Tiger Mother Rebuttal: Why East-West Mothers Are Superior

by Jocelyn · 22 comments

Tiger Mom: No social skills training here

Tiger Mom: "16: Too young to have girlfriend... 26: Why aren't you married?!"

When I discovered Amy Chua’s infamous “Tiger Mother” article in the Wall Street Journal almost a month ago, the thing that shocked me most — after reading the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” — was the photo underneath: Amy Chua standing before two unmistakably half-Asian half-Caucasian daughters.

It was as if she pointed to my own future, my possible interracial children, and demanded I follow her every “Tiger Mother” pawprint.

Maybe it’s the lion in me (I am, after all, a Leo in the Western zodiac), but I felt like sending her a roar of disgust instead for her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

Like Amy Chua, I have a connection to Chinese culture, since I have a Chinese husband. And if I choose to have kids, mine would be half-Asian, half-Caucasian, just like her interracial children. But there is one big difference — I would never be a “Tiger Mother” to my future children..

  • No playdates or sleepovers?
  • Calling children “garbage?”
  • Nothing less than number one in class, and straight A’s?
Tiger Mom: "You Can Have Sleepovers... When You're Married!"

Tiger Mom: "You Can Have Sleepovers... When You're Married!"

It’s no secret that such an extreme, authoritarian parenting style can hurt. But parents like Amy Chua somehow justify it. They point to their “math whizzes and music prodigies,” while ignoring the above-average suicide rate among Asian-American students, or the Asian-American guy in his mid-thirties who still struggles with the fact that his parents called him “stupid” most of his life.

But what baffles me even more is Amy Chua’s blind insistence that, in parenting, East is best Tiger Mother style. This, despite her upbringing in the US, interracial children, and Jewish husband.

The thing is, one of the greatest things about being in an intercultural, interracial relationship is that you can borrow the best from both cultures. Which is why I believe it’s possible to have the successful kids, with none of the social and psychological scars left behind by a Tiger Mother.

Tiger Mom: "Plenty of time to enjoy life... AFTER HARVARD!"

Tiger Mom: "Plenty of time to enjoy life... AFTER HARVARD!"

I think the East Asian drive for success is great, and I would expect my children to attend the best college they can. But success shouldn’t be defined by getting nothing less than straight As or being the next Lang Lang or Einstein.

In school, it should be just like what my father used to say: “As long as you try your best, you’ll never disappoint us.”  In life, it shouldn’t be about fulfilling a parental fantasy of becoming a doctor or lawyer — but instead, encouraging a child to discover who they are and what they truly love to do.

I want my future interracial children to be happy because they achieved their dreams, not mine.

Which leads me to my second, more Western idea — supporting children in a loving, responsive and understanding way. It’s not love, as Amy Chua suggests, to call interracial children “garbage” or reject their handmade greeting cards.

Now, being loving and responsive to children doesn’t mean you coddle them or never discipline them (believe me, I had my share of groundings as a child, and I’ll be ready with those timeouts and groundings for my own children). But it does mean that you think their psychological well-being matters as much, if not more, than their grade point average. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the reason why my child has to see a shrink for most of their adult life.

I would borrow from the East and the West to help my future children love and value their family. I think every child should respect their elders, just as most Asian countries have for centuries. But I would never tell my future children they owe me everything. This should be family, not some dictatorship or prison that would have the child fleeing their upbringing for the rest of their lives.

But the West has it right when it comes to perhaps the most gaping hole in Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mother” formula — socializing children. I would want my kids to have play dates and sleepovers, go on dates and go to school dances, and go out with their friends.

These are precious opportunities to learn the kind of social skills that I’ll bet a lot of “Tiger Cubs” never had, but wished they did. More experts believe it’s your social intelligence that really makes you successful in life, from the workplace to the dating scene.

I know in speaking with our resident Asian Dating Coach that he has to deprogram a lot of the negative beliefs and psychological damage that Asian men carry with them.

Jocelyn: Guest writer for AMWW Magazine

Jocelyn: Guest writer for AMWW Magazine

“Tiger Mothers” like Amy Chua aren’t superior in my world. Maybe that’s because I know better — that blending the East and West reflects my future family better, and will make my future children successful in many ways Chua never imagined.

Or maybe it’s just because I’m a lion, and tigers never scared me.


Writer, Chinese translator and founder of Speaking of China, Jocelyn Eikenburg thinks tigers belong in the wild, not the home.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara February 9, 2011 at 11:55 am

I agree with you Jocelyn. When I first heard about this Tiger Mother my first thought was that children of that kind of mother will be depressed, possible hurt them selves and much more worse. I would never raise my future kids that way. Like you, I also want to take the good sides of both cultures, west and the east, and leave the worst parts out.


Sales Associate February 10, 2011 at 11:56 pm

A problem I have with the “Tiger Mother” is that she’s justifying treating her kids that way by using the culture excuse. It’s also a cultural thing to stone a woman to death for walking on the streets alone; doesn’t mean it’s right.


Kevin. Y February 15, 2011 at 8:36 am

I am Chinese and my Mom was not crazy like that at all.
No! Asian moms are not superior than other mothers of any race.
Very few asian moms are acting like that.

I wouldn’t even waste my time to read a single word from that book.


bettymingliu February 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm

love your take on the issue and intrigued to discover this website. thanks also, for linking to my blog post post about being in therapy as a result of having a mom like amy chua. p.s. — if you kid ever ends up in therapy for whatever reason, it’s not the worst thing in the world. the opportunity to talk things out in a constructive way is very extremely helpful. 🙂


bettymingliu February 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm

ouch, it’s actually too early in the morning for me to be doing this….sorry about the grammatical boo-boos on my initial comment!


bettymingliu February 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm

ouch, it’s actually too early in the morning for me to be doing this….sorry about the grammatical boo-boos on my initial comment!


Anonymous February 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Did anyone bother reading her daughter Sophia’s response? Sophia herself admitted she spent about 30 seconds on the card and didn’t even “bother to sharpen the pencil”. She knew her mom rejected it because she didn’t try on it at all and said that her mom would never insult anything she worked really hard on.


Steve Shim February 28, 2011 at 5:32 am

Spot on, Jocelyn. Social intelligence is so important to developing relationships and it’s a real disservice to your children to neglect them those opportunities.

I also think that micro-managing every aspect of your child’s life stunts the development of critical decision making skills and independent thought, which I think is just as important as social intelligence. The good news is that these aren’t things that can’t be overcome, and those of us who have had ‘tiger’ parents have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.


Hyun March 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm

omg those quotes sound EXACTLY like my mother….ewww


Melanie Mumea March 19, 2011 at 7:33 am

East-West values are exactly how we plan on raising our interracial children. Well said.


Frank April 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Amy Chua has gone on the record many times as saying this is not a how to guide, but a learning experience and memoir for her and her family as she tried to raise her kids the same way her parents raised her. She also talkeda bout how their family went on many fun events such as amusement parts and sporting games. Her book cover makes fun of the idea that Chinese mothers are truly superior. She also makes it clear that she buoyed the disciplining of her kids with a loving support system. i really do not see what you are expressing your outrage against. methods can seem harsh, but what better way to instill self esteem in your kids than to let them realize through experience that they can achieve more than they thought they could by making them work hard at it? im’ not casting any judgements on you i just believe that you are misjudging exactly what she did as a mother.


spiral43 April 27, 2011 at 6:44 am

I’m going to have to point out something. And I hope you don’t take it too hard, Jocelyn, but it must be said. (brace yourself)

It is unfortunate but your take on the so called “tiger mom” education is way off. In fact, the term “tiger mom” is a fad, a subject of gossip which very few have any knowledge of. I do not blame you, but I have to say most of your analysis on Asian style education are incorrect. I really wish I could convey why it is so. I really do. I have tried explaining this subject to non-asians many times. But the stories I tell tend to be too traumatizing, shocking and upsetting to most non-asian parents and I don’t bringing it up anymore. I’m just trying to let you know, Jocelyn, that you need to study deeper into this.

The “borrowing from the East and the West” is impossible. It is a “cute” idea, a darling idea which signals your naivety. Asian education only works on the Asian mind set. Cultivating an Asian mind set usually requires violent measures. I’m not defending or condoning violence, but that is a FACT. Do that same thing in the western education system, and you’ll find yourself in a prison cell real fast. You cannot just take a piece from the East and West, put it together call it a blending of the two. It’s just” western education with a wasabi tasting sprinkles”. If it was that easy, Asian americans wouldn’t have to suffer with dual identities. In fact, the whole reason this website exists is because that kind of blending does NOT occur easily, if at all. Why would there be a need for interracial dating advice site, if the blending of two different cultures was so easy?

I hope my response wasn’t too harsh on you, Jocelyn. I just want you to dig deeper. You can shoot me an email if you want to discuss this more.

Thanks for reading.


Dustin Bentley April 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm

You’ll be a good mother.. That’s for sure..
Speaking of parenting, I really idolize my parents. If time will come that I have to start my own family, I wanted to just like them.


Tansen April 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Where was the dickless husband in all this is my question


Lil Jay Chou May 2, 2011 at 1:22 am

Is her husband white? That might explain alot. An ASIAN man would never let the wife raise the children completely.


Lil Jay Chou May 2, 2011 at 1:24 am

I’m sorry but getting into Harvard doesn’t mean $hit if you’re not intellectually motivated to go there. It’s unfortunate that some Asian parents think money and a financial stable life is everything. Glad my parents aren’t like this “tigeress”
Life should be about risks and enjoyment, not all about SAT, piano, violin, and padding up applications.
and why the freakin violin?


Mayzeszalay May 3, 2011 at 11:00 pm

I personally was raised the Off the Plane EUROPEAN way.
I got a few smacks around the head for my school performance (only because I slacked, not so much about grades)
I had to give ultimate respect to my parents; my emotions were subservient to them, I couldn’t talk back or show disdain, most to especially my father.
I was forced to do various extracurriculars (altho i enjoyed n excelled in some) and take extra private classes (aargh).
They did encourage me in any endeavors i chose. I could choose my friends and my parents were eager to let me socialize, for me it was vital becuz i was/am an only child.
They supported my artistic abilities and my flaws and made sure i could express myself and have fun. Actually, my whole life I’ve been quite the anti-conformist and for that I’ve made real, long-lasting friendships and interests. They gave me knowledge and tools to express myself rationally, defend myself with dignity, and believe in altruism.

I’m not emotionally stunted or scarred. I’m quite content with my life and the directions I’m headed. I also love my parents very much and I dont think I’ll be chucking them in a nursing home.

I’m a caucasian girl. I understand the Chinese/East Asian cultural importance on respect to parents and the good of the family. At the same time I’m individual and competent in academics and society, and I’m pursuing what I want to do – Music.

There. Neither American nor Asian.


spiral43 May 4, 2011 at 5:09 am

“Tiger Mom” is a fad. It does not represent the real asian-style education or real asian “moms”. It’s just gossip material made up by people who don’t have anything better to do.(aka morning talk shows) However, it is good that you are fired up about education. I have not considered the european way of education before. Fascinating. Loved your comment.


Hai Neko September 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Still… I haven’t done any sleepovers & dates as a child (actually the second one never – and I’m 22), and wasted a quite large potential.. Cuz my mom was trying out ‘the american way’. I love my parents immensely, but I started studying education just to make sure I’m more than prepared if I get a golden child myself – cause nothing hurts as much as knowing that you neither had fun nor finished Harvard. Oh, well.


CaliSteve August 30, 2012 at 4:30 pm

You need to read her book and you will realize there is a bit of sarcasm in it.


Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }