Monday, January 31, 2011


My wife is a "Tigger" mom. She read stories to our children at dinner. (Cheaper by the Dozen being one of their favorites) They listened to audio books in the car. She never missed a parent's conference or a choir performance and was on the sidelines for every game and lots of practice. She encouraged them to learn "Irish" step dancing and karate and loved it when they brought an art project home. She has raised 4 wonderful children who would be even better off if their father had been a better role model and shown better judgment.

I call her a "tigger" mom as a counterpoint to the current rage, the "Tiger" mother that has opened parenting debates in everything from the Wall Street Journal to the cover of Time and across the cable landscape. A "tiger" mother yells and screams at her children if they don't get A's in school, denies bathroom breaks and food if they don't practice an instrument for hours each day, and isn't interested for one minute in building self esteem. A "tiger" mom runs a boot camp not a home and Time suggests maybe this is why China is surpassing us in academic achievement and economic growth. What a bunch of "bulls-geshicte."

Yale law professor Amy Chua has written a memoir about raising her children like her parents raised her. Chinese parents don't want their children to "feel" good; they have to "be"good. Disagree with your parents; you are "garbage" to them. Don't put enough time into a birthday card, it is crap and thrown away. Want to watch TV, play a computer game or sleep over at a friend’s house? Forget it. The proof of the pudding for these Asian drill instructors is a child at the top of their class academically; a virtuoso artist, and a tough kid ready to take a bite out of life. What's not to like?

A "tigger" mom wants her children to read and write well. They play athletics to learn about being on a team and about winning and losing. She expects their homework to be done and chores finished. She doesn't blame the teacher when a grade is low, but she doesn't hang her child out to dry either. She prepares them for high school and college and hopes they will be successful. Ah, that's the rub. What is the definition of successful these days?

All of the coverage about Chua and her upbringing and that of her children focuses on an older daughter who has performed at Carnegie Hall and a younger daughter who made the varsity tennis team while still in junior high school. If you dig a little into all the euphemisms Chua uses, you discover happiness or success is defined by superior achievement, which will lead to monetary rewards and a big house in Connecticut.

Chua never addresses her children's social skills or if they have developed empathy and compassion. She never says, and not one writer or commentator asked, how peers viewed them or how they related to each other. Chua herself didn't marry another Asian to the despair of her parents and while she is a law professor at Yale, teaching law is not considered a real achievement in the legal world. There, perhaps more than anywhere, the adage those who can't do, teach, is in full force. Her definition of success doesn't match mine or our family's at all.

American culture is designed to emphasize consumption and material wealth. 2/3 of the American economy depends on consumer spending. Politicians and corporate strategists lay awake at night trying to figure out ways to get you to spend more money. America's ethical model is the "top" model. Parents stand in line to get their children into the "top" preschool to get them into the "top" kindergarten in order to get into the "top" grade school, "top" college prep school, "top" university, "top" graduate school in order to make the "top"money and afford all the "top" perks from Mercedes to flat screen TVs to ski trips to Jackson Hole. Brilliant graduates of the best universities flocked to Wall Street to make a fortune making nothing, creating nothing and almost wrecking this nation. A failed parent is one who didn't get their child onto the right track and watches as they become a teacher.

Someone has to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes. A successful parent is one who helps their children be as well rounded as possible. A good mom and dad or mom and mom or dad and dad hope for a child who has a big heart and generous spirit. They want a child who possesses the tools to follow their passion and achieve financial stability. As dreamy-eyed and squishy as it sounds, I want my children to be happy. It is clear now, happiness is not found at the bottom of a Kate Spade bag or when wearing a new pair of Jimmy Choo's.

You already know all of this. In your heart of hearts you want a loving, caring, compassionate, competent and happy child. There is no evidence at all that is what a "tiger" mom will get and tons of proof it is what a "tigger" mom strives for.

As for the idea China is ahead of us because we are raising a generation of weak, namby-pamby, nancy-boys who can't compete in the real world anymore....China's economic growth is built on the backs of over 400 million poor people earning pennies a day. China spends a fortune on factories and manufacturing while their people live in poverty with no idea or concept of a safety net. A growing middle class is a threat to Chinese stability, as they demand higher wages. Recent strikes at a number of auto plants are evidence of this phenomenon. China's advantages and ability to make cheap exports for American companies begin to vanish as people demand a better life. American workers fought for 100 years to improve wages and working conditions, and to share in the profits of this capitalist system. Chinese workers are just starting. Ironically, as Chinese workers strive to organize and improve wages, American workers have been under attack and their wages have stagnated for years. Even though Shanghai and Hong Kong student's scores in math and science are so superior to American students, wealthy Chinese parents send their children to America for higher education because the Chinese system doesn't encourage creativity or imagination or flexibility in thinking. These parents know right now Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple or Silicon Valley could not rise out of the Chinese environment as it exists today. It's why they steal so much of our intellectual property.

I am so proud of my "tigger" wife and my children. We are blessed to have them in our lives and their big hearts and expansive spirits are all the success we need. Here's to all the "tigger" moms, and to the day success is defined by the content of a child's character and not the color of their credit card.


  1. Absolutely inspiring Bernie
    Marcella in San Anselmo

  2. This is wonderful Bernie. Really miss listening to you.

  3. I'm so grateful to still be able to hear your words. Maybe not the way I used to. Now I hear them in my mind as I read wonderful blogposts such as this one.

  4. Second comment: I couldn't resist... Dealing with these "Tiger" moms myself, I've come to learn that often the real motivation is to fullfill the self-esteem and bragging rights of the parents--not necessarily to provide the best for the child.


  5. Couldn't agree more. It's easy to become "successfull" when you care only about satisfying yourself without thought of how your actions affect others (are you listening WallStreet??).

    True success however is better defined by one who betters the entire community and especially the lives of those members who need help the most.

    On a side note, for a country that constantly invokes religion, I'm just amazed at how often the basic teachings of compassion and giving are completely ignored.

    Bernie, my best to you and your family. Please take care of yourself.

    Craig, Sacramento

  6. Nice piece, Bernie. Being married to a Chinese Tiger Mom, however, I have to say that Chinese upbringing is not as detrimental as you portray it. Sure, the kids are pushed hard, but that's good for them. Children are resilient, and they thrive in an environment of high expectations. The North American model of upbringing that seeks to "shelter" children from any hint of competition is producing generations of weaklings who will be relegated to performing menial tasks for the Asians who will run the world.