are still determined to secure the future of their offspring. As an example, my own mother has asked me in the past to put a rough estimate on the true number of friends I needed to be a happy individual.  After that, she asked me how much fun I needed to be happy (in quantifiable amounts). Perhaps I could make a spreadsheet? She was completely earnest, which made the entire situation funny beyond words. Not entirely a tiger mother situation, though not entirely normal either.

The fact of the matter is that Harriton is situated in a community that is very successful, far above the norm. There are parents here who exert untoward pressure on their kids, if it is considered untoward pressure given the circumstances. Why not push your child to do better if they are honestly capable? Parents may occasionally give the odd nudge, piece of advice, and an ultimatum if need be. All in the name of the glorious future that is within grasp if their child works just a little bit harder.

Amy Chua’s view of motherhood is an extreme that everyone shies away from. No one wants to bring up the various severe ways in which they discipline their children at dinner, especially not with her examples. That being said, parenthood is not a rosy journey where parent and child joyfully walk hand in hand through the treacherous trip to projected success. It is more like a negotiation between two rogue nations at times. The tiger mother is only more honest and less restrained in absolutely molding her children to her idea of perfection.