The Career Within You

Finding the perfect job for your personality

The Tiger Mother Controversy

The Enneagram offers an alternative to overly strict mothering.

Woman as tiger
Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele
Elizabeth Wagele

Amy Chua says her "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" is a memoir, not a how-to book. Still, the draconian methods she describes of raising her daughters are causing a lot of debate. With our economy declining, parents fear their children need to have a top-notch education in order to have the good life. Do parents need to be ultra strict to make sure their kittens get into the Universities that will ensure them jobs and happiness? We're scared of the Chinese these days. Is this another way we fear that maybe they're onto something?

From the January 19 New York Times article by Janet Maslin, "Books of The Times; "But Will It All Make ‘Tiger Mom' Happy?":

"Ms. Chua was not about to raise prizeless slackers. She wanted prodigies, even if it meant nonstop, punishing labor. So ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' chronicles its author's constant demanding, wheedling, scolding and screaming. It describes seemingly endless piano and violin sessions that Ms. Chua supervised. (Her own schedule of teaching, traveling, writing and dealing with her students goes mostly unmentioned - and would require her to put in a 50-hour workday.) And it enforces a single guiding principle that is more reasonable than all the yelling suggests: ‘What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.'"

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Chua also didn't allow sleepovers, play dates, or less than A grades. Nor did she let her kids be in a school play or choose their own extra-curricular activities. She also withheld bathroom breaks and food and called them "garbage."

She threatened to burn her children's toys. When I was seven years old I spent a few days in the hospital. I took along my favorite recent Christmas gifts: a pen and pencil set and a collection of plastic soldiers. Upon leaving the hospital, I was crushed when I was told I couldn't take them home with me. If only I had known! It was even worse when the nurse told me they would be burning them. Threatening to burn toys is mean.

The methods Ms Chua used fit into a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach. They don't leave room for listening to who children are, for finding their individual strengths, for honoring them as unique spirits. They tear at their self-esteem. It's hard to imagine children learning how to think for themselves in this strict of an environment. It's easy to imagine children developing resentment and bitterness.

The Enneagram is a system of nine personality types: the Perfectionist, the Helper, the Achiever, the Romantic, the Observer, the Questioner, the Adventurer, the Asserter, and the Peace Seeker. Among many other uses, it is applied to raising and teaching children by matching appropriate methods to the strengths, styles, and needs of the individual child. The Enneagram also takes into account the personality types of the adults who take care of them.

In "The Enneagram of Parenting," I wrote that some children feel neglected without a lot of structure and guidance, others feel neglected if not given enough freedom. Some profit from hands on experience, others thrive doing independent projects, for example. It seems to me the best encouragement we can give our children is to let them know we see them and hear them. For that we need to be as lovingly and subtly human as we can, not just fierce.

Elizabeth Wagele is the co-author with Ingrid Stabb of The Career Within You: How to Find the Perfect Job for Your Personality.

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