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Saturday, January 22, 2011


Cynthia Lim

I am Chinese, and I am a mother. That makes me a Chinese mother which is not the same as a tiger mother. I have my own ideas of what constitutes good parenting, and they are very different from those of the tiger mother's, or my own Chinese parents'.

I grew up envying the easy friendship American daughters enjoyed with their mothers, and the freedom they had to voice opinions to their fathers. I knew even then that I would not parent like my parents.

I would like to think I was a better parent. After all, I allowed my daughter all the things denied me: playdates, sleepovers, and high school dating.

I gave her the freedom of choice, and while I did not always agree, and we would have incredible shouting matches, I let her make them.

By tiger mother standards, I did very well. She has near-perfect SAT test scores and offers from what is known as HYP in the striped circle which, by the way, is populated by non-Asians as well.

I am quite certain though that no matter my best efforts, my parenting has left scars on my daughter, and I can only hope the unconditional love I have given her will make those scars easier to live with.


I grew up without a mother and my father disappeared into a new marriage and was rarely there for us. So my experience is different. I felt abandoned and completely alone and craved the attention I wasn't getting.

I was a B-minus student because no one cared - and I could have done far better. Yes I filled out my own college applications, because I couldn't wait to get out of that house. The prospect of going to college wasn't even discussed in my home, and I was quite surprised when my father told me that he actually had saved for it.

I don't agree with either mothering style, really. In my opinion, the Chinese mother that Amy Chua presents is a borderline child abuser. She is ripping at her daughters' self esteem in an almost surreal effort to get them to rise to the occasion, and outperform everyone else. That cannot be healthy and it will come back to haunt them. But I'm not sure the B-minus mother is supporting her children at the level she should either. I don't look at EdLine, I'm not even sure I know how to spell it, but both my children come to me when they are struggling with schoolwork or with friendships and other issues, because they know they can.

I get great joy helping my son come up with ideas for a short story or feature article in his writing classes, and helping my daughter understand her English grammar homework which was poorly explained, and I don't know if she'd ever understand without me.

I don't scream and yell if someone gets a C, but I voice unhappiness and we try to figure out how to do it better next time together. There are very few Cs in our house.

I know a lot more about what's going on in my kids' day to day lives than most parents. They need someone to talk too - an adult they can trust with the information given. I'm sure there are things I don't know - but I am told about the big and the little stuff, and that's important to them as well as me. After not having any adult to confide in as a child, I welcome that interaction, and think it's very healthy for all of us.

This isn't meant to be a criticism of the B- mother, but I do believe that somewhere in between the two parenting styles, is probably the best option. Amy Chua withholds love which is scary, the B- minus mother loves unconditionally but takes a giant step back to let her kids rise or fall on their own. To me direct parenting is vital, until you know in your heart that your kids are ready to strike out on their own.

For instance, I cannot monitor where a 15 year-old goes once he's left the house with friends, but I've learned to trust him. I can't make him do homework, but I can certainly point out that if he wants an academic future at a good school, that C is going to hold him back.

I am just so blessed to still be here when my children have reached an age at which I know longer had a mother. And I feel lucky, and I think they do too, that I am here and very involved.


Hmmm. I loved Blessing of a Skinned Knee, but haven't read Blessing of a B- yet. Did you see Ruth Marcus' Tiger Mother/Blessing of a B- column in the WaPo. Without reading either book (although I, of course, have already opined on Amy Chua here on CurrentMom, I instinctively liked what Ruth had say - sort of a place in between. But I think I will need to think more about detachment/empowerment/independence, especially as my kids get older.

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