I chuckle whenever my Aussie friends call me a “Tiger Mum”, in reference to what they think is some version of Amy Chua’s method of parenting, as outlined in her famous, if polarising, book, “Battle Hymm of the Tiger Mother.” It’s a book most Chinese mothers have never read because her methods, as far as we’re concerned, are hardly revelatory.
Compared to my own mother, I’m no tiger. I’m more of a regular house cat. Raised by a real Tiger Mum, the sort that comments on my (normal) weight as an adult, I’ve always wanted to have the sort of friendship with my child, I’ve only discovered as an adult, with my own mother. But as Dr. Phil, who I’m much a fan of, says, “It’s your job to be a parent, not a friend.”
I don’t need to score brownie points on the playground for being the coolest parent around. I am Amanda’s mother and that’s all there is to that. She and I will have plenty of time in the future to be girlfriends, but for now, my task is to raise a well-balanced, contributing member of society.
“How about happy?” you ask. “Don’t you want your child to be happy?”
Well, I have had teachers tell me, without any prompting, Amanda is the happiest child they know. She can break into song and dance at the drop of a hat.
“How about creative?” you also ask.
You should have seen my $5000 Italian-made couch before I wiped it down with JIF and sold it off to a friend of a friend for a mere $200; she not only drew all over it, on our toilet wall, while sitting on the throne, she drew herself a birthday cake, to which she stuck a drawing of another birthday cake, complete with candles.
Hence, from where I stand, it’s an absolute fallacy that children raised by strict parents aren’t happy or creative. As I’ve said to a Chinese friend, who completely agrees, “Happiness isn’t coming last in class or stretching your hands out to ask your parents, friends or the government for money. It’s about having choices in life.”
I respect other parents’ rights to raise their children however they want, but there’s no danger of me joining hippies who allow their children to decide if they want to be vaccinated or schooled. You also won’t see me on xenophobic current affairs programmes complaining bitterly about other race children taking all the places at Australia’s top schools because if achievement were all about smarts (an insinuation that those who work hard mustn’t be smart) as many Aussies (and some Asians) seem to think it should be, then we’d have the equivalent of Stephen Hawking governing the country, instead of whoever we have.
No, folks, as a Tiger Mum’s second cousin, I tell my child it’s all about HARD WORK. At our house, we don’t praise Amanda every time she does her homework or reads a book. It’s expected that she does these things. It’s also expected that she apply herself to school. As her father explained to her last year, “You need to be in the top 1% to go to medical school like me. Do you know what that means?”
She shook her head.
“Out of 100 children, you have to be number 1. How many do you have in your class?”
“24,” I filled in for her. “There are 4 classes. Some have 24, others have 25.”
“Right. But if you only put in the same amount of work everyone else does, how do you expect to be better than them?”
Amanda doesn’t have to do medicine, but if she can get in, she can do just about any university course she so desires. I reiterate my earlier point: happiness is about choices.
As a Singaporean friend of mine who completed 4 degrees in 7 years, while working full-time, once told me, “It’s not about how smart you are. It’s what you do with your smarts.”
Being smart is an inherited quality, not one we have control over, or can improve on. Research has shown we have an IQ of between 10 and 15 points of our closest relatives. Simply put, if your parents are not Einstein, it is unlikely you will be either.
At any rate, I don’t put much currency on Amanda being smart, although since she’s already doing Year 5 work in Year 3, you might contend that she is. For her 8th birthday, HRH and I presented her with a 288 page NAPLAN work book, expecting her to finish it in a month (because that’s what we ourselves would do), and when she finished it 6 weeks after we bought it, I simply took to writing out 50 questions on a single sheet of paper for her to do, then tiring of that, I bought her NAPLAN Year 5 books instead. She’s been cheerfully doing them, oblivious to the titles that suggest she might not be able to.