Westerners often laud their children as ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’, while Asian parents highlight the importance of hard work. And in fact, research performed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has found that the way parents offer approval affects the way children perform, even the way they feel about themselves.
When I’m not the Tiger Mom, I’m a professor at Yale Law School, and if one thing is clear to me from years of teaching, it’s that there are many ways to produce fabulous kids. I have amazing students; some of them have strict parents, others have lenient parents, and many come from family situations that defy easy description.
I was the one that in a very overconfident immigrant way thought I knew exactly how to raise my kids. My husband was much more typical. He had a lot of anxiety; he didn’t think he knew all the right choices. And, I was the one willing to put in the hours.
For my senior prom, my father finally said I could go – as long as I was home by 9 P.M.! That was around the time that most people were heading out. When I was little I was so mad at them all the time. ‘Why can’t I do this?’ ‘Why are there so many rules?’ But looking back now, my parents gave me the foundation to have so many choices in life.
I saw my parents come over. They were immigrants, they had no money. My dad wore the same pair of shoes, I had some ugly clothes growing up, and I never had any privileges. In some ways, I think the person that I am now, I think it’s good that I had that kind of tough upbringing.
Happiness is not always through success. Equally, the constant pursuit of success is sure unhappiness. But we have to find the balance. My own thoughts are that parenting is very personal. And we all feel enormous insecurity about parenting. What are they going to think of us 20 years down the line?
Oddly enough, I’m not a particularly judgmental person. I just don’t have a lot of filtering when I’m in ‘tiger mother’ mode. I say what comes into my head.
I say ‘I love you’ to my daughters every day.
It may be the optimist in me, but I think America has a uniquely powerful and capacious glue internally. The American identity has always been ethnically and religiously neutral, so within one generation you have Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Jamaican-Americans – they feel American. It’s a huge success story.
Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done. I tried to find the balance between the strict, traditional Chinese way I was raised, which I think can be too harsh, and what I see as a tendency in the West to be too permissive and indulgent. If I could do it all again, I would, with some adjustments.