My Tiger Mom's Subtle Ways

By Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Ed.D.


tiger-momI never thought of mine as a Tiger Mom. She was nothing like the provocative mother created by Amy Chua in her captivating book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and caricaturized by the Wall Street Journal in their inflammatory article, "Chinese Moms are Superior." Mine was an easy-going Japanese mother who simply encouraged us to do our best in school by having high expectations and setting a good example as a hard-working parent. I used this comforting image to justify my own laid back approach to parenting and the belief that motivation to learn had to come from within the child.

"Mom didn't push us at all; we studied because we wanted to," I proudly told my older sister one day. Margie was silent for a moment, and then said sarcastically, "Did we have the same mother? Don't you remember her nickname for you?" I was puzzled for a moment and then the distant memory came rushing back-Oh my god, how could I have forgotten?

It all started one day in 7th grade — report card day and normally a happy day in my house. Mom always seemed to be in a good mood when she came home from work on report card day. Even before making dinner, she would ask for the report cards. We would go into the kitchen in order, from oldest to youngest. My sisters went first and showed mom their report cards.

Mom opened the first yellow envelope, took out the folded card and opened it.

She looked it over quickly, "Not too bad," was all she said, but her face revealed a little smile of satisfaction.

My sister Jo teased her, "Not too bad? All A's! American parents say, "Oh honey, you did a GREAT JOB! I'm so proud of you!"

Mom did her imitation of an American parent, "Oh, you want me to say, ‘Oh sweetie, you so wonderful. I love you. You best kid ever. I buy you big box of chocolates and candy and banana split. I pay you money to study."

"That would be nice." Jo replied.

Mom snorted, "Why should I praise you for doing what you're supposed to do? Why Americans always praising for no reason? You want big reward for just studying? You kids get big head if I talk like that, saying how great you are. Hmmph. Crazy!"

Mom dismissed Jo and called Margie. When she opened Margie's report card she mumbled a little louder, "Pretty good."

"Pretty good?" Margie complained. "It's best in the whole ninth grade!"

"You sure?" Only A in Math, not A+. How did Laura Schwartz do? Last time you couldn't beat Laura."

"Well, this time I did, so there!" They both smiled and now it was my turn.

I shuffled into the kitchen and handed her the yellow envelope. As she opened it she smiled in anticipation. But when she looked at it her eyes became glued to one spot in the middle of the paper. The little smile that had been growing bigger vanished.

"What's that?" she finally asked.



"Oh, it's like a B."

"Like a B? What do you mean, ‘Like a B.' You got B?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

"So that's what B looks like. I don't know, I never saw B before in this house. Your sisters never got B. — B is no good."

I shrugged my shoulders, "But mom, it says B is good, right on the report card. A is excellent, B is good."

"Nothing good about B. How can you get B?"

"I don't know, maybe the teacher made a mistake."

"What do you mean, I don't know. Not teacher's mistake, You don't study hard enough."

Mom started mumbling, "B in science, B, science, B . . ." and got up from the table and started to make dinner. Report card time was over. She seemed more stunned than angry but didn't say another word. As she cooked quietly, she looked tired and older than I had ever seen her. I knew I had disappointed her. I hung around for a while waiting to see if Mom would say anything else, or if I should say something but she was silent and I couldn't think of anything good to say, so finally left the kitchen and went to my room.

So that wasn't so bad, I thought. Mom will get over it. What's one little B. She'll just forget about it. A little later, mom called us to dinner as she always did, in order, from oldest to youngest.

"Dinner's ready!  Jo, Margie . . . Science B!"

Posted on February 28, 2012 by Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Ed.D.

Stephen is a psychologist and author of a blog on multicultural families as well as numerous articles and books. He is a consulting professor at Stanford University in the School of Medicine and Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, as well as faculty at Fielding Graduate University. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo Credit:  Tammy Beach

©2012 Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu. All rights reserved.

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