Kosher Dad versus Tiger Mom

Category: Families & Generations, Weekly Columns

It’s not often that a book about parenting will grace the cover of TIME magazine, but the storm of reaction to “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, the so-called Tiger Mom’s book is unprecedented.   

I found my own reaction, as a “Kosher dad,” to be decidedly mixed.  My Jewish background also prizes and values education, but we go about it slightly differently.  Do we use the extreme punishments of Tiger Mom such as no play-dates, endless practice of either piano or violin, harsh criticism when a grade less than an “A” is received, and only the allowed social life of a monk? No, we consider those lightweight methods barely worth the effort involved.  Our moms pull out all stops with their effective, frankly frightening, and completely terrifying tool.  Guilt.  Jewish moms are especially adept at employing guilt, as it’s been a centuries-old tradition.  Rather than the medieval tortures that Tiger Mom employs, my mom would simply say, “Oy vey, what have I done to deserve this?”  

My reaction was that I’d rather get the paddle, the cat-of-nine-tails, sent to my room without dessert, anything but that!  The result had the same ultimate impact that Tiger Mom’s extreme methods would produce.  I’d do anything to get back in my mom’s good graces.  All-nighters were routine.  Forget playing, watching tv, or having a sleepover.  I was in lock-down mode until my mom would declare, “I’m so proud of you,” again.  

While the above scenario may be a slight over-statement, my mom was seriously capable of motivating me with just her words or a look, and the impact was chilling.  Why and how that has changed in the subsequent years is unclear to me, but I can totally attest to the fact that my boys would likely respond to any attempt by me at inducing guilt with a resounding laugh and sarcastic, “Gimme a break, Dad.” I would have felt some success just getting them to remove one of their earplugs to hear me.

My next attempt at motivating my boys might be logic, followed by pleading, then threats they know and I know I’ll never carry out, and finally begging my wife to intervene.  Here is where East meets West in my home, as my wife is Chinese!  The problem isn’t that her heritage might result in different results, but that as their step-mom her influence is diluted.  

Before you accuse me of not supporting my wife’s position in our home, trust me that I do.  Or, at least I try to.   We’ve achieved some results in getting her parity with me as a parental force in the home, but it’s been a hard-fought, challenging process with much room to further strengthen her role.  The fact that she entered the boys’ lives when my oldest was just becoming a teenager hasn’t made this transition any easier.  

Also, I’ve been the primary parent their whole lives and their sole parent for many years prior to meeting my wife.  Patterns, habits, and customs have been established.  Bringing her into the mix is obviously desirable, but I still have the job of being the SAHD (stay-at-home-dad).  

Returning to the national debate created by Amy Chua, my generation is still trying to lose the poor influence of the “let it all hang-out” philosophy in which many of us were indoctrinated during the sixties.  We are among those parents that Tiger Mom accuses of coddling and pampering our kids.   

My desire is to find a middle ground between the extreme measures Tiger Mom uses on her brood and the overly permissive, “How do you feel” measures my generation of American parents have inflicted on our off-spring. Straddling those extremes has been my personal parenting challenge.

I had a great childhood, except for some external events that were out of my parent’s control.  I lost a sibling when I was five and it certainly affected me emotionally, though I doubt it had any meaningful impact on my scholastic work.  

My goal was to provide my boys with the same largely idyllic youth that I had without, of course, that one tragic loss.  I already have failed, to a degree, by getting divorced and thus depriving my boys of the security and stable parental influence I was given.   

Also, I suspect there is less divorce in Tiger Mom’s community. Their culture may have the added advantage of still retaining cultural stigma towards divorce, which historically has prevented many marriages from dissolving.  Granted, that “cultural stigma” cuts both ways when there is a marriage that should end, but my generation too often treats divorce as an overdue library book.  Return it and pay the fine.  

So, as with many of my contemporary parents, we compensate out of our own guilt and our ways of compensating are not always the best methods.  Consequently, the results are undoubtedly a more spoiled and pampered generation than maybe any other. In this regard, I agree with Tiger Mom that the modern ways of Western parenting may not be advantageous to our children.  

In my home, our middle ground on parenting does not include unlimited access to toys, television, and play.  We expect and require our boys to do certain chores, do their homework, and otherwise behave in a responsible manner.  Some times we succeed, while other times we don’t.  

Maybe I should have started being stricter from the beginning, but that just wasn’t how I saw my job as dad, when they entered and blessed my life.  The divorce just fueled my desire to “make everything right” for the boys and thus began my descent into some laxity of expectations.  Now, in our stabile, reconfigured, and newly blended family, we are trying to swing the pendulum back to that proverbial healthy “middle ground.”  Time will tell if we will succeed.


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