While the “tiger mother” style of par­ent­ing has yielded great re­sults for some Chi­nese fam­i­lies, ex­perts and “cat dads” say that be­ing vi­ciously au­thor­i­ta­tive isn’t al­ways the right thing to do

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -


When Chen Ji­a­jing isn’t at work, she de­votes all her time to her two sons, aged eight and four. She makes it a point to spend qual­ity time with them, teach­ing them moral val­ues and per­son­ally tak­ing them to spe­cial in­ter­est classes.

The prospect of her act­ing like a “tiger mother” had never crossed her mind, un­til one day when her el­dest son called her “the strictest per­son in the world”. Even her friends and fam­ily mem­bers have agreed with this as­sess­ment. In her de­fence, Chen said that she is merely try­ing to give her chil­dren a good head­start to life.

“I want to pro­vide them with a dis­ci­plined en­vi­ron­ment to grow up in so that they can go on to be suc­cess­ful in life,” said the 36-year-old.

The term “tiger mother” first came to promi­nence in 2011 when Amy Chua, a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can mother and Yale Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor, wrote the book Bat­tle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a story that touches on the typ­i­cally strict up­bring­ing meth­ods of Chi­nese moth­ers.

In the book, Chua de­scribed how she ed­u­cated her two daugh­ters, de­mand­ing that they be­come the top stu­dents in school for ev­ery sub­ject ex­cept gym and drama. She also wrote about how her daugh­ters were never al­lowed to score grades less than an A, and were banned from watch­ing tele­vi­sion or play­ing com­puter games. The book trig­gered heated de­bates in China and the United States, with Western au­di­ences per­ceiv­ing that Chua was ad­vo­cat­ing the Chi­nese method­ol­ogy as the su­pe­rior style of par­ent­ing.

In cer­tain ways, Chen is no dif­fer­ent to the Amer­i­can au­thor. The for­mer sends her el­dest son to a Bri­tish in­ter­na­tional school while the younger child at­tends classes at a well-known pri­vate kinder­garten. Both sons have also been made to at­tend reg­u­lar spe­cial in­ter­est ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing pi­ano classes, ice hockey train­ing ses­sions and math lessons through­out the week.

“I don’t want them to lose ground at the start. I know par­ents th­ese days are push­ing their kids to learn a va­ri­ety of skills in the top schools to en­sure they are not left be­hind,” said Chen.

This in­nate de­sire in many Chi­nese moth­ers to want their chil­dren to out­per­form oth­ers have given birth to the term “pinma”, which in English is loosely trans­lated to “mom­pe­ti­tion”. In or­der to stand out from the com­pe­ti­tion, Chen be­lieves the key lies in ver­sa­til­ity, see­ing how the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in China has in the past decade shifted from an ex­am­i­na­tion-ori­ented method to one that val­ues hav­ing mul­ti­ple tal­ents.

She added that moth­ers to­day must not only be able to carry out tra­di­tional tasks such as house­hold chores, but also be adept in teach­ing math­e­mat­ics, English gram­mar, paint­ing and learn­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ments.

Mean­while, the role of the fa­ther in the fam­ily seems to have di­min­ished, a phe­nom­e­non which is, iron­i­cally, con­trary to the tra­di­tional model of a Chi­nese fam­ily. The pa­tri­arch used to be la­beled as the dis­ci­plinar­ian in the house­hold who would bring home the ba­con and call the shots, while the mother was of­ten as­so­ci­ated with be­ing the sub­mis­sive, dot­ing mother to their chil­dren.

Fu Xin, a chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert at an early ed­u­ca­tion institution in Shang­hai, said that this change is un­sur­pris­ing given how women in to­day’s mod­ern so­ci­ety are bet­ter ed­u­cated and hence able to se­cure higher job po­si­tions. This has in turn helped to level the play­ing field, both in the work­force and at home.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted on 1,338 par­ents from three kinder­gartens and six pri­mary and mid­dle schools in Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince, the mother now has the fi­nal say when it comes to her child’s ed­u­ca­tion, and more than 61 per­cent of the fam­i­lies polled stated that the ma­tri­arch is re­spon­si­ble for han­dling school­work mat­ters. How­ever, Fu warned that let­ting just one mem­ber of the fam­ily have com­plete con­trol over ed­u­ca­tion mat­ters can be detri­men­tal at times.

“If moth­ers have scant knowl­edge of the norms of ed­u­ca­tion and are mis­guided by wrong ed­u­ca­tional ideas, they might ac­tu­ally

Chen Ji­a­jing, cause more harm to their chil­dren and their fu­ture,” said Fu.

The “tiger mother” ap­proach does not al­ways pro­duce suc­cess sto­ries, too, noted Fu. One such ex­am­ple can be seen in Zheng Qian, who ended up di­vorc­ing her hus­band af­ter four years due to con­stant ar­gu­ments on ed­u­ca­tion and fam­ily is­sues. As a re­sult of the bro­ken mar­riage, their daugh­ter has be­come reclu­sive and an­ti­so­cial.

Zheng had quit her job to be­come a stay-at-home-mother af­ter giv­ing birth. She had sent her daugh­ter to early ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses when she was only five months old, and forced the child to learn vi­o­lin at the age of three, in ad­di­tion to bal­let lessons. Zheng ad­mit­ted to even beat­ing the child when the lat­ter re­fused to prac­tice.

“I over­re­acted. I had ex­pected my daugh­ter to be­come bet­ter than oth­ers. I was overly stern to her and my ex-hus­band, and some­times I would even be­have like a tiger and shout at them,” said Zheng.

Yang Xiong, the di­rec­tor of the youth in­sti­tute at the Shang­hai Acad­emy of So­cial Sci­ences, also weighed in on the ef­fects of such be­hav­ior, say­ing: “There is no deny­ing that the in­flu­ence of fam­ily ed­u­ca­tion is the most pro­found in a child’s de­vel­op­ment. How­ever, un­like other types of in­vest­ments, ed­u­ca­tion is not some­thing par­ents nec­es­sar­ily will har­vest as much as they ex­pect.”

As it turned out, the “cat dad” — who adopts a softer par­ent­ing ap­proach — is the very an­tithe­sis of the “tiger mother”. One of the first men to be dubbed as such is Chang Zhi­tao, who was en­gaged in a heated de­bate with Chua over the is­sue of par­ent­ing af­ter her book was pub­lished.

“I pre­fer to use a struc­tured but not overly rigid method to ed­u­cate my daugh­ter to be a nice and con­fi­dent per­son who is free to pursue her own in­ter­ests. I don’t tell her that she has to be ver­sa­tile as I al­ways be­lieve that she was born to be her­self, not a copy of any­one,” said Chang, who is proud that his daugh­ter is a Har­vard stu­dent.

Chang had no­ticed through the years that chil­dren born af­ter 1990 like his daugh­ter are more self-cen­tered and in­clined to have their own thoughts. He be­lieves that the best way to com­mu­ni­cate with them should be to act as an equal, like a friend, in­stead of an au­thor­i­ta­tive fig­ure who has the fi­nal say in ev­ery­thing.

“I act more like a con­sul­tant, lis­ten­ing to what she wants be­fore giv­ing my ad­vice. I don’t force her to do any­thing. I am learn­ing to grow with her, to understand and sup­port her like a friend,” said Chang.

“I don’t think that a ‘cat fa­ther’ is nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter than a ‘tiger mother’, but I do be­lieve that con­cor­dant opin­ions be­tween par­ents re­gard­ing ed­u­ca­tion is the most im­por­tant thing in a fam­ily as this will help them raise an out­stand­ing child.”

a Shang­hai mother


The Chi­nese method of par­ent­ing has be­come such a hot topic in so­ci­ety th­ese days that tele­vi­sion se­ries such as Tiger Mom and Cat Dad, fea­tur­ing Chi­nese ac­tors Zhao Wei and Tong Dawei, have spawned as a re­sult.

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