In 2011, Amy Chua published a book entitled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In it, she compared the differences between Chinese/Asian and Western approaches towards mothering. The book met criticism because readers felt that she was implying that Asians are better at parenting than their Western counterparts; however, the criticism missed her key point that there are vast differences in the way that different cultures nurture children. Western cultures teach kids to be successful by focusing on their assets, building self-esteem and teaching them that “anything is possible.” Asian cultures teach kids to improve themselves by focusing on flaws and “fixing” weak points in the pursuit of being better.
As a first generation American, I am a Tiger Cub; the product of a pseudo Tiger Mother. I grew up thinking that no matter what, there’s always something about me that needed fixing. Even today, my mother points out flaws rather than praising accomplishments, and it has brought me to a realization of what I don’t want to be as a mom. I’m not saying that my mom was a bad mom; she was wonderful in many respects, but true to the Tiger Family, I see her parenting flaws and strive to fix those flaws in myself so that my own kids never grow up with the self-doubt that still haunts me.
My biggest hang-up focuses on my appearance, which has never met my mother’s standards of beauty. She truly believes that if I had been more beautiful, I would’ve been at a better place in life – better job, more successful career, movie-star quality husband. When I was a child, she lamented that I was short, chubby, and had (daikon) radish-shaped legs. She criticized my jawline (too recessed), said that I inherited my dad’s “frog eyes” and offered up double-eyelid plastic surgery (common in Asia). Even today, she comments about my weight, clothes or appearance, and scolds me for not controlling these factors. To her, this isn’t a statement of superficiality, but one of fixable opportunity. This carries over to me because rather than celebrating my accomplishments, I’m always looking for my flaws.
My children are the most beautiful creatures in my eyes. When I see them, I’m instantly taken away by my girl’s beautiful smile, rosy red lips, warm eyes and tremendous toddler-wit. I’m consumed by my son’s innocence and kind heart, his happy giggle and ironic sense of humor. I never once noticed their “flaws” until my mother pointed them out, stating that I needed to work to fix those things so that they will be set up for a successful future (the fact that my kids are tiny is at the top of her list of concerns).
My family and I recently participated in a road race where I ran 7 miles pushing the double stroller, and the kids ran their first fun-run afterwards. I was so proud of them for not only sitting still in the stroller, but for also being the youngest kids running. It was such a great moment for me that I shared the following pic:
Upon seeing this photo, my mom’s first words were not ones of accomplishment but rather, “You really need to run more because your belly is huge.” While I know that much of her love is lost in translation, from now on whenever I look at that pic, all I will ever see will not be our collective accomplishments as a family, but rather the spare tire around my waist.
So, this is my vow to my children: It may be too late for me to change my fate, but your future is a blank slate. I’ll never be a Tiger Mother because I never want you to doubt your capabilities or focus on your flaws. I’ll strive to always celebrate your accomplishments and encourage you to reach your full potential. I never want you to wonder, “What if?” but rather to ask, “What’s next?” I’ll never say that you’re short, chubby or have “frog eyes.” To me, you’ll always be my beautiful, perfect children. If you let me know that you’ve sincerely tried your hardest, then I’ll know that my job is done as your mom.