Making Music for My Tiger Mom

Ambitious parents can be fierce with their kids, especially the so-called “tiger moms” of Asia, who demand extremely high standards from their children. It can lead to high achievers but it often leaves kids feeling tired and resentful. Guest writer Tomoko Parry tells her family story.

Tigers are an endangered species.

Those that survive in the wild mainly roam through the Indian subcontinent, although if you’re really lucky you might spot one in Russia or even Southern China.

But although real tigers are super rare, many East Asians know about tiger moms. 

That’s the name given to super ambitious women who are determined that their children study diligently at school. They often force the kids to take private classes in music or sport.

In China there are still lots of tiger moms. China is a competitive society and kids need to stand out from the crowd to get ahead.

Tiger moms also used to be common in Japan, although a change in the social climate has made them rarer now.

However, back in the 1970s and 1980s, during Japan’s boom years, there were many women who were a bit obsessed with their kids’ education, including my own dear mother.

Fortunately, her temperament has calmed over the years – you could now call her a Hello Kitty mom.  

But as a kid, I remember she was pretty fierce. She left me with the feeling that I was never quite good enough. This meant that I always felt I had to  compete with my friends, such as Hiroshi-kun and Mihoko-chan.

The trouble was that my friends were also being driven towards perfection by their own tiger moms. They seemed to be constantly taking piano or violin lessons or going to そろばん (abacus) or 習字 (calligraphy) schools. 

I don’t believe any of us wanted to do any of these things on our own, but we didn’t really have a choice.  

Most of us ended up feeling a bit resentful. My mom didn’t nurture my self-esteem much. As an adult, though, I realize that I did my best to please her as a child. 

My theory is that tiger moms are trying to live their lives vicariously through their kids. They had fewer opportunities to be successful in the world, outside of their homes. 

Actually, I have not forgotten how to read music or play an instrument. About five years ago, I took up the cello and I practice almost every day, without my mom telling me to do so. 

I have come to enjoy the feeling of making a gradual improvement at my own pace. I have even made recordings of music and sent them to Mom in Japan, who in return has finally said she is proud of me.  

I believe she is softening and I am so thankful that I finally seem to have hit the right note after all these years.