- What is a tiger mum?
- What are examples of tiger parenting?
- Does tiger parenting work?
- What is an elephant mom?
- Parenting isn’t one-size-fits-all
Any parent wants to see their child find success. But how far would you go to ensure your child is the best at everything they do?Tiger mothering refers to an exceptionally strict form of parenting, where anything less than perfect is unacceptable. Trying their hardest isn’t good enough for your child, and neither is getting second place. Excellence is mandatory, and falling short merits punishment. Being a tiger mom is certainly controversial, although it's nothing new. What is tiger parenting and what are its alternatives?
What exactly is a tiger mom? 🐅
The term ‘tiger mom’ was coined by author and Yale University Law professor Amy Chua in her 2011 book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” It comes from the Chinese imagery of the tiger, which symbolizes strength, power, and respect.
The American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chua raised her two daughters the Chinese way, rather than the Western way. The Chinese way, as Chua explains, encourages excellence via suffering and hard work. It goes beyond just tough love, though. In the book, Chua outlines some of the things her daughters were never allowed to do, including having playdates and sleepovers, watching TV, and choosing their own extracurricular activities. If her children got less than an A in any subject, they were punished.
Chinese parenting vs. western parenting
In her book, Chua recognises that not all Chinese parents are the same, just as not all Western parents are the same. However, she does explore the key general differences between the two groups. Chua cites a study in her book that says almost 70% of Western mothers said that “stressing academic success is not good for children” and “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” In contrast, 0% of Chinese mothers agreed, and instead, feel that academic success is a sign of successful parenting. Chua stresses in her book that the tiger mom phenomenon is not a cultural stereotype, and rather simply a true result of cultural practices.
What are examples of tiger parenting?
Being a tiger mom is more than just making your child study for an exam. A tiger mother expects their children to be #1 in their class. If they learn an instrument - which they must, and it better be piano or violin - three or more hours of daily practice is mandatory. Children are not allowed to do any activities that are just for fun. As Chua says in her book, “the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal...and that medal must be gold.”
Being tiger parents isn’t just about actions though, it’s also how you speak to and about your child. To be a tiger mom, you should never compliment your child in public. It’s also okay to criticise your children for their appearance and weight--your child can’t just be the best, they must also look the best, especially girls. Calling your child “fatty” or “garbage” is not out of bounds.
Does tiger parenting work?
In the case of Chua and her children, yes. If your goal is to see your children get educated at the best schools, be top of their fields, make lots of money and be influential in success, tiger parenting does indeed seem to work. Chua’s daughters Lulu, now 25, and Sophia, now 28, are both Harvard and Yale-educated lawyers. They also seem to harbour no ill feelings towards their mother’s harsh practices (including sending a three-year-old Lulu out into sub-zero snow when she refused to practice the piano). The sisters have said they have happy memories of their childhood, and that they always felt their parents were on their side and wanted the best for them.
Of course, pushing children to succeed will make them successful. If they have no choice but to be the best, your children will ultimately be the best. However, Chua’s many critics have said that the tiger mom approach to parenting is cruel at best, and abusive at worst. What is the alternative?
What is an elephant mom? 🐘
If you’re put off by the idea of constantly pushing your children the tiger mom way, perhaps elephant parenting is more your style.
An elephant mom, like its animal kingdom namesake, prioritises loving encouragement above all else. Coined by writer Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar in an article for The Atlantic, an elephant mom is as protective of her children as a real-life elephant is. The elephant mom tells her children it’s okay to quit something that makes them feel sad or anxious. She gives her children choices and flexibility, allowing them to do things just for the sake of enjoyment and fun, not in constant pursuit of a medal or outperforming their peers.
Like Chua, Sharma-Sindhar points to her own upbringing, noting the warmth and patience commonly expressed by Indian parents. She tells a story of her own mother, saying, “I failed a Hindi test when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I remember going to her, teary-eyed, with my results—and hearing her tell me that it didn’t matter. There were many more tests ahead. As I sobbed in her lap, she stroked my hair, hugged me, and told me there would be another test, and I could pass that one.” This, of course, is a big difference from the style of a tiger mom, who would punish and berate her child for failing a test.
In many ways, treating your children with endless love and support seems like the better approach to parenting. But is it really better to be an elephant mom instead of a tiger mom?
Parenting isn’t one-size-fits-all 👪
Just as all parents are different, all children are, too. What works well for one family may not be the best for yours. As a parent, it’s important not to put yourself in a box. You don’t have to be a tiger mom or an elephant mom. You just have to be the best mom you can be!
A balanced approach is best
Children need the right balance of motivation and protection to be set up for future success. You want your child to know that they are safe, loved, and supported by mom and dad. However, you also want to make sure your children are prepared for the “real world.” As much as you may think your child is perfect no matter what, future universities and employers will likely not think the same.
Remind your children that it’s’ okay to fail--as long as they try again. No one can get everything 100% right 100% of the time, and make sure your children know that mistakes are part of the process. That said, if there is something they are really passionate about, don’t let them give up as soon as things get hard. Persevering in difficult times is an incredibly important life skill, and your child will undoubtedly face troubled times as they enter adulthood.
Maybe they didn’t make the football team they tried out for, and want to quit the sport entirely. Let them know that it’s okay to not win sometimes, but remind them how much they love playing with their friends, and with more practice, maybe they’ll make the team next season.
It’s important, too, that you teach your children that it’s okay to rest, but practising something and sticking with it is the only way to get better. If your child doesn’t study for an exam, for example, they may get a low mark and feel discouraged. Teach them that if they study next time, they’ll get a higher score. Ultimately, children should understand the correlation between effort and results - but should also understand that sometimes, it’s okay to just take a break.
There’s more than one kind of success
As a parent, your child’s success is incredibly important to you. If your child wants to get an A* at A-Levels and get into Oxford (PS GoStudent can help with that!), that’s an amazing goal, and something worth achieving. Yet it’s also admirable to do a traineeship after their GCSEs and start working for a local business in their hometown.
There is not one single version of success. Of course, you want your children to be financially independent and able to take care of themselves. However, going to university to study economics is not the only path there! A tiger mom wants her children to be the best at whatever they do. However, whatever they do doesn’t have to be what society says they should do! An elephant mom lets her children find their own path. As long as your children are happy, financially secure, and confident in themselves, what more could you want?
Your best is good enough ❤️
It’s normal for parents to worry they aren’t doing a good enough job. However, just remember--your best is good enough. As a parent, your job is to prepare your child for the “real world” outside the home. Being realistic about the challenges and expectations of adulthood is important, but so is making your children feel safe and loved. You don’t have to be a tiger mom, an elephant mom, or any other type of mom. You just have to do your best, and love and encourage your children the best way you know how to.