During all the recent buzz about Chinese—a.k.a. "Tiger"—moms, is anyone else wondering about their other halves? Is there a Tiger Dad in the house?
If it's really the children we are worried about, it seems worth opening that can of worms. Obviously, although not always, there are two parents involved in conceiving and then raising these kids. There are often two adults interacting with each other and the youngsters while they grow up. Whether or not it's best for moms to demand, or even threaten, to propel their kids toward excellence is one thing. But how their mates join in—or don't—is another. Do they stand by in support? Are they passively or actively involved? What if they disagree? Is there room for two strong-minded parents with two different styles of parenting? Perhaps more importantly, what is the quality of the parents' relationships and how do they affect the young eyes watching?
We know little about the Tiger Mom's real husband, Jed Rubenfeld. He is rarely mentioned in the book, and when he is, he comes across as the straight man, as the voice of reason. We are learning more about the daughters' real lives. On "CBS Sunday Morning," the older one, Sophia was quoted as saying, "I'm amazed my mom turned our totally boring life into such a comedic, dramatic and meaningful story." Another time she aptly wrote, "No outsider can know what our family is really like." Up to now the dad has chosen not to add much about himself or his own reaction to their private story going public. We have learned that he is also a Yale graduate, a lawyer and Jewish—clearly not of Asian descent. His friends have described him as the good cop to Chua's drill-sergeant. My question: Is this what it takes to be married to a Tiger Mom? A guy who goes along for the ride, unwilling—or unable—to challenge his strong-minded wife? If they had sons, would the boys be as cooperative, or the dad as willing, with the mother ruling the roost when it comes to child rearing?
I have patients in my practice who are not Chinese-born but whose parenting styles are not that different from Chua's. Very often, there is the strong-minded, disciplined, helicopter mother. There is a father who, although often actively involved in some areas of parenting, allows the family to be run primarily by the standards set by his wife. In truth, these men say that it sometimes makes life easier. They can focus on their careers and, while at home, they follow orders set by their wives. As long as things run smoothly, the men can sit back and be proud of their family. They are the chauffeurs, the delivery guys, the homework helpers, the kid's coaches and the go-to guy when the kids need a break. They show up at recitals and applaud their children's achievements.
The problems occur—and this is where I come in—when the family dynamics don't work out so well, for the parents or for the children. Sometimes these moms become so absorbed by the demands this kind of parenting requires that their mate gets lost. Sometimes they feel left out. Then there are the husbands who have fundamental differences in their parenting beliefs. Anger festers, fights brew, splitting occurs. One comes to represent fun, the other not so much. Kids take sides. And you can guess who usually wins... well, depending on which perspective you take. The Tiger Mom is strong, so she often wins these battles. From the kids' point of view, the dad would win if the mom would back down. And, in case of separation or divorce, moms usually end up winning, at least in who gets more face time with the kids: which is why, in fact, some of the dads hang in there. They know the only hope for their kids is if they stick around to balance things out.
Let's remember that there are Tiger Dads, too—perhaps better called Lion Dads. These are the ones who are just as demanding of their kids, more often seen on baseball, soccer and football fields. They push and threaten their kids to excel athletically just the way the Tiger Moms do about academics, music and art. Cheers from the stands turn to rants on the sidelines if their kids or coaches fail to achieve the success expected of them. These dads have mates who either succumb, get left behind or battle about the useless time being spent on all those fields of dreams.
Bottom line: when you have two parents raising kids, rarely do both feel exactly the same about how best to do this child-rearing thing. And if one is a Tiger or Lion parent, you know there is likely to be trouble in the den. These kids are growing up watching their parents struggle over how to raise them, but not enough over how to be good to one another. What may become of them as they grow from "cubs" to adults may look like success, but how they relate to their own mates in the future may not be a pretty picture.
As I see it, the "Battle Hymn" for all moms and dads should be about working together, hand in hand, to create loving nurturing homes for their kids—for better or for worse. What do you think?
Vivian Diller, Ph.D. is a psychologist in New York City. She is best known for her articles on beauty, aging, media, models and dancers. "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" (2010), written with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. and edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. For more information, please visit www.VivianDiller.com