Keeping An Identity: On Expectations and Achieving

Before our time in London, I spent the past week reading two books. The first Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua) and the second To Miss with Love (Katharine Birbalsingh)

The first, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua in a straight sitting (about 2 hours – it was an easy read). It was exciting, riveting I suppose in a way, although completely unsurprising, being Asian and growing up in Asia, these sorts of expectations and need to achieve are completely commonplace.

The second though, To Miss with Love, I struggled, and I really struggled through. It was not that it was difficult to read, nor that it wasn’t interesting, in the end what I realised was that, I actually COULD NOT read it for more than a few pages at a time, simply because it was so shockingly awful and yet so shockingly true. It took me the rest of the week to finish it.

Although the contrast between the two books could not be any greater, one talks of success and high achievements, (a 14 year old performing at Carnegie Hall!) and the other describes blood-shed (metal pipes and knives!) in school, at the heart of both books lie a very similar theme….EXPECTATIONS.

What was interesting about both books was the way both confirmed and reaffirmed my thoughts that there is actually nothing wrong at all with the education environment in the Western world, but what is shockingly missing, and it’s glaringly obvious, are Expectations.

The comparison between the achievements of (broadly generalising here!) Eastern and Western children really boil down to one thing and ONE thing only, it’s the fact that in the East, Achievement is Expected, and Success Demanded, while in the West, it seems as if Achievement is Encouraged and Success is Preferable. The difference being Choice.

Readers in the figurative ‘East’ would not blink nor flinch at any of Amy Chua’s methods or thoughts, ideas and philosophies, indeed some might even think her mild, and yet the complete outrage and anger directed at her parenting methods, could really only have come from the ‘West’.

So what then of the Eastern family in a Western environment?

In more ways than I can count, I admire, Western children for the confidence, their ability to articulate, and yet, these same abilities so allowed and nurtured by their parents seem in part, to be the cause of the very same limits that hold them back from pushing the boundaries and achieving more.

We, as immigrants see so much of what is good in the Western culture, and at the same time we keep trying to reconcile that with what we know is good from our own experiences. And so for now, we strive to find the balance and walk that middle path between all the best in the West and the good that we know of the East.

Have you read the Tiger Mummy book? What do you think of it?

© 2011, Li-ling. All rights reserved.


  • I haven’t read it, no. But I’m starting to think that I should! I agree that there are a lot of western parents who focus on making their children ‘feel good’ not realising that expecting their kids to work hard and achieve would be a more effective way to reach that goal. (There is a lot of research that shows that telling your kids they are smart makes them underachieve, and telling them to work hard makes them achieve.) We do a similar thing with behaviours. Our kids aren’t allowed to say that they ‘try to be good’. They are either well behaved (and the older ones understand what we mean by that) or they’re not – there is no trying about it. 🙂

  • Hi Karyn, I would love to know what you think of it, although it really is a memoir and deep down I personally think it’s a kind of apology to her girls in a very unapologetic way (warped asian chinese culture at play ;)) I know that some parts you will really disagree with – but it would be great to hear your perspective.
    On behaviour, I do so agree – equally, I’ve come round to the idea of NOT rewarding good behaviour – it is an expectation, although I do say Thank you for behaving so nicely, (back to your post of the reward is in the achievement – i love the clarity of that phrase!)
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the books. I haven’t read the first, but certainly will in a few months’ time, in between my breaks of breastfeeding and burping duties. :>

    But I read a few good articles about it to know enough of its essence. Like adults, children enjoy what they do best and one doesn’t become good at something without putting in some effort. In some cases, a lot more effort and discipline is needed. When the going is tough and kids are tempted to give up, it makes a difference to have a parent who expects hard work and perseverance, instead of worrying that pushing harder may hurt her self-esteem.

    If this expectation helps to push the child over the hurdle and she tastes her own success (however small it is), it will be a big boost of self-confidence and sense of achievement. With this, the child will be more self-motivated to work harder and achieve more in future.

    Well, I’m Asian, brought up in Asia and a tiger mum for sure, though I’m happy for my boys to go for playdates and sleepovers. 😛

  • The Tiger Mummy book was certainly an interesting read, but I think what was by far, the most interesting aspect for me, was the reaction to her ‘methods’. Having been raised in the typical Asian environment, it was really interesting to see how she was made out to be such a monster 🙂
    I’d recommend the book, although I doubt you’d find anything surprising in it 🙂
    I do agree very much with your ‘tiger mummy’ take on raising children.
    How exciting, another baby…have you started pink shopping yet 😉

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