Am I a tiger mom?

Eh, maybe a little.  DH and I push our kids.

We’re not so far up the SES ladder that our kids can rest on their laurels– we both broke into the upper middle class this generation (DH from the rural working class, I’m first-gen on one side and come from a long line of middle-class working women on the other).  And OMG is it nice to be upper-middle class.  The stresses we don’t have that our parents had and that DH’s siblings and cousins still have, I can’t even.  Every day I’m mindful of (and thankful for) this miracle.

We got here from climbing the academic ladder and playing by the rules (and, of course, luck).  From pushing ourselves, and maybe being pushed a little bit too.  Well, not maybe, definitely.  (DH’s siblings, while not upper-middle-class are definitely doing much better than his cousins.) Definitely from being pushed a little bit too.  Our kids will have more freedom and latitude to maybe not play by the rules, but having that academic ladder cleared will certainly help if other ventures don’t work out.

A’s now mean life is easier later.  Challenges now mean that there’s less likely to be complete melt-downs in college.  So we push.  Not to breaking, but occasionally to leaving the comfort zone.  So far the discomfort (often followed by breaks, and then by trying again) has always led to epiphanies and growth, just as it should.

There’s no shame in getting a B, but a B also means that the material hasn’t been mastered.  There’s room for improvement and that’s a target to work on.  So, in that sense, Bs are addressed.  Material is mastered and then some.  Even if it’s not that interesting.  Even if school sometimes has arbitrary rules.

Granted, our kids are truly brilliant, and they’re highly capable of mastering many many challenges.  So it’s easier to have a home with the underlying belief that Bs aren’t good grades.  We have justifiably high expectations.  I have students who, as hard as they try, won’t pull off As in four classes a semester.  But it’s my job to get them to master as much of the material as they can, and it’s their job to try.  If my kids go someplace where they’re truly challenged, then even Cs may be fine as long as they’re still getting where they need to go, but they’re not there yet.

For K-12, A’s are pretty important.  Especially if they’re not going to fancy high schools that colleges know by reputation.  I trust that my kids will work hard and if they don’t get As it won’t be from lack of trying, but I also know that we will work hard to stem any damage by filling in knowledge gaps should a lower grade occur so that it won’t lead to downward spirals down the line.

DH and I have both gotten Bs in our high school and college careers, but not that many.  I think DH even has a C on his college transcript.  And, possibly related, we haven’t always gotten into our top choices for things.  But we keep working and we keep trying.  And that’s the message we want to send to our children.  That’s how we push.

Did you get pushed as a kid?  Do you feel like that affected your adult life?

64 Responses to “Am I a tiger mom?”

  1. Becca Says:

    I never felt pushed, my Dad especially seemed to want my accomplishments to be wholy mine. I did feel supported to do more than most- especially when my parents let me quit school halfway through 5th grade.

    I am also most proud of the only C I got in college. It was in organic chem (premed weed out style). I got up for every dang 8 am class, and even though I was objectively underprepared, I got through and went on to much more interesting biochem.

    With my kid, I push more than my parents did. Because he is growing up in a less fair system than I did. And whether you play by the rules or not, it takes a lot of luck.

  2. Catwoman73 Says:

    I was definitely pushed. To the point where even A’s weren’t good enough. If I got 95% on a test (which I often did- I was a bright kid), I was asked what happened to the other 5% (and it was NOT a joke). And I can tell you, it most definitely affected my adult life. Self esteem has been an issue for me, as has depression to the point of hospitalization- all because I never felt good enough. Years of therapy helped me put it all in perspective, and I am much more accepting of myself these days, but my experiences have certainly shaped me as a parent. I simply won’t do that to my daughter. I push her to try her best, but that is where it ends. As long as I see that she did the best she can, that’s good enough for me. Even if her best means B’s and C’s. My husband was not particularly academically-inclined, and I was. We’ll see which way the wind blows for my daughter- she’s young enough right now that it’s tough to tell.

    I had straight A’s all through my 7 years of post secondary education, and I can definitely say that those marks have not made my life any easier. Playing by the rules hasn’t helped me get further up the ladder in my field. I could write forever on how much I feel like I wasted my time trying to be perfect in school, just to get the same job as the person sitting beside me who barely passed. Or about how going above and beyond at work sometimes gets you absolutely no further ahead. Hard work absolutely does pay off in some situations, but I think we need to be careful not to send our kids the message that they can have everything they want if they just work hard enough. It doesn’t always work out that way. Hard work helps, but luck and how you play the ‘game’ (and it really is a big game out there!) can be VERY big factors in getting ahead.

    Sorry for rambling… obviously, my experiences in life have made me rather passionate about this topic. :)

    • Cardinal Says:

      My siblings and I have a shorthand for our upbringing, and it’s “What happened to the other 3%?” Certainly that perpetual feeling that I was never good enough no matter how good I was has shaped my life in many ways, for better or for worse. So while I push my kids to attempt things that are challenging and to view mistakes as learning opportunities, I also try really hard not to let the external measures (grades, prizes, praise) be the basis for their sense of self-worth. In fact, we don’t even show them their report cards — and at age almost-8, it hasn’t yet occurred to the kids to ask to see them. If the report card indicated problems we would consult the teacher and then make a plan with the kid for how to deal with the problem, but for now I’m happy that they’re not driven by grades.

      • The frugal ecologist Says:

        I am also in the “was pushed as a kid, not sure it was a good thing” camp. I have very clear memories of knowing that less than an A was not acceptable and hiding those assignments so my parents wouldn’t see then as young as 2nd grade. Lots of shame, encouraging perfectionism and dishonesty. Sad face.

        This pushing stopped, or stopped being detrimental by middle and high school when I realized that I was really really smart & started pushing myself (or more like realized I could both optimize my grades and popularity). I was extremely self motivated in college and grad school with out any pushing.

        So yeah, I think I will probably more be one of those “you can do/be anything” parents rather than a tiger mom.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        … “you can do/be anything” *is* pushing, at least by our definition.

        Similarly, trying one’s best when one’s best is better than the minimum required seems to be pushing as well.

      • ralucacoldea Says:

        Yeah, I remember those years. For a long, long time I hated my parents as well as myself. I would not want those feelings for any child of mine. So I will not push, I will support and guide.

  3. hollyatclubthrifty Says:

    I wasn’t pushed as a child or young adult, and it saddens me. My parents had almost no expectations for me, and that really held me back. My dad was raised on welfare and my mom was raised with six brothers and sisters in a two-bedroom house. In their world, you’re doing pretty good if you’re contributing to society in any way.

    I have tiger mom tendencies, too. I don’t want my children to never reach their potential due to my low expectations of them. I want to give them everything I never had.

    Your children are lucky you care enough to push them in this way – far too many kids will never have that.

  4. Sue Says:

    My parents did not push. They were totally hands off academically. My father was born in the depression and it took decades for his parents to recover. His philosophy was I was eventually going to be.e responsible for myself so I should practice early. I liked school and I did well because I wanted to do well. I’m not sure how I would have responded if my parents pushed. Personally I’m not concerned about grade school grades. I’m more concerned that my kids like school and are learning good habits. We too are upper middle class and I believe there are many different ways to get there. If they want to do trade school that’s fine with me. I believe in college too but the ever increasing costs are lowering the value od the degree. Siince you’re in academia I would expect you would disagree.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There’s actual evidence on the value of a degree and it is getting relatively more valuable. Not because it is bringing in more money but because not having one is getting more devastating. Increasing inequality is a huge problem.

      People always throw plumber around but in reality it is difficult to become a plumber or any of the true apprentice trades in the US. The actual comparison would be service, as in I don’t mind my kid going into service or retail. Plumbing is not that much different than college from an economist perspective given the training required. And trade school •is• college in almost all of our datasets.

    • chacha1 Says:

      The “value of the degree” probably shouldn’t be measured by whether a specific degree will help someone get a specific job. The specific job that the specific degree might deliver could be 3000 miles away and a surprising number of people are not willing to move – or can’t afford to, or are discouraged from doing so. That affects the measurement.

      Sometimes the simple fact of having the degree is the point that means you will get seen for ANY job. My first job in a law office was as a file clerk, and I would not have been seen for that job if I had not had a B.A.

      So on that point I would say “higher education is an expectation” but also “the local community college will probably be fine (depending on the work you want to do).” For most degrees, the ranking of, e.g., Harvard over Local State is not, to my mind, satisfactorily established.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That’s also true for the most part (re: the BA helping even for jobs that don’t require it and re: college reputation not necessarily mattering). For-profit online colleges in general don’t seem to help or they provide exactly the same benefit as a much less expensive local community college degree (this has been an area of recent research). In general, glam university degrees help people lower on the SES scale but don’t help higher SES people any more than a regional public would, all else equal. (Though we still don’t have a complete bottom-line on this– that’s just the best evidence we have up to this point. There’s still new papers coming out on the topic.)

      • Debbie M Says:

        Yes, there is education inflation. When there are way too many applicants for a position, it’s an easy way to narrow down your choices. (Also bad spelling and poor grammar.) So I’m going to say that the alternative is self-employment because in most fields clients don’t care about your degree.

        I think self-employment is easier now than when I was young, but I still think it’s really tough. And getting challenged would be good for that, too.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Hm, I wonder if that’s true about clients not caring about the degree. I know for SBIRs the degree is important, but that may be an exception. And people are generally impressed by a Harvard/Stanford/MIT/Caltech kind of degree, at least for technical consulting (even if it’s, “dropped out of…”)

  5. saskia Says:

    What’s the opposite of a tiger mom?

    My mother always took the attitude that I was far too focused on grades and doing well in school. Although I got all As, that was just evidence to her that I was putting way too much effort into my schoolwork. If anything, she pushed me to fail — or at least not to strive to do the absolute best that I could.

    Not sure where her attitude came from, as she had been quite successful academically herself — skipping a couple of grades in elementary school, graduating near the top of her fancy prep school, attending a seven sisters college, and doing extremely well in medical school.

    • saskia Says:

      Forgot to say that, as a result, I do exactly the opposite with my own kids. In fact, I try to follow exactly the course you outlined in this (excellent) post: challenge them, encourage them to excel, push them when they need it, maintain high expectations.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, I think there’s a difference between having impossible expectations and helping people to grow. One can push without destroying. More of that fixed vs. growth mindset stuff.

  6. middle_class Says:

    My parents definitely expected me (and my siblings) to study hard and go to a university. They did push us to some degree but also gave us room to pursue other interests. I’m not really sure how they “brainwashed” us so well!

  7. poet Says:

    I don’t recall grades ever being talked about in my parents’ house growing up, but course material, books, and ideas were discussed constantly. I have B, C’s, and F’s on my academic transcripts; they didn’t stop me, for example, from getting into every doctoral program I applied to. I was lucky to have parents who allowed me to believe that a number isn’t who I am or what I can do.

  8. chacha1 Says:

    I did get pushed, and I do think it was beneficial to my entire life. I had some very smart and talented classmates who were not pushed and who have, unsurprisingly, not excelled. I also had a very smart and talented classmate whose own functionally-illiterate family did nothing to encourage him to excel, but who was noticed and promoted by his teachers, and consequently went to the AF Academy, served in the Air Force, and later became a professional commercial pilot.

    I remember getting Bs in algebra, a C in trigonometry, an A in geometry (in HS) and an A in calculus (in college, with an excellent teacher). There may have been other Bs in there, but I came out something like 17th in my class of 435, and won a full academic scholarship to the local state college.

    Us going to college was simply an expectation. It was just always part of the whole School Conversation. And not, I might add, all that common in the 1970s in the deep south for female children. My mother’s mother had fought hard to see that mom got to go to college instead of becoming a farm wife straight out of high school … it was a huge family Thing that ultimately led to my grandmother’s divorce (after which she got a job at the local newspaper. Go Grandma!).

    I wish I had been pushed a little *more*. I was steered toward things I was already good at, and as a result I do not have the mathematics or science background that could have given me many more educational and career options. I was never not going to read and write. Spending all of my higher-education time on that was … pretty self-indulgent.

    My mom was, I like to say, a fox mom rather than a tiger mom. Her focus was on turning out competent self-reliant cubs who could fend for themselves without offending bigger animals. LOL

    Pretty sure I would have been the worst sort of tiger mom. There was a quote I read once from dancer Rudolf Nureyev, when asked if he wanted to have kids: “What if they were not as good as me? What would I do with those imbeciles?” I did not have kids in part because I related to this quote. :-)

  9. Debbie M Says:

    I sort of feel like I wasn’t challenged by my parents. They were happy with any passing grades. They hoped for college for us (though they’d only attended and not graduated from junior colleges themselves) but didn’t require it.

    But then it’s quite probable that my parents felt that I already challenged myself too much. I had serious perfectionist tendencies (that I have now gotten rid of). And my mom was very good at understanding that kids were different and at trying to treat us the best way she could. (We, as kids, did not get this and thought we should be treated exactly the same or it wasn’t fair! So we didn’t make it easy–mostly it did feel like we were being treated the same.)

    As a result of not being pushed, I didn’t even know you could make straight A’s until I was in the fourth grade. (You actually couldn’t in my first grade class–I missed two spelling words the entire first semester and got a B.) I’d never heard of people having activities every day of the week–we just had one or two per week. I never knew until college that some parents insisted not only on college but on specific majors or careers. Yikes! Both of my parents tried to support us in whatever we showed an interest in. I got to be in scouting all the way through and I got piano lessons for a while. We were strongly encouraged to read, with weekly trips to the library.

    I like how I turned out. I never got the good jobs and did not move into upper middle class like I probably could have. But I did get to work in education like I wanted to. And with no dependants and good frugality skills, I still get many of the benefits of an upper-middle class income.

    I still suffer from that problem that many smart people have, the syndrome where you realize, when [famous person] was my age, ze’d been dead for [x] years. I should have done something really important and special by now instead of just making it a little easier for other people to do important, special things, or even just important, boring things. But on the other hand, as we can easily see from the news, having a powerful mission can lead you astray as well. There’s still time of course. I’m still thinking.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I always thought it was very weird the way that some of my college friends were being forced to major in specific subjects (generally pre-med) by their parents. So very odd. I think that’s another area where class may be important– if you’re breaking into middle class or upper middle class it’s easier to follow the paths of doctor/lawyer/engineer/teacher because you don’t know what else is out there and you don’t have the connections to get your kids into those other fields even if you knew they existed. Doctor/lawyer you just have to be smart and follow the rules so people without connections can get into those areas and make reasonable amounts of money (less so for lawyers than before though).

      • Debbie M Says:

        My first roommate was told she had to be a doctor or a lawyer, and I’m pretty sure she was at least upper-middle class (she didn’t know how to make a bed because her family’s maid had always done it; she got her grandma’s old BMW for her 16th birthday). She felt her chemistry labs were unsafe and wanted to change her major from biology to chemistry. Her parents flipped–and it was the first time she had ever not wanted the same thing they wanted, so it was quite a shock to her. In the end, she double-majored in psychology and biology and went into psychiatry, so I guess it worked out!

        But I’ve since heard of parents who not only quit paying for college but disown their children and kick them out of the house if they don’t pick an acceptable major. Ugh.

      • Jay Says:

        I saw that in classmates who definitely came out of the upper middle class – the son of a doctor who was told his parents would only pay his tuition if he was pre-med, for example. He waited until the last check was deposited and tossed the applications. Some of my friends who were first-generation in college were “encouraged” to steer clear of the liberal arts and do something that had a directly evident line to employment, like engineering or pre-med, and there are strong cultural factors at play as well.

        People who go into medicine and don’t want to be there are miserable, and they are far more likely (in my experience) to burn out.

  10. Rosa Says:

    As a person with (undiagnosed until college) ADHD, who was officially labeled gifted, I feel like I got the worst combo – lots of praise for effortless things, lots of pushing to succeed, some attempts to offer us challenges, but no useful help to do it or get through difficulties. My grades were always a mix of As and Cs (Fs, at the college level) – the classic ADD report card, right down to “Rosa is so bright, if she worked harder she’d do so well!” I was working hard, I just had a hard time completing things and the organizational schemes for people who don’t have ADD didn’t work for me. Getting diagnosed, and having control of my own environment, made such a huge difference for me. But I also watched all the working-class gifted kids I went to school with crash and burn at some point because we were told we should be able to effortlessly accomplish anything at all.

    We do push, but with more emphasis on finishing what you start and less on doing the highest level possible at everything. It’s important to stick with things you’re not naturally good at, it’s important that in a multi-part project (like a Lego team competition) you do really great at the interesting, easy parts but also put the work in on the parts you’re not that into or that are harder for you.

    One of the things we’re really working hard on right now is the refining process, both the engineering process (that didn’t work, but don’t scrap it – how do we fix it?) and the scientific method, where negatives are useful information, not “failed experiments”.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      YES. Overcoming challenges and getting the tools to succeed is SO important. I’m always telling my students, “it doesn’t matter if you get it right the first time, it matters if you get it right when you [turn it in to your employer].”

      Most of the working class kids who were in my gifted program K-4 were no longer in it by 5th grade and even more were gone by 9th grade. :( The class element seems so overwhelmingly important– going to an ivy/near ivy/state flagship vs. going to a state regional vs. going to community college vs. dropping out of community college vs. finishing high school vs. dropping out of high school and getting pregnant vs. drugs and prison. It is just so much harder when you don’t have the safety net or the examples or the benefit of the doubt.

      • Rosa Says:

        my high school was nearly all working class, there weren’t enough middle class kids to push the rest of us out (us? I still don’t know. I was raised to think of myself as middle class, but then I got out into the wider world and met more middle class people…) but there also wasn’t the support people needed. The really successful people I know from high school are all extraordinarily bright and extraordinarily hard working, and still kind of precariously middle class after all that striving. The smartest person I know still gets the occasional “oh I thought you went to a real college” comment from colleagues, when they find out she went to State U.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’ve always lived in college towns– by high school almost all of the GT program was faculty brats.

        The smartest kids in DH’s hometown go to the state flagship (assuming they don’t get pregnant or drop out before then, like DH’s cousins). Since we’re in the midwest, the state flagship has a strong national reputation which is convenient. DH’s brother went and is able to support a SAHW and two kids, though they are often very stressed about money.

        But it’s still really hard, especially for people whose parents didn’t go to college. There’s definitely a belief that college is to get a career, as opposed to college is where you find out what you want to do (as a coming of age experience)– we’ve written about that cultural difference before. The “as a career” is both limiting (because kids don’t know what all is out there) but also realistic for people who have this one shot. The coming of age consumption value of college is more useful for people with that safety net. What’s a risk for one person is a calculated risk or not a risk at all for another.

      • Leah Says:

        My struggle with the whole it’s okay to be wrong, but make sure you fix it thing is in teaching my students how to recognize that something doesn’t look right. I am trying to train them to have a critical eye — to look at problems and go “hmmm, that result looks funny — what could have gone wrong?” But either I’m not teaching it well or it’s a really, really hard skill to develop. Any ideas?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I have been wondering that myself since I have MASTERS students who lack attention to detail. I’ve been experimenting with it with my RAs. I think it must be something trainable and it’s one of those things that NCLB has done away with, but I don’t know for sure. Let me know if you figure it out!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Oh, also in my stats class, I build that into the “how to” lists, like “how to do a normal” and I give more partial credit for wrong answers that won’t kill a person than wrong answers that could kill a person. I also have them do exercises where they pretend they’re looking over an intern’s work, so it starts, “WITHOUT REDOING THE WORK ITSELF” do these answers make sense?

        Similarly, for each new command in stata they learn how to check to see if it did what they wanted, so the last step of making a new variable for example, is to cross-tab the new variable with the old variable.

        Getting that training to spillover into other areas has been challenging.

  11. Jay Says:

    I have always said I wasn’t pushed. I don’t remember ever being forced to do work or pressured to take more challenging courses; I don’t remember my parents being involved in my schoolwork at all unless I asked for help. They were more concerned about being sure we had enough time to have fun.

    On the other hand, my father and grandfather both went to Ivy League schools and my mother attended two of the Seven Sisters (started at Vassar and transferred to Barnard when they were married after her freshman year). So it was clear what the expectation was – I knew what the Ivy League and the Seven Sisters were before I was 10. My parents expected us to do our best and they knew that our best meant As almost all the time. I never had straight As, I didn’t graduate first in my class in HS (my HS didn’t have that kind of class rank, anyway) and I went to my first choice school – the same Ivy my dad attended. My brother rebelled and went to a different Ivy. I went straight from college to med school (the family business). I also have a C on my college transcript, it’s also in organic chemistry, and it very nearly did me in. I called my parents at 2:00 AM and asked if they’d still love me if I didn’t go to med school. No one thought I would get into med school and the experience of applying and nearly not getting in rocked my sense of self. I’m still recovering (I’m 55. This was over 30 years ago).

    I know the mindset work is, to say the least, controversial. My own experience suggests that the fixed mindset does exist and really can be damaging – I definitely had a fixed mindset and I see that in my daughter. She’s not at all engaged by her academic classes. She is motivated to get decent grades. She doesn’t want us involved in her school work and we stay out of it. If we tried to push her, it would destroy our relationship. Not worth it. She is fully and deeply engaged in dance and will push herself to improve. I think she’ll learn the skills she needs at the barre more than in the classroom, and that’s OK with me.

  12. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    I definitely wasn’t pushed (in part because my father, widowed when I was 9, was too busy to do so during my most academically intense years; my mother, when she was alive, didn’t push, either, probably because her own father, a CPA, had given her a hard time about small errors, one of the few complaints she had about him as a parent), but tended to do pretty well anyway — at a not terribly selective but academically tough prep school where As were rare (i.e. no one got straight As, by design, because that would mean the school wasn’t helping students identify their areas of relative strength), and there was no ranking in class, and no academic awards. So I got into an Ivy League school (three of them, in fact) with a B+ or so average, and got into an Ivy grad program with the same average (but/and a prize-winning undergrad thesis; I took a year off in between undergrad and grad). Demographics definitely plays a part in the story: I belong to the very, very tail end of the baby boom, when college capacity in the U.S. exceeded supply, and when being female was probably a bit of an advantage in some circumstances.

    It was a good fit for me: I have perfectionist tendencies anyway, and respond to competition by drawing back, not surging forward, so not knowing where I fell in my high school class worked fine for me (I probably realized I was in the top 50%, simply because I found school relatively easy and enjoyable and not all of my classmates did, but I had no idea I was in the top 10% until somebody handed me one of those college forms, filled out). I can’t say that temperament has served me well as things have gotten more competitive (e.g. the current job market), at least if you measure success by going as far as you can go, but my coping strategy tends to be to pick the situation that fits my temperament, rather than try to retool my temperament to the situation (so, if I’d realized how competitive the job market would be, I might well not have gone to grad school, which wouldn’t have been a tragedy; the “Ph.D.s will be needed” claims of the late ’80s/early ’90s described precisely the sort of situation in which I’m comfortable). As it is, I’ve pretty deliberately chosen not to see how far “up” I can claw my way in the present academic environment, and my concerns have mostly to do with lack of job security (compared to what I envisioned — tenure), comparatively low salary, and lack of input in governance, not with having failed to reach a particular goal. I’d prefer to be better off financially, but, realistically, the best path to that goal would be to have chosen/choose a different career path altogether (something I could still do).

    I also know how I reacted as a child when pushed (in my case, into more social interaction than I, a pretty extreme introvert, could handle in a day): I pushed back, usually via a temper tantrum (which resulted in being sent to my room, which, although I didn’t realize it consciously at the time, gave me the solitude I was craving). I’m pretty sure that being pushed academically beyond my capabilities would have had similar results: not greater achievement, and perhaps even less, as trying was made more painful by higher expectations.

    So no, I’m not much for pushing. Trying to figure out one’s strengths, and build on those, while gently stretching in areas of more difficulty, strikes me as a much wiser course. That may, indeed, result in fewer choices later in life, but they’re more likely to be choices that are good fits for the individual person in question.

    • Contingent Cassandra Says:

      I should say that pushing *with* support is quite different from pushing *without* support (and/or by a parent who has some of the same struggles, and hasn’t really solved them hirself, and so isn’t in a position to be effectively supportive. My father and I went through a period where he was highly anxious and quite critical about the amount of time it was taking me to finish my dissertation, while going off each year for his 2-week vacation convinced he was going to finish the book — not his first — that he’d been working on for almost as long as I’d been working on the dissertation — a totally unrealistic goal, which actually taught me something, by negative example, about the value of realistic goal-setting. So I guess how one pushes, and in what areas, are also key issues, as is spending time identifying one’s own continuing academic/work habit/life struggles, and not dealing with them by projecting onto kids. Admittedly, I have a parent who’s given to projecting when under stress, so I may be especially sensitive to that possibility. It was probably a good thing that my father *didn’t* try to intervene in the work habits that kept me up late at night, as one of my high school teachers urged, since he would have done so from the vantage point of someone who was working too many hours himself; we often found ourselves both wanting to claim our house’s one bathroom in the wee hours, as I headed toward bed after a long night of work, and he got up early to begin his own day especially early. So if one’s going to push, there’s definitely a need to deal with the log in one’s own eye before taking on the splinter in a child’s, even if one fears it will, in time, grow into a matching log.)

      • chacha1 Says:

        In our household it was definitely pushing = high expectations rather than pushing = You Do This Or You Are a Bad Child and a Disappointment. We always had support. And we had role models: parents with college degrees who were working in the fields they had studied, who read books constantly at home, who taught us life skills, and who – however broke they were at times (and they were) – provided us with enough fun & culture that we had a chance to figure out what we would most like to do for fun. :-)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think our definition of not pushing would be to allow DC2 to play video games 24/7 (as zie is wont to do), and I guess not providing learning materials for DC1 and letting hir watch youtube toy commercials and sponge-bob square pants on the ipad all the time, since that seems to be hir preferred way to spend time if we don’t cut it off.

        What an odd world we live in where people are quick to say they don’t allow television but they don’t push their children either. When managing television *is* pushing to some degree.

        Perhaps guide is a better word. It is all about the framing.

      • omdg Says:

        LOL I thought my kid was the only one who watched toy commercials on You Tube. And yes, definitely trying to curtail that behavior!

        Not allowing TV overdosing is NOT Tiger-Momming. That’s just what you’re supposed to do if you’re not a totally crappy parent. To me, Tiger-Momming implies forcing your child to practice piano every day, and not even allowing her to get up to pee if she’s not done yet. Oh, and demanding perfection on grades. Not just having high expectations, but haranguing your kid if they get a 97 because, “What happened to those other three points?”

  13. omdg Says:

    When I was growing up, it was made clear to me very early that I was expected to go to a very good college. My parents never really pressured me vis a vis grades, per se, but I could always tell that my mother disapproved when I got anything less than an A. I doubt pressuring me Tiger Mom style would have been very effective. I was always very self motivated and got good results, and would have likely resented additional pressure or micromanagement (much as I resent it now). I probably would have rebelled. I don’t plan on Tiger-Momming my kid either.

    • Contingent Cassandra Says:

      I think that’s what I was trying to get at, at too much length, above: if you push a certain kind of child (self-motivated, somewhat self-aware in some ways, capable in many ways, and decidedly stubborn) in directions ze does not choose to go, there’s a real danger of hir diverting hir considerable energies to pushing back rather than to forging ahead in hir chosen direction. That’s unlikely to come out well. There may, of course, be consequences to follow hir own drummer, but at least they will be hir consequences.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      By your definition, we are definitely not Tiger-Momming our kids or pressuring them. In terms of micromanagement, some of that is needed for an 8 year old or we end up getting notes home from the teacher about disorganization and not turning in completed work.

  14. anandar Says:

    I’m one of those who is grateful that my parents didn’t push. I’m naturally competitive and perfectionist (for better or worse, I always had a strong intuitive sense of how to be a gold star student), and my low-key, unconditional-supportive parents were a good counterweight. They did have appropriate expectations (bringing home As was a mildly positive but unremarkable event– I saved my hardest work for extra curriculars, and they saved their expressions of admiration accordingly), they modeled academic achievement, and we were already upper/middle class (by small town midwestern standards), so I had plenty of support. I associate the term “pushing” with badgering or otherwise trying to get a kid who otherwise lacks motivation to do something. My goal with my own kids is to encourage development of intrinsic motivation so that there is no need to push, per my definition.

    I do wish, in retrospect, that I had had more models growing up of struggle, and of less-conventional varieties success. But I can hardly blame my parents for being all-stars!

  15. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Reading these comments, it sounds like our definition of “pushing” is other people’s definition of a supportive home environment and “pushing” means something very different. Possibly a bad choice in the title of the post. That’s what I get for using click-bait headlines.

    • oldmdgirl Says:

      There are clearly gradations of pushing, however, in my case I also would have resented gentle reminders to complete my homework. I literally don’t think I have even turned in one assignment late in my life, even when I was 8. I think it’s possible my parents asked about homework when I first started getting it in second grade or so, but after that, not a word. It just wasn’t necessary and, yeah, it would not have gone over well. Different parenting is clearly indicated for different kids, and if yours forgets to do homework, you can a) remind them, or b) let them not do it and suffer the consequences. Maybe they will learn, maybe they won’t.

    • kt Says:

      Yes, I think so. Some of my friends who I would say were *not* pushed, for instance, didn’t get to watch any TV or play video games at home and so turned into environmental activists, pot growers, anarchofeminists, or stage actors. But I think you’d say they were pushed, but I’d say back, pushed where? It’s just that their parents didn’t let them spend time with Barbie or Sponge-bob, not that they were actually asked or pressured into doing their homework or doing their homework well.

      Pushing implies a direction to me, like the friend who was only allowed to go to med school or law school — as above, no tuition payments unless it was pre-med. Or the friend who had her homework checked for correctness every night by her academic parents (I was jealous, actually, because it meant she had a better math homework grade than me). Or even the friend who was just gently guided toward excellent extracurriculars, good summer camps, work in a lab during college. There was a direction there.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        They’re pushed away from the tv!

        (Though I haven’t noticed any difference between people I know brought up with and without tv/ videogames.)

        We (try to) check homework when it has become a problem and don’t bother when it isn’t– just go over to learn from mistakes after grading, which takes a lot less time. We do put our kids in summer camps (tried not to this summer, but that was a huge failure as DC1 turns out to be a chatterbox) and keep an eye out for extra-curriculars (though we are also lazy about it).

  16. moom Says:

    My parents encouraged success by rewards (presents) for doing well i school. My Dad called it a “carrot” :) I can’t remember the exact grades that were good enough… I certainly didn’t get all A’s in either high school or undergrad or in my PhD coursework, though I did in my masters degree. Anyway, I got to be a full professor at the top university in my country. Grades are only important for going to the next level of education and even there the main thing is to have good grades in critical courses and no really bad ones. I’m suspicious of transcripts with too many A’s when looking for PhD students. Those kind of students are often good at passing exams but not creative or passionate about anything in particular.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That seems pretty unfair. Some people are multi-talented.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I made A’s in almost everything in college and grad school. Being in a liberal-arts field, I would have been embarrassed by anything less. I mean, what’s required? Reading, listening, paying attention, writing. English is my first (ok, only) language and I have no learning disabilities. A’s in college are not difficult to get if you have the kind of background I have – and 1000s of grad students do.

  17. jjiraffe Says:

    I think it’s easy to go overboard with pushing kids. Where I live we see daily evidence of upper middle class kids breaking down under pressure, or not achieving. The teen years in particular kids are vulnerable to too much stresses. From an ancedotal POV, I grew up I an upper middle class area that was a pressure cooker of tiger moms and dads and the ones who were pushed the most often flamed out. On a more serious note, this is very disturbing:

    That’s near where I live. I subscribe to the Nutureshock school of specific praise and goals. Keeps the focus on working hard, also boosts self esteem in a realistic manner.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I went to college with a lot of kids from Gunn. Also New Trier, which is a Chicago version. They were, for the most part (but not entirely), well educated but flaky boys. I imagine that’s because what was a top choice school for someone like me was a back-up school for them, but they seemed really happy with their lot since they were also flakes in high school. But schools like my college were fine with accepting Bs and the occasional C on transcripts from top high schools. People from lesser-known schools needed perfection.

      My sister went to a near-ivy (she got into actual ivies, but chose the near-ivy instead) and knew kids from fancy prep schools in NYC who felt like failures, again because they were going to this amazing top school instead of the ivy they didn’t get into.

      The type of “pushing” we’re talking about in our article is much more in line with Mindset (which Nurtureshock is basing its reporting from– I’d encourage you to read Dweck rather than the Bronson reporting of Dweck, since the original research is more limited and nuanced than the reporter version, similarly with all the sections in Nurtureshock).

      Most of the bay area parents we know are wayyy more into protesting homework and being hippy relaxed, but they also have chosen to live in suburbs that aren’t Palo Alto.

      When we were in grad school we saw a lot of undergrad kids flame out spectacularly, and in some cases dangerously, because they’d never been challenged before college. We’d rather our kids get used to challenges while they’re still at home and have us as a support network.

      • jjiraffe Says:

        Big fan of Mindset. That is what I use to encourage our kids. Those kids you’re talking about who flame out in college are super bright but never struggled until college. They have no resilience. Mindset teaches resilience, because it teaches kids that any difficulties they face are not a defect in themselves, but a problem to dig in with work and solve.

        I don’t think pushing kids to go to Ivies or specific schools is a good idea. In fact, I think it’s a spectacularly bad idea. Focus on small goals, learning to work hard.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        … which is what we talk about in our post …

      • jjiraffe Says:

        We might agree more than we disagree. I like what you say at the end of the post. But like other commenters, I try not to focus on grades too much. Yes, while focusing on As will lead to better schools (which might lead to better professional opportunities – depending on what you do) it can also lead to a lot of pressure to get good grades. Which can lead to massive stress on kids.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        … that’s also talked about in the post.

        Grades are still an indicator that the material isn’t being mastered, and learning is important. If/when my kids get to a point where they’re actually being challenged, then lower grades won’t be such a big deal depending on how much they need to get out of the course (but by that point they’ll know better than I will since I assume that will happen in college or grad school).

      • Contingent Cassandra Says:

        Interesting post here ( ) that starts w/ the silicon valley article, and draws in a number of other, possibly related issues. I see a bit of the fear of even small failures even in my own students, who come from a variety of backgrounds, many of them first-generation (American and/or college), and generally do not self-identify as “top” students (though I suspect most would identify as hard-working students, in most cases, as far as I can tell, accurately, and in most cases when they aren’t giving their best as students it’s because they’re spending time on other things, such as paid work).

        So yes, whatever you call it, challenge, and some experience of reaching further than one can currently grasp, and falling short, and trying again, strikes me as an important experience. My school had that built into its grading system (As rare, straight As for any one student almost unheard of), and I still think that’s a good system, precisely because it does leave room for challenge, reaching, failure/partial success, etc., but I realize that it would be politically difficult to implement in most public school systems these days (and in many private ones as well; I’m not at all sure it persists at my own alma mater), and could be absolutely disastrous for some students (i.e. those whose parents would absolutely insist on straight As no matter what they were told about how the system actually worked). So I guess that leaves the question of how one arranges for experiences of challenge, not-quite-getting-there, trying again, etc. in the framework of also expecting (perhaps quite reasonably so) straight As. That strikes me as complicated (and probably at least partially explains why, as a professor, I reserve As for clearly better-than-the-norm work, while also yielding to the reality that B is the new C — i.e., satisfactory).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That is the question we’ve been facing every since DC1 was three. Though note that it isn’t just academics where the fail/try again/again/again/again/again/again/eventually succeed can happen (note that fail/once again/succeed that you see in a lot of literature is not actually that helpful for true challenges). Things like whistling, cartwheels, blowing gum bubbles, riding a bike, etc. are all good life experiences. But not necessarily enough.

        In my math classes it’s pretty easy to have a B mean you’ve mastered 80-89.4% of the material, A means you’ve got more than that. I like being able to have those hard lines that allow me to give all As or all Cs and lower if necessary.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        p.s. Like most of curmudgucation’s articles, I think this one is a bit overblown. I am fairly sure that by far the bulk of kids are not being pushed in any direction unless someone can show research to the contrary. The race to nowhere really is a big city coastal thing that gets excess coverage compared to its prevalence because of where big city newspapers are.

        Rising economic inequality and diminishing social safety nets really are a problem, however. The US does have less economic mobility than is generally thought. How much people think about that in different classes, I am not sure. I see anecdotal evidence in many directions and am not sure how representative it is.

        Also: I do think that the self-esteem movement in K-12 wasn’t a great thing for promoting growth mindsets, but that’s no longer in vogue. So who knows.

  18. eemusings Says:

    I had tiger parents. Not Amy Chua levels, but very definitely Chinese style. I also got held to higher standards than my brother (I remember being told that I had more brains/potential and therefore more was expected of me). I was a driven kid but I wasn’t a perfectionist. I was good at what I was good at, I always tried hard, but I was fine with being very average in say maths, which was not my strong suit.

    It wasn’t damaging in terms of pressure or stress as some might think but their strictness in other areas of life was very detrimental to our relationship.

    I do wish they had pushed me more in non academic pursuits, possibly.

    I’ve seen the ramifications of both pushing too hard and pushing not enough and have no idea where the balance is anymore.

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