Why Tiger Moms aren’t so bad.

I don’t understand all the censure against Amy Chua, the self-professed Tiger Mom. My Mom is a Tiger Mom, perhaps slightly more soft-spoken but just as hard-hitting as Chua. And I’m glad she is.

Mom (wearing a Saudi abaya) and me with a 3-year-old Sofia in the foreground, taken in 2008 at the cavepark.

When I was in high school and my little brother was still a pre-schooler, one comment from my Mom’s friend stuck. Back then, we used to have potluck get-togethers every Friday (Saudi Arabia’s version of Sunday to the rest of the world). Each family would bring a dish for everyone to share and we would hold them in each other’s homes, parks, picnic areas, and compounds. Around 10 families would come, kids and all, so you can imagine the noise. All the kids thought it was fun but the moms probably got stressed out by so many naughty, playful children and one would hear the occasional scolding or yell from a parent.

One of the women told my mother that she has heard everyone scream at their children except for my mom. She then praised us for being so well-behaved.

We weren’t well-behaved. On the contrary, my brother was the most mischievous, most energetic, and most dynamic kid in the group. While I’m not as rowdy, I do a lot of awkward, inappropriate, preteen things.  It’s just a testament to my mother’s hold on us that she managed not to lose her poise while disciplining us in a crowd. Whenever we do something she disapproves of, she would catch our attention. And as soon as our eyes meet, her eyes would widen and she would hold our gaze, her lips pursed in anger. We would look away sufficiently reprimanded and we would be on our best behavior until the next incident.

With just one look!

If my mother was less of a disciplinarian, a look wouldn’t have that effect. Of course, we were spanked, too, when we deserved it. For lesser sins, a sermon would suffice. When my brother and I loudly fought over who should have the most balloons, she promptly burst all of them with a pencil until we didn’t have anything to fight about. If my grades slipped below what an honor student should have, we would have The Talk in the kitchen; the talk would include questions about whether I had a problem, how I’m screwing up my study habits, and what I’ll have to sacrifice (no cartoons on weekdays *sob*) to make up for the shameful scores. For the yearly recognition, I once just received a trophy (first place in math) but no honors; my parents were so disappointed. For most of my childhood, Dad was away working in a different country so it was my mom who was always there: the one who woke me up in the morning by rubbing my head hard to shock me awake or by banging the ceiling below my bedroom with a broomstick, the one who fed me every delicious food I would remember all my life, the one who tirelessly tutored me everyday until she deemed me disciplined enough to study on my own, the one who withheld junk food and sweets from her kids until well into our teens, the one who taught us that gifts and treats were earned (with excellent grades) and not just given, and the one who showed us that books are the best gifts that a child could ever receive. I never went to sleepovers because “we have a home to sleep in”. The rules were clear, even the unspoken ones. Jiko, my brother, and I never dated anyone while we were in school, even during college. The prospect of failure, of teen pregnancy, and shaming our family were enough motivation.

We developed a love for reading and largely ignored the TV; I could care less for cable or whether we have 3D TV as long as I have a bookshelf and a Kindle. I was made to take jazz lessons because ballet was too old school. I learned to play the piano, banduria (a native Philippine instrument), and sort of taught myself to play a guitar my Dad bought me. My brother took up swimming and karate. We grew up with just a few of the latest electronic toys so we learned how to buy the things we wanted by working hard to get them. Until now, there are no junk foods in the house unless my Dad gets a craving for chips. I finished college on time because I was terrified that my parents wouldn’t give me a second chance and pay for it if I fail (they would have but just conveniently forgot to tell me). By not giving me an allowance after finishing school, Mom taught me to value my job and my earnings.

Mom didn’t just lay down the rules, she also lived by example. She and Dad mostly supported themselves through college. When they got married, they paid for the wedding and started a life together with nothing. Everything they had and have now were from their own hard work. Because they started with nothing, she wanted her children to have everything, but she also wanted to instill that same drive.

In school events, Mom would be the prettiest, most well-dressed parent around. But more than her looks, she had the toughness, resilience, and patience needed to raise two children who are incredibly opinionated and stubborn. Just two weeks ago, she stopped us sharply when me and my brother were bickering outside a restaurant. We were 27 and 20 years old, respectively, but we stopped immediately. At 50, she still has it.

And she will need all that Tiger Mom strength. My sister is just 6 years old and she’s proving to be worse than the two older ones combined. (You know it, too, Sofia!)

I was a Tiger Daughter. Am I going to be a Tiger Mom when I have kids? Most probably. My fiance, Chris, is already anticipating it. 😉


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