The 6-year-old boy was having a meltdown. He didn’t want to leave his Saturday morning tennis lesson in Fort Greene early to rush to his Mandarin class.
But his mom insisted: Routine-packed Saturdays are part of her parenting. She has become a version of “tiger mom,” a label that evokes the stereotype of an exceedingly strict Chinese mother.
Tiger mom Amy Chua, whose 2011 book, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” drew national attention, is back in the news with an equally controversial book. Chua, a Yale University professor, had written that she forbade sleepovers, subjected her daughters to a grueling regimen of piano practice and even called one of them “garbage.”
Chua has followed that book with “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.” Written with husband Jed Rubenfeld, the book details how some ethnic and religious groups have the secret of success, and others don’t. It’s likely to add more pressure for already harried parents.
In my daily life in NYC, tiger mom also describes mothers of all races, ethnicities and income levels, including the 6-year-old’s mom, who is African-American. Like Chua, these tiger mothers sometimes go overboard.
They drive their kids crazy, over-scheduling activities on Saturdays because many public schools lack art and music classes. They make their 6-year-olds learn Chinese because their economic prospects are terrifyingly uncertain. Many have their middle-school children in test-prep programs on Saturdays so they will have a better chance to get into one of the city’s selective high schools.
Some of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans might help ease the pressure on tiger moms. Take universal pre-K: Good early childhood education is a predictor of academic success. His proposed afterschool programs also would be a boon to struggling tiger moms, giving kids more access to music and art classes, and crucial activities.
With city help, a Fort Greene tiger mom might be able to let her 6-year-old son relax a little. Better yet, kids with no tiger moms might get to play tennis and learn Chinese, too.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.