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Tiger Mother… Sort Of

Unlike some of my homeschooling colleagues, I found inspiration in reading articles about “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” the new book by Amy Chua. The author describes the so-called “Chinese” way of raising children–one that focuses exclusively on academic perfection–contrasting it as being much different than the “indulgent” ways of her more Western counterparts.

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The Tiger Mother expends great effort and emotion in obliging her child to adhere to a strict regimen intended to result in a narrowly defined success. She prohibits indulgences like play dates and sleep overs, and compels her offspring to play the violin or piano, and only the violin or piano. She truly forces that kid to “succeed”–with edicts, threats, screaming, punishment, name-calling and degradation; any tactic that may produce the desired perfection. In a New York Times interview, Ms. Chua justifies this, asserting that other “people are not that honest about their own parenting.” The author challenges us to, “take any teenage household, tell me there is not yelling and conflict.”

In reading several articles about Chua’s book, I realized that I, too, am a “Tiger Mother.” My daughters have been strictly homeschooled from birth, according to lofty goals their mother set before they were even conceived.

Like children of Tiger Mothers everywhere, my girls were also expected to make all “A’s”. I pushed them, sometimes very hard–out the door in good weather. In the closed environment of a 1/4-acre garden, they had to work at making “A’s” in such rigorous subjects as Playing In The Bushes, Pill Bug Science, Scooter Rodeo, Faerie Resort Construction, Ripe Fig Discernment and, during rainy weather, Downspout Physics.

In their indoor studies, my children were expected to excel in Kitchen Chemistry, Muffin Math, Scooter Rodeo and Guinea Pig Psychology. Furthermore, the girls had to master Empathy, Cultural Enjoyment, Making & Keeping Friends, Starting & Quitting, and Self-Examination.

Also like the children of other Tiger Mothers, my daughters took violin and piano lessons. But one of them took voice lessons, too. Each of them chose their music experiences on their own volition, when they felt the time was right–and each of them quit when they felt the time was right, too. One still sings on her own, in her own way, a very different way than she learned from her teacher. The other sometimes regrets that she gave up piano lessons, and the one who took violin may one day regret giving it up, too. However, because they did take lessons, their brains built the neural pathways for participation in music, so, each is physically prepared for the time she may decide to pick up any instrument that inspires her.

Mine is not the typical Tiger Mother’s agenda, but, still I am a Tiger Mother… sort of. I, too, raised my children to succeed, to excel in life, to be exceptional, for their own good. Where I differ from the usual Tiger Mother is in my definition of these qualities. I define success for my children as being confident, capable, happy and kind, as having the ability to self-examine, the courage to change and grow, the motivation to connect with other people and engage in this big wide world, and the wisdom to know when it is time to cut their losses.

My daughters may or may not ever become accomplished classical musicians or candidates for Ph.D.s, but they have already largely succeeded in the ways that I wanted success for them, much as Ralph Waldo Emerson defined success, which includes laughing “often and much,” winning respect, weathering betrayal, appreciating beauty, finding “the best in others”, leaving “the world a bit better” and knowing “even one life has breathed easier because you have lived”.

According to one of the articles about Tiger Mothers, “the Chinese model doesn’t dwell on happiness, nor does it deal well with failure.” However, this Tiger Mother believes that heavy academic stress is counterproductive, that, when the individual’s life is in line with who they really are, when a child is exposed–with appropriate guidance–to the wide world around them, then educational and career success will naturally arise.

As my daughters move along the cusp between childhood and adulthood, I sometimes look back at how I raised them. Of course, I recognize mistakes, have a few regrets, and would do things differently now if I could rewind. But on the whole, I am very pleased with the result of my Tiger Mothering. Though I cannot tell where their unique and highly personalized education will take them, I can see that, according to this Tiger Mother’s definition, they have met success.

(C) 2011. Shay Seaborne. All Rights Reserved.

Shay Seaborne

Shay Seaborne has been writing about home education since she began homeschooling her children in 1995. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Home Education Magazine and “The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas” by Linda Dobson. Shay has been very active in the homeschool community, at the local, state and national levels. She founded and led a local support group for several years and was a key volunteer with The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers for a decade. Ms. Seaborne formed the grassroots coalition that resolved a serious issue with her county’s homeschool regulation and won homeschoolers the right to partial enrollment. Shay loves people, loves helping people, loves being a synergist, and loves to witness people grow, thrive, and become empowered and happy. She is the founder/owner/co-moderator of the VaEclecticHS discussion list. Shay posts about homeschooling, life and experiences at her blog,

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  1. I love your take on this! I’m in awe of Amy Chua’s book marketing ability, but as for her parenting theories…not so much. Her poor daughters! I’m going to take a wild guess here and bet that your children are very well adjusted 🙂

    I also weighed in on Ms. Chua at my blog:

    I guess we homeschool moms just couldn’t resist responding to her over-the-top message 🙂

  2. I don’t think Amy’s approach is right because it lacks the balance between what parents wish and the actual capacity of chldren to perform well in every aspect of their lives. She can only damage the reputation of all Chinese mothers that don’t subscribe to that approach.

  3. Amy in Fairfax, VA

    Bravo! Having grown up in a family led by a Tiger Dad…I would have loved to be in your kids’ shoes. In the end, I am now becoming the woman that I was meant to be…20 years later. YOU, my dear, are on the right track.


    • Amy,

      I appreciate your taking the time to share your experience. Having been a Tiger Child, your viewpoint on this topic is extremely valuable. While it is a shame that you were diverted from becoming who you were meant to be, it sounds like you are proving the adage “it’s never too late.” Kudos to you for meeting the challenge!


  4. Your article is inspiring. I found it at just the right moment. I was second guessing my own parenting… and this made me realize that other people have found success using similar beliefs.


    • Kyle,

      Thank you for your comment. There are so many ways we parents are encouraged to second guess ourselves! Keep up the good work, and trust what you know. 🙂


  5. mirian banfe

    Dear Mrs. Shay Seaborne,

    I love your article and I related to many of your ideas and concerns to the true value of education.
    I am thinking seriously to start homeschooling my kids, but I don’t know even where to start. Do you have any recommendation, tips or even a group I could reach for?
    I live in Princeton NJ, I have search all over the internet, but with so many sites available it’s hard to know for sure what is best. I have no idea too of what is good or what is bad since I have no reference myself to set a standard.
    Please advise me. Thanks, Mirian Banfe

    • Hello, Mirian,

      Thank you for letting me know you enjoyed my post. There are many wonderful resources for homeschooling…so many it can be confusing and overwhelming!

      For information specific to groups and law in NJ, I recommend you contact the New Jersey Homeschool Association. As for where to start, I recommend you browse articles at Home Education Magazine’s getting started page. These can help relieve anxiety and remind you to breathe!

      Mainly, please know that there are no educational emergencies, and the worst thing you can do is buy an expensive program or curriculum before you have had time to do a little exploring first. So many homeschool materials purchased, so many unused!

      I also highly recommend any books by the wonderful Linda Dobson, especially “The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child,” and “The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas,” which may be available at your local library.

      Most of all, understand that homeschooling is flexible, to meet the needs of your child and family, and, especially, it is fun!

      Have a great time learning with your children, and please come back often to visit The Home School Mom blog.

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