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Judo America San Diego

Tiger Mothers, Pussy Cat Moms

Posted: February 27, 2018

A Chinese mother is talking to her child: “What grade did you make on your reading test today in school? 93? If you had studied harder you would have been able to make 94.” The child returns after the next week’s test. “You made 94. You can do better than 94,” suggests the mother. “Just spend a little more time at your studies.” Finally, after weeks of study, the child proudly reports that her grade on this week’s test was 100. “But will you be able to keep it up?” inquires the mother.  From The Learning Gap by Harold Stevenson and James W. Stigler


When I first heard of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  I put a hold at my library branch and found I was 256th in line!  That was a waiting list record as far as books that I’ve wanted to read.  After about a month, during which I put a slew of other books on hold, I thought about canceling my hold and focusing on the more important titles on my list.  A little voice inside my head told me to read the darn thing since it was relatively short.  I’m glad I listened to that little voice.  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother turned out to be the bomb!

As a Judo coach, I’m constantly battling pussy cat moms. They’re the nurturing ones who coddle, protect, and enable their children to quit when the going gets just a little tough. Pussy cat moms won’t force their kids to do what they don’t want to do, even if it’s highly beneficial to their future.  They’ve relinquished their parental responsibilities, something that King Edward VIII observed over seventy years ago when he said, “The thing that impresses me the most about America is the way parents obey their children.”  Not much has changed in the intervening years.  In far too many families, kids are the decision-makers.

Pussy cat moms don’t realize they wind up being their children’s worst enemy.  The funny thing is that they bring their children to Judo to help them develop self-confidence, courage, and self-defense skills, yet they are the ones to allow them to quit for no good reason.  It’s easier to let their children quit than it is to drag them to practice, at times screaming and kicking.  It’s sad because most of these kids have fun once they get to practice. The hard part is prying them away from their electronic toys, Facebook account, cell phone, TV, or other non-productive activities that American kids find so appealing.  Unfortunately, pussy cat moms give up too quickly, and allow their daughters to remain incapable of handling physical trauma and their boys to be wimpy.  I don’t get it.

On the other extreme, we have the tiger mothers who border on being crazy when it comes to achievement and activities for their children.  They’ll stop at nothing to make their children #1 in all their activities.  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mothers is the story of author Amy Chua’s battles with her two daughters.  Chua is Chinese, and she’s a firm believer in the value of Chinese child rearing practices.  Her attacks on Western parenting are spot on most of the time.

Western parents worry a lot about their child’s self-esteem.  But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up.  On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

It’s pretty hard to refute the logic of her statement.  Giving up begets more giving up.  Football Coach Paul Bear Bryant would have agreed.  He said, “The first time you quit, it’s hard. The second time, it gets easier. The third time, you don’t even have to think about it.”

Since the “entertainment generation” thrives on things that are fun, it’s important that pussy cat moms understand the relationship between competence and fun.  Chua nails it with this paragraph:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you are good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.  This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.  But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle.  Tenacious practice, practice, practice is critical for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something- whether it’s math, piano, pitching, or ballet- he or she gets praise, admiration, and satisfaction.  This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun.  This is turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Academics and music form the core of Chua’s educational emphasis.  She’s not big on sports, but allows that ‘the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal.  And that medal must be gold.”  Over the years, I’ve lost a few good Chinese students because tiger mother didn’t think junior had what it took to win that gold medal.

Two centuries ago, philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe remarked that, “Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.”  Clearly, that is not the case with Amy Chua, but it is with many mothers who bring their children to our Judo programs.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mothers, at times over the top or funny, but always thought-provoking, is a refreshing change from all the sissifying, touchy-feely, self-esteem driven books on the market.  I encourage coaches to buy this book and hand it out at the first sign of mom’s becoming soft and wimpy.  On second thought, encourage moms to read the book the second they enroll their child in your program. Better to prevent a meltdown than to handle the meltdown once it’s staring you in the face.