The following is an excerpt from Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age by Maya Thiagarajan, reprinted here with permission of the author.
Six months after I arrived in Singapore, I began teaching high school English at an elite international school on the island. My students came from a wide range of backgrounds: a third of them were East Asian, another third were South Asian (mostly Indian), and the rest were Western (European, Australian, and American).
At my first set of student-teacher conferences, I was taken aback when an Indian mother turned to me and said, “Please be stricter with my son. he needs a firm hand, and he needs to take his studies much more seriously.” I had thought her son was doing just fine, but she clearly thought he could do much better.
Later, at another parent conference that same evening, a Chinese mother whose English was not very good bowed low and said politely, “You must be thirsty from talking to so many parents.” I nodded, and she immediately ordered her ninth-grade son, who was attending the conference so that he could translate if necessary, to run and get me some water. She proceeded to thank me profusely for teaching her son. I was struck by how different these conversations were from the parent conferences that I had experienced in the U.S. (pg. 8).
America gave me many things that I have held onto, and perhaps I have come to appreciate them more now that I am oceans away from the US. I have held onto the conviction that reading for pleasure matters tremendously and children must grow up in a world rich with books and imagination. I have held onto my idealization of childhood play and the need for freedom and unstructured time. I have held onto my admiration for America’s “Yes, we can” culture and the freedom it affords parents, children, and educators to think and act creatively.
Yet, along with my sweaters and boots and my American accent I also gradually lost or discarded some of the notions that seemed so central to my parenting and teaching philosophy when I lived in the US. Under the Singapore sun, surrounded as I am by Asian culture, I find myself making different assumptions about parenting and teaching.
I don’t worry so much about children’s self-esteem, and I assume kids and their parents are strong enough to engage in honest conversations about their work, their efforts, and their behavior. As a parent, I no longer lavish unnecessary praise on my children, and I don’t think twice about telling them that they have to practice harder, put in more effort, do another draft of their writing, or behave more respectfully. My scripts have changed; they now frequently include words like “respect” and “practice.” While I’m still not a particularly strict mother, I’m a lot stricter now than I was when I was in the U.S., and in many ways I feel Singapore has empowered me as a parent. I feel more sure of myself and more confident about my own authority as a parent and an educator. (pg. 214)
QUESTION: What different parenting practices have you observed from other cultures around you? What are some of their strengths?
CHALLENGE: Think of how you would describe your own personal parenting culture. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Identify one thing you would like to change.
“Beyond the Tiger Mom is a brilliant book—hard-hitting and brutally honest but also balanced, insightful, and funny. It avoids cliches and draws on years of research and personal multicultural teaching experience. It’s also wonderfully practical, offering specific tips for how to combine the best of East and West.” —Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
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