The Tiger Mother and the Impact on Her Cubs


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.

Double Eyelid Surgery. Photo credit: Dream Medical Group (Dr. Kenneth Kim)

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:

All I see here anytime I look at this photo is my giant spare tire right where my daughter’s knee is.

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.

I have to keep reminding myself that despite being slow, crossing the finish line with these two is truly an accomplishment.


13 comments on “The Tiger Mother and the Impact on Her Cubs”

  1. It’s not too late to change your fate…and you’re proving that. Way to work it– for you and for the family you love so dearly. Thank you for sharing your story and for your strength…body and mind. So impressed with the 7 mile baby jogger race. I had set a goal of a half with the two…haven’t done it just yet but am definitely considering it now. Thanks for being an inspiration.

  2. Lovely post! The tiger mothers here in Asia can be quite scary. The mother of a boy in Will’s preschool class told me she is changing schools next year because he isn’t learning enough…obviously implying that I should think about doing the same. This boy won’t be three until next month! The mother is Chinese but Western educated. The father is local Hong Kong and obviously quite successful / wealthy. The little boy goes 5 mornings a week to an international preschool in a bilingual class (half Mandarin, half English). And he goes 3 afternoons a week to a local Cantonese preschool. At home he is spoken to in a combination of English, Mandarin and Cantonese. He barely speaks and he looks tired. I watched him at Will’s birthday party at the beach. I have never seen such a smile on his face. A rare 2 hours of playing in the sand.

    1. Thanks, Elissa. I cannot understand how parents can take away one time in a child’s life that they can truly be a child. A toddler of < 3 years old should LIVE life – explore new things around him/her, embrace the happiness and fun, and really just be a kid. Shoving all this learning down a kid's throat while it might make them book smart, turns them into living machines who can crank out multiple languages, solve complex equations and play a music piece with technical accuracy. But it does not make them HUMAN.

      I'm just curious – what is considered "learning enough" at < 3 years old?? I'm happy when my kid can count to 13 and recite the alphabet A to Z!

  3. Really interesting post! My parents are Israeli, while it’s not exactly the same as a Tiger mom, they are more critical than American culture. My mom also views clothing and body weight as a fixable opportunity, and not superficial. I too have been criticized for being fat (and worse words than that), back in college…the criticism worked I have to say, I lost the weight while hating my body.

    For those who don’t understand this amount of criticism: My mom has always wisely told me that “I tell you these things (criticisms) because I love you. No one else will tell you these things but me.” Her criticisms stick with me and hurt my self-image…and her praises boost my self-image. It’s as though it’s up to her what I feel about myself, I take her so seriously. My mother is not just Israeli, but also an only child, and perhaps doesn’t understand sibling rivalry very much. She also makes comparisons, telling me that my brother is more empathetic than I am, or more sociable. Thus, I think of myself as anti-social and sometimes not a kind person. I do not know whether it’s true or not, I only know what my mom says. (At least I’ve made peace with being anti-social, since I am an introvert it seems an OK label, though I remember as a teenager I hated that label.) I remember that in one of our “heart to hearts”, as I was 9 mo. pregnant with Talia, I mentioned that I always thought of myself as ugly because my mom told me I was always frowning (“making a sour face” in Hebrew) even when I did not think I was. And that was the first time she told me that her mother always told her the exact same thing. I realized that maybe it wasn’t about me, maybe it was just about what my mom was used to hearing at her house, so she passed it along.

    For the record, my mother also tells me I handle stress well, and am talented at music. She tells me I can go to her with any question, and that I should, in order to benefit from experience.

    I never thought about it as a cultural difference, but maybe it does explain why I don’t feel as “warm” towards my mom as American children seem to be towards their parents. I am a little jealous of this unconditional love arrangement. I do not think of my mom as a “warm” person, to go to for comfort. Advice yes, comfort no, at least not when I am at fault. My mother sees the difference in culture too, and wants the best of both worlds. She has even criticized me for not calling her enough or being close enough to her!

    I will probably raise my children the same way, because i too am critical, because I too want the best for my children, and because this is what I know. But posts like this make me think twice. Perhaps I will not be quite as critical, especially about comparisons to others. Perhaps I will try to realize that repeatedly saying things may not mean much to me as I throw the words around, but may mean a heck of a lot to my kids.

    1. Sharon – thank you SO MUCH for your thoughtful response/comment and your insight.

      We are really our own worst critics and I think a lot of our perspective is driven by what we are taught to believe – there is a certain amount of “candy canes and unicorns” that other cultures criticize Western cultures (American, particularly) for believing in, and I would like to think that there is a happy-medium somewhere between these two seemly “extreme” approaches towards parenting. You and I (and others who have seen different these drastically approaches) can benefit from knowing what worked with one approach versus the approach that our friends’ moms took. I keep telling myself that in this case, experience breeds wisdom, and I can hopefully carry this knowledge with me when I deal with my own kids.

      My mom, too, says that no one else but a mom would tell me these things. I do sometimes wish she kept some of these thoughts to herself because at this point, I GET IT.

      For the record, you are beautiful – I never once thought your face was sour or frowning. On the contrary, I always feel like your face radiates kindness and approachability. Your girls are equally as beautiful, too. The innocence and happiness that I see in T’s face when she’s out on the playground or playing in the classroom – that is true beauty.

  4. Vivian- i don’t even think i would be able to attempt a 5K or 7 miler while pushing a double stroller!! pushing Jake is my running stroller on my street gives me a workout enough! I keep my runs stroller-free for that reason, so you are one awesome power momma to me!!!! keep it up girl!!!

  5. Thank you, Ladies, for your kind words. I should clear air in saying that my mom is a great mom who is devoted to her family, but she mothers in the only way that she knows how and in the way in which she has been taught by her own mother. I think living in the US, where I see the closeness that many women have with their mothers (not the case with me – our relationship is one where she is my mom but not my friend) but being reared using a different cultural standard just highlights the differences and “damages” that these different approaches can have. I have the benefit of seeing both approaches, and know how I would like my children to grow up – happy, confident and well-adjusted; thinking that the can conquer their own little worlds. I often wonder if I had grown up in her home country, whether my perspective would be different!

  6. I agree with the others. Thank you for sharing this experience with us, I am just sorry that you have been, and continue to be treated like that. You are beautiful, powerful, strong and kind hearted. Your twins are so lucky to have YOU as their mama!

  7. I just want to say “DITTO!” to everything Sarah said above! You are AMAZING! And congrats on breaking an ugly cycle. Your children are very, very lucky. Love to you, Dear Sister.

  8. I don’t know how anyone could find anything wrong with a mom running 7 miles pushing a double jogger! That is an amazing accomplishment. You look fantastic. Keep doing what you’re doing and know that you are AWESOME, inside and out. Great job not focusing on how upset these negative comments make you, but rather, using it as a lesson in what not to do to your own children!

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