Tiger Moms vs. Real Moms

Youjin Oh
Youjin Oh
Today, it seems like the only way to raise successful, accomplished, well-behaved children is through extreme parenting.

Yale professor Amy Chua gained national attention in 2011 for her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, where she argues traditional, strict Chinese mothers make better parents (and therefore, better kids) than wimpy western moms. In 2013, author Suzanne Evans extolled the benefits of the Machiavelli mom, who encourages academic success by pitting her children against each other (Machiavelli for Moms). And shows like Toddlers & Tiaras and Dance Moms remind us that behind some successful children is an overbearing, attention-hungry parent.

In each case, extreme parental involvement is the common thread: parents are expected to be involved in every aspect of their children’s lives, especially if their children have any hope of being exceptional. But how realistic is it to expect this level of involvement from parents?

According to sociologists Melissa Stacer and Robert Perrucci, social factors like family income, parental education, and work commitments all influence how involved parents can be in their children’s lives. In their 2012 article, “Parental Involvement with Children at School, Home, and Community,” the authors find that parents with more income and education, and fewer work obligations, are able to spend more time with their children. And most parents typically use this extra time to read with their children, attend school activities, or take their kids to libraries or museums.

Additionally, sociologists like Annette Lareau have long argued that high levels of involvement can have drawbacks. Children are more likely to feel stressed, often cannot entertain themselves, and have no idea what to do with free time.

Ultimately, neither tiger moms nor dance moms are accurate depictions of everyday parents. Their level of involvement is often not attainable for most parents; nor is it necessarily desirable or beneficial. Even if they make pretty good entertainment.