Saturday, February 05, 2011

I'm Trying To Be More of a Tiger Mom

It's all cool when we turn the living room into a giant fort
(This post is just about parenting, you've been warned)

I'm pretty sure everyone who doesn't live in the Mariana Trench has heard of the (in)famous Tiger Mom by now. This actually inspired me to get out the keyboard and give Liam a piano lesson yesterday. The lesson consisted of the first three notes of his favorite song. F A D (fa la re).

It was two hours of pure hell.

So I'm convinced I'm on the right track.

Ok, he's only four years old and I was feeling like the world's biggest jerk, but it really was mostly about him flat-out refusing to do something he didn't want to do. I was forced to take violin lessons as a kid (albeit not starting at four), and ended up getting a degree in guitar performance. The guitar was voluntary of course (especially the electric kind), and I later taught myself a little bit of piano.

Everyone is convinced that their kid is the smartest, most talented, etc, in the world, and I'm no exception (I just happen to be right!!). But my kid is definitely into music and he's got pretty good taste. He loves the opening theme to Parks and Recreation, really loves it. LOVES IT. And it actually is pretty nice, could easily be a quintet by Haydn or Dušek. He's crazy about the music in Fantastic Mr Fox, especially the Morricone-esque stuff. Loves Americana stuff like the theme to CatDog. Pretty sophisticated, in my opinion, for a four-year-old.

So the kid seems to have inclination and talent. But we've all known people with talent who simply didn't do anything with it, or didn't do enough (and I could definitely place myself in this category). I knew a guy in California who had perfect pitch and could play anything, anything on the piano after hearing it once, definitely the most talented musician I've ever met, and I've met quite a few. All he ever talked about was music. I met him not in music school but working construction.

I'm writing this mostly to steel my resolve. I imagine things will settle down after the first few skirmishes, well more like trench warfare at this point. And if Liam grows to despise the piano (like my father did after 12 years of lessons) then so be it, he can pick up the guitar and start a rock band or do whatever he wants with the lessons he's learned from trying to master an instrument.

It's a parent's duty, of course, to be more (and less) than just a friend and the job of enforcer usually falls upon the father, although the roles are often reversed (apparently in the case of Amy Chua). Unconditional love is important, and so is tough love. A healthy mixture of the two seems to work the best, but the devil is in the details.

I think Amy Chua's methods were way over the top. I really don't care if my kid ever plays Carnegie Hall. In fact I'd prefer that he didn't as I can think of few elite level performers who weren't seriously screwed up (Wayne Gretzky being the exception that proves the rule). Plus I just don't have the gumption to make my kid practice for four hours.

I also find it interesting that Chua was giving these 'fascist' piano lessons (and having epic fights) herself. It's pretty easy for someone with a decent income to pawn this stuff off to someone else. There's a lot more engagement when the parent is involved directly. 


  1. I have five children - the oldest is almost 28 and the youngest just turned 16. Yes, you can force a child to get all As at the expense of social intercourse (neither of Tiger Mom's daughters has had or attended a sleepover) or to learn a musical instrument to the exclusion of everything else (they are also not allowed to take part in a school play).

    Like many parents, I disagree strongly with her parenting methods - but I'm sure whatever therapists that end up treating those girls for $150/hr. will love them.

  2. I've only got the one so it's really on-the-job-training, but I'm not planning to go psycho and ban sleepovers or whatever. The kid is already quite social, very popular at school, I'd just like to instill some mental discipline and focus with piano lessons.

    Did you read the whole post?

  3. Hey Sean,

    I think I screwed up my first try a comment.

    Looks like you are on the right track to me (in terms of balance).

    Given your interest in science/piano, you might be interesting in a company that one of my former business partners started. It is called Zenph Sound Innovations (

    They take old analog recordings, convert them to digital midi, and create "re-preformances" through a high-end player piano.

    Hope all is well.


  4. Tim, yeah that is actually quite cool.

    I'm doing fine thanks, just waiting (and waiting) for the Sun to show it's face again.

  5. Yes, I read the whole post, and I'm sorry if it seems like I was chiding you - I certainly wasn't. Just chiming in with what I think about Ms. Chua; it's spurred some interesting debates between me and The Better Half, who said the Ms. Chua is a perfect example of why Asians, particularly the Chinese, are going to end up kicking our collective Western asses economically.

  6. Actually Jan, I think I'm on your side of this debate with the SO.

    I'm third generation Irish immigrant on my father's side and there were plenty of enforced musical lessons through the generations. But I don't think America's greatness can be facilely attributed to simple hard work or immigrant parents being uber-fascists.

    I've seen plenty of that sort of parenting here with somewhat dismal results.

    The US seems to be in decline but I think Chinese fascist mothering has little to do with it.