Beyond Tiger Moms: Contrasting Parenting Styles

There has been a firestorm of media attention surrounding the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, written by a Yale professor as a memoir of rearing her children in what she describes as a traditional Chinese Mother way: No TV, endless study daily, relentless music practice, and an expectation of near perfect grades. While she doesn’t claim outright parenting superiority, she does infer that the typical Western style is too laid back and accepts mediocrity.

This discussion has had me thinking about talks I’ve often had with one of my good friends over her “black” mom style and my “white” mom style . We were both pregnant at the same time and our boys were born two months apart. All along, we’ve candidly discussed our similar challenges while chuckling over how we differ in our approach.

* When we have attended the kids’ parties, we’d hear a white mom plead, “Sweetie, please use your inside voice, okay?” and my friend and I would exchange a glance. As she has often told me, no black woman is going to beg her own kid to behave.  When my friend corrects her kids it’s in a low, don’t-mess-with-me tone that ends with, “Do you understand me?” This is not a rhetorical question. There’s no hopeful “Okay?” like cooperation is optional.

* When my kid got punched on the bus, I told him to run tell the teacher. When her kid got punched, she told him to knock the attacker upside his head. For the record, both our husbands -and probably most men – agree with her approach. Neither of our kids have had this problem since.

On second thought, should I look further into why my kid’s lunch account keeps running low? Maybe my method hasn’t been as effective after all…

*At one point her son went through a rebellious phase at daycare. She mentioned this to her grandmother, the family matriarch now in her seventies, who raised six of her own children and had often kept my friend when she was young. “Give him to me,” said Mama evenly. “I’ll handle him.”

And so she did. After two weeks at Mama’s, the kid was happy to return to daycare, although he was moved to a center with a  sterner approach. “These young girl teachers sing-songing to him, he thinks that’s just play,” said my friend. “He needs to be spoken to with authority. He can’t respect all that ‘pretty-please’ and ‘honey-baby’ stuff.”

The new daycare had a no-nonsense but loving staff. “We expect him to obey all the way, right away” said the director. My friend was sold. She had found the equivalent of military school for daycare.

Since she has raised my awareness, I’ve found myself pulling some tips from her playbook. I’ve even found myself asking my kids, “Who do I look like, Boo-Boo the Fool?” Sometimes I can pull it off, other times, not so much.

I know this: whatever type we are, Tiger Mother or otherwise, we can learn some helpful parenting techniques from one another.