January 25, 2011
Tiger Moms tamed by American experience
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Many factors contribute to the make-up of a hard-driving mother, Wu said, including immigrant status, how one was parented oneself, and the desire to keep up with the Joneses – “or the Steinbergs, the Wongs or the Rodriguezes,” she added.
“I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Tiger Mom any more than there is a Jewish Mother,” she said. “They’re both stereotypes, and stereotypes are based on some truth, but it’s dangerous to generalize. It borders on racism.”
A generational difference is at work, too, said Diane Tobin, director of Be’chol Lashon (Hebrew for “In Every Tongue”), a San Francisco-based organization that supports racially and ethnically diverse Jews. The organization is cooperating with Leavitt and Kim on their research project.
“With the older generation, it’s probably more of a typical immigrant thing,” Tobin told JTA. “Being in America moderates their behavior.”
Oakland resident Felicia Wu, 63, experienced the full force of the first-generation Chinese Tiger Mom.
Her parents were both born in China, and even though she grew up in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City, her upbringing was strictly Old World.
“I was not allowed to have sleepovers. I couldn’t go away to camp like my friends. There were many things I wished I could have done,” Wu said. “We were expected to excel, to always get A’s. And I always did. If so-and-so’s kid got into Harvard, I heard about it from my parents.”
Wu went to Cornell University (her sister went to Harvard University), became a physician and married a Jewish doctor – a Chinese and Jewish dream match, perhaps.
She vowed to raise her two children without the strictness of her own upbringing.
Is she pleased with how things turned out? Yes and no.
“Now, I wish we’d been a little stricter,” she said. “My daughter is not as respectful as I’d like her to be.”
Wu said she is surprised that Chua maintained the kind of strict discipline associated with first-generation Chinese families despite the fact that she grew up in the Bay Area and married a Jewish man.
“I would have thought she’d be more Westernized in her sensibilities,” Wu said.
Was Felicia Wu a Tiger Mom? “No, she’s a pussycat,” said her husband, John Citron.
What about Mates-Muchin? “I’m a Jewish mother, and so was my mother,” the rabbi said, noting that her mother converted before marriage, and she and her sister grew up in San Francisco’s Reform Congregation Shearith Israel.
And what about sociologist Kim? Does Leavitt expect that she’ll turn into a Tiger Mom with Aryeh Zakkai, their 2-year-old son?
“I don’t know,” he mused. “She’s definitely the tough one. But she’s also the fun one.”
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