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Confessions of an Alley Cat Mom

Tiger Burning Bright
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Have you heard about Tiger Mom parenting? It's based on the book by Amy Chua, and involves denying your child bathroom breaks, forcing them to learn the violin and insisting they grow up to be podiatrists. Or something like that—I haven’t actually read the book.

What I can say about the book, though, is that it ruined my life. Why? Because as an Asian-American mother, everyone now assumes this is how I parent my children. I have to start off every conversation with strangers with, “My kids don’t know how to play the violin and I let them go to the bathroom anytime they want. No, seriously!”

But here’s the ironic part—if you met my daughters, you might just think that they were the product of some Tiger Mom parenting techniques. They are unfailingly polite and well behaved. They’re straight-A students, overachievers and perfectionists almost to a fault. They pretend to be medical personnel every chance they get. I’m just kidding about that last one.

True story: My older daughter, now 16, was pretty much a straight-A student all through elementary school. When she hit middle school and things got a little tougher, she became extremely anxious about failing, and we were constantly trying to reassure her that getting a bad grade wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Some might call us slackers; we just consider ourselves relaxed.

One night, she was particularly upset that she might be possibly getting a—gasp—"C," and after spending a few minutes trying to calm her down I issued this challenge. “I’m ordering you get some ‘C’s. This semester is all about just passing—don’t be coming home with any 'A’s, young lady.” Although we had a good laugh about it, I knew she couldn’t do it. Later my husband remarked that I was probably the only parent in the school district that was begging their kid to bring their GPA down a notch.

So if we aren’t Tiger Parents, what are we? If we had to give it a name I’d say we’re more Alley Cat Parents. And here’s our method: We have done nothing extraordinary or drastic in raising our kids. We have no set bedtimes, and no set study times. They’ve always come home and done their homework on their own, through no prodding or nagging on the part of me or my husband. We’ve never punished them for bad grades, nor do we overly reward them for good ones (I know one parent who gives her daughter $20 for every "A" she gets on a report card.)

While we help them with school projects, we never become overly involved and have never done their work for them in pursuit of a good grade. (OK, OK, I confess that I did construct the entire roof of the San Fernando Mission that my daughter “built.”)

What we do is offer support, and try to concentrate more on the process of learning than on the final grade. Some might call us slackers; we just consider ourselves relaxed. I think the lesson in all of this is that we all do whatever works for us and our kids. No book or parenting manual is going to fit every child. I’m going to get mushy here and say that whether you’re a Tiger Mom or an Alley Cat Parent, loving your kid and finding out what makes them tick is the most important key to success.

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