6 Things You Learn Growing Up With A Tiger Mom

[NOTE: In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m writing this piece to thank my mom for all the years she spent raising me right. While my mom was a more “relaxed” Tiger Mom, she was a Tiger Mom nonetheless. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have developed the same amount of discipline and resilience without her example. Thank you, Umma!]
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1. Education is everything.

If there’s one thing that all Tiger moms hold in common, it is their commitment to education. As immigrant parents who left their home countries for greater opportunity in the States, Tiger moms understand the value of education and see it as a means of survival/societal advancement for their children. Back then, I don’t think I understood why my mom was so obsessed with education, but now, 20+ years later, I can fully see why she pushed so hard for me to obtain the best and furthest education that I could. If there’s anything that I can impress upon my own children someday, it is that your education is paramount in importance – not only for the intellectual curiosity it develops, but also because we live in a world that increasingly relies on knowledge-based workers and areas of specialization.

2. Piano & violin = LIFE.

Most children of Tiger moms grew up playing the piano, violin, or a mix of both. Though my mom claims she was vicariously living her dream of becoming a concert pianist through me, I suspect that all Asian parents secretly collude together to make their children learn these instruments so that they can socialize together at recitals and concerts. (That is, if their competitive edges don’t get the best of them.) Every Wednesday, my mom would haul over 1.5 hours each way in traffic from the Chicago suburbs to the city and back to take me to my piano lessons. Some weeks, I would feign illness, and other weeks I would go kicking and screaming. Despite all this, I’m glad my mom made this part of my extracurricular activities, as I learned the focus, discipline, and intensity required to play these instruments. The level of fine-tuned (pardon the pun) attention to detail and concentration needed to play concertos, sonatas, and other complex musical compositions strengthened my ability to think and use my brain in ways that normal schoolwork did not flex.

3. Excellence is a given. Failure is not an option.

Most Tiger moms don’t even have the word “failure” in their vocabulary and become confused when presented with the word. When I started struggling with math in 6th grade and received less than stellar scores on my school tests, I was immediately placed into Sylvan Learning Center plus enrolled in private tutoring with a Korean math tutor, spending countless hours per week on straight drilling of math concepts. Like my mom, Tiger moms do not take failure as an option and instead start cramming their children with resources to fix problems head-on to make it go away and get back on the track of excellence. Failure, to them, means they didn’t do their part as parents, and such “failure” weighs heavily on their shoulders as their responsibility to “fix.” Thus, throwing expensive tutoring + individualized attention + additional time at parent-teacher conferences are all fair game in a Tiger mom’s world.

4. If she’s mad, it means she cares.

My mom has the most predictable yet funny reaction to me being ill. Whenever it comes up that I’m coming down with something, she starts yelling at me on the phone about not taking care of my health, and then before I know it, she’s arrived at my front door with a whole slew of chicken soup ingredients in hand. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that her anger is her feeling of helplessness over me being sick, and the little power she has to make me feel all better. Thus, through her being “mad,” I see her genuine compassion, no matter how paradoxical it seems that her love for me manifests itself in temporary anger.

5. Being blunt is the norm.

Being “delicate” and “tactful” are not typically strengths of a Tiger mom. The best/worst thing about Tiger moms is their transparency – they mean exactly what they say, and there’s no “reading in between the lines.” Perhaps it is due to their more limited verbal faculties, or their native culture’s no-nonsense approach to BS, but most Tiger moms are blunt. One thing Tiger moms are notoriously known for is commenting on the weight of others. They may blurt out uncomfortable remarks like “Oh, you’ve gained so much weight!” to friends or family members or other statements that just wouldn’t typically fly in polite America. Nonetheless, these remarks are not meant to be hurtful but rather, matter-of-fact observations that they’ve noted, and comments like these are not frowned upon in their native culture.

6. Her texts = the cutest ever.

When Tiger moms first start learning how to text, it is like watching a baby deer learn how to walk on its hind legs. It’s adorable. You’re used to seeing the Tiger mom in such a strong, resolute position, that when they show their vulnerability to technology, it’s amusing. My mom, who’s pretty tech-savvy compared to the next “ajoomah” (older Korean woman) out there, will type out long “text letters” to both my sister and me, every morning on her iPhone, wishing us a:

Dear children,
What a glorious day!
May God be with you today.
[Insert Bible verse]
Love, Mom.

Without fail, she begins her text letters with a “Dear children” and ends with the sign-off “Love, Mom.” She could probably be texting me from the car or on her way into church, but she will always take the extra thirty seconds or so to include both the salutation and ending. Most recently, she has learned the value of emojis, “double-texting,” and more concise replies, and she is having a ball. She is slowly but surely learning. :) TC mark

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