The high cost of being a tiger mom

American women are both incredibly dogmatic and anxious about our mothering.

When Amy Chua described her intense efforts to push her two daughters into high achievement in school, in music and, hence, in life, she caused an uproar among many Americans who consider her methods bordering on child abuse. (What? No playdates!?)

Two new studies do point out that there are costs to tiger mothering.

A study by professor Desiree Qin and colleagues was published this month in the Journal of Adolescence and is titled, “Parent-Child Relations and Psychological Adjustment Among High-Achieving Chinese- and European-American Adolescents.”

Qin looked at survey data on 295 Chinese-American and 192 European-American ninth-graders at Stuyvesant High School, a well-regarded public magnet school in Manhattan.

Chinese-American teens reported lower levels of psychological well-being, less family cohesion and more conflict with their parents, on average.

The ethnic differences on psychological adjustment disappeared once family conflict and cohesion were controlled for, suggesting “such perceptions may be a key factor in understanding the high academic achievement/low psychological adjustment paradoxical pattern of development among Chinese-American adolescents.”

“(Chua) said Western children are not happier than Chinese ones,” Qin told the New York Daily News. “But at the same time, research from our study does show that when parents place a lot of pressure on their kids, the children are less happy.”

Tiger mothering works, in other words. But having a mom or dad who constantly push you to perform well can also take a toll.

It takes a toll on the moms as well.

Professor Esther Chang and colleagues also have just published a new study on tiger moms in the January 2012 issue of the Asian-American Journal of Psychology, “Parenting Satisfaction at Midlife among European- and Chinese-American Mothers with a College-Enrolled Child.”

“Chinese-American mothers reported significantly lower parenting satisfaction than did European-American mothers, as well as less positive relationship quality (i.e., lower mutual warmth and acceptance and higher parent-child conflict) and poorer perceived college performance by their young-adult child (i.e., grades, academic investment and satisfaction with students’ college experiences),” the study found.

Chinese-American moms whose children did not appear to be doing as well at college reported less parenting satisfaction; Euro-America moms’ satisfaction wasn’t affected by their children’s college performance.

The most important factor in parenting satisfaction for all mothers turned out to be the degree of mutual warmth. Pushing your child to achieve more and more can (but may not always) push your child away from you emotionally.

And yet, and yet, and yet …

Amy Chua’s daughter was just accepted into Harvard this month. And according to the Daily News, this particular tiger cub is also a piano prodigy and “an able writer who eloquently defended her mother in the press.”

Alexander Nazaryan, a member of the Daily News editorial board, points out the overall results of the American emphasis on fun and warmth over achievement: “In the most recent Program for International Student Assessment exam, American teenagers placed 31st in math, 17th in reading and 23rd in science among 65 competitors. Shanghai, China’s largest city, topped all three categories — by far.”

As Amy Chua noted, “In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70 percent of the Western mothers said either that ‘stressing academic success is not good for children’ or that ‘parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.’ By contrast, roughly 0 percent of the Chinese mothers felt the same way.”

I did not have a tiger mom. I’m a Spock baby, and I raised my children the same way, emphasizing support and closeness over pressure, routine and discipline.

Frankly, I worry about that a lot. It worked for me — will it work for them?

We mothers can’t know until it is too late, hence the anxiety.

All parenting strategies have costs as well as benefits.

The only thing I’m certain of is that every mother sacrificing to raise decent kids deserves respect, and not uproarious, dogmatic, overanxious condemnation.


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