The return of the Tiger Mom?

The return of the Tiger Mom?

Pangs of parenting

Modern mothers are indulgent and pampering. But is too much freedom producing difficult-to-please teenagers? Is it time for the Indian mother to take on a new, more-in-control avatar, a la Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom, wonders Vimla Patil

- “Will you put that phone/laptop away or should I burn it?”
- “How many times must I tell you that this will not do?”
- “Wait. Let Papa come home and then I’ll show you.”
- “I know this would not last. I warned you but you never listen.”
- “I am a human being, not a machine to do all you want.”
- “When I was your age, I had to fulfill my responsibilities without being told.”
- “What did I do to have a son/daughter like you?”

These are seven cardinal mother-screams that came as a Facebook post from a friend who is a young mother. At first glance, it appears that she just wanted to share a humorous sidelight on a mother’s predicament in this age with all mothers. She accompanied the post with picturesque bellows of laughter from modern, jolly mothers who probably use one or more of these lines routinely.

However comical all this may seem, on a serious note, young mothers in the 21st century are a frenzied lot! “I never imagined that my ‘bundle of joy’ would give me such agony and sleepless nights,” says Kunda Mehta, a successful banker, “When my son was born 17 years ago, I thought I had conquered the world. I took a sabbatical from my work and looked after him till he was a year old. He was always mum’s angel until he became a teen. This is when he changed completely…He began to hide things from me and was absent most evenings — often coming late in the night and going straight to bed. He did not want me to know who his friends were. He demanded money and that cursed word ‘space’ to do his own thing. “Just chill, mum,” became the mantra of our relationship. My heart broke when he came home smelling of liquor one night with a girl in toe. I gave up that day and have suffered hell’s pains since then. I don’t know what to do because I have tried counseling, medical help and all the guidance I can get. I live with pangs of guilt and depression that I have failed as a mother.”

Kunda is not alone. Angela Soares can’t bear to look at her son with hundreds of tattoos on his body. He smokes 20 cigarettes a day at 16 and uses language that is abominable. “I thought giving freedom to teens was the new way of life. But I have lost my relationship with my child because it is my health — which is deteriorating — or my motherly responsibilities.” A third mother from Mumbai confesses that when she saw her daughter smooching away on Marine Drive as she returned from work, she nearly collapsed in shock. “I trusted her completely. But on questioning, I found that she had been with several men from her college. I was devastated. When she came to me broken-hearted at last, I found no strength to heal her as I was broken myself.”

These are some illustrative stories of modern mothers who are fighting the demon of ‘space’. Now, with the new book (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) by Amy Chua — who is John M Duff Professor of Law at Yale University, USA — the concept of the Tiger Mother is gaining wide attention in many countries including India. In the book, Amy emphasizes the need for tight control on children’s lives, strict discipline and correct restrictions (her own daughters are not allowed sleepovers, no boyfriends and are expected to study on holidays when needed). With her own ‘tough parenting’ experience from her Chinese background, Amy has written the new rule-book for mums telling them what they should do and what they certainly should not.

Chua’s book is possibly born out of the contradictions of child-rearing in the West (where she lives and works) and the East (China, to whose culture she was born). “Western parents handle their responsibility too softly,” says Tina Malik, a counsellor who welcomes this new and controversial book, “There is an awareness today that too much molly-coddling can make children wayward and obsessed with freedom to do what they wish.

In many Western countries, at the age of 18, children leave home and are expected to be financially independent. If they are unemployed, they get benefit/support from the
government’s welfare agencies and they get used to a lazy lifestyle of vices and cheap fun. In the UK for instance, a teen getting pregnant is given a home and weekly food allowances! The parents can do nothing about this as an 18-year-old is considered an adult with his/her rights. In Eastern countries, children stay with the parents unless they need to go to college or work elsewhere. They are brought up with more control and discipline and with definite denial of ‘space’. They are constantly steered towards their goals and aspirations with a benign but firm hand. Indian families — and probably Chinese or Japanese — parents do not believe in over-indulgence which they think can harm their offspring. Parenting is a tough job, but only the right mix of love and discipline can create a win-win situation for both parents and their kids. In India, children and their education are the top priorities of parents who give up all they earn towards this goal.

When the children fail, the parents fail too. There is no state-sponsored education or support. Conversely, parents look to their children as the support of their old age as this is the kernel of Indian culture. Additionally, in India — and in China or Japan — families are tightly-knit and children belong to all the members of the family. The media confirms this every day. Young people themselves welcome the family system in India as is seen in the lives of all strata of society.”

“Further,” adds Dr Subhash Pillai, a psychiatrist, “The family is the strongest unit of Indian society and gives all its members support and help to achieve their goals. Look at the children of all top industrialists — the Birlas, the Ambanis, the Godrejs, the Singhanias and all the new tycoons of India.  Look at even Bollywood parents or artists like Amjad Ali Khan. Their children are introduced to business and wealth making or high standards in art from their teens. There is indulgence but strict control too. The Indian family institution has to be protected at all costs. I thus strongly oppose any laws that make porn, liquor and tobacco available freely to all just because we are a ‘free democratic society’. This freedom can cost us dear when our children lose their way on the dreadful path of life-destruction. Often, it is too late to do anything to correct them. To all those who argue for the legalising of porn — tobacco and liquor are already available to those over 18 — I just ask whether they would like their own children to be addicted to sex and porn. Their answer would say a great deal. To those who say bans never work, I would say that laws are always ideal.  No law, including our Constitution, works perfectly. But by passing most laws, we express our dream of a perfect society and the laws certainly influence our lives. The new joke that SRK is no longer Shah Rukh Khan — the letters stand for Spoilt Rich Kid — are a warning to our society which is imitating the West blindly and desperately.”

Arguing for a ‘different’ society in India which works by the heritage of its own culture, Rajiv Malhotra, the internationally-known author of the best-seller Invading The Sacred and currently Chairman of the Board of Governors of the India Studies Programme at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, USA, says in his recent book Being Different:
“India is not a junior partner in a global capitalistic world. India is its own distinct and unified civilization with a proven ability to manage profound differences, engage creatively with various cultures, religions and philosophies and peacefully integrate many diverse streams of humanity...that stand in contrast to the fundamental assumptions of Western civilization.”

Thus, a blind imitation of Western cultural or ethical or moral motifs of ‘freedom’ and ‘space’ may not work for the benefit of Indian society. “What is ours, is sacred to us,” says Suhana Jain, a social scientist, “Of course, mothers — and fathers — should not rule their children with threats or abusive language. But gentle control, pushing them towards the right path is perfectly ok. As the name of Chua’s book shows, the tiger mother — or any bird or animal mother — pushes her offspring until it is ready to fly or become independent. A ‘tiger mother’ can produce illustrious children who bring pride to their parents. So her comeback would be welcome! Here is a Sanskrit verse (translated) that sums up the parent child relationship beautifully and says it all:

“Just as a full moon lights up the whole sky whereas thousands of stars don’t, one illustrious child is a blessing and illuminates the lives of his/her parents whereas a hundred foolish children can only bring darkness.”