Sunday 19 April 2015


Learnings from a Tiger Mom

Since I came back from Singapore, I am troubled with an issue, and I haven't quite know how to deal with it.

JN is failing his Maths terribly. I had a talk with him, I went through with him the steps of how he could logically find out the possible reasons why he is failing his Maths so badly. I said that if you could not do even simple Maths, how are you going to survive in your adult life, because Maths is so much a part of our everyday life? My talk with him did not seem to have any effect. On the contrary, it seemed to have the opposite effect. This has been troubling me and making me sad.

This evening, we had an old friend who is in town from Switzerland over for dinner. He had a PhD from Harvard Business School, and is currently a professor at IMD in Switzerland for innovation. In his daily work, he runs programmes for CEOs and Executives on innovation and strategy. He is of Asian origin. Mr. FECS confided in me that his friend was raised by a Tiger Mom from Hong Kong. Since Mr. FECS has always accused me of being a Tiger Mom, he wanted me to hear first hand from his friend, how horrible it was to be raised by a Tiger Mom, hoping that I will learn from others mistakes and repent.

On my part, I am always very interested in learning from other mom's experience in raising up kids and solving the challenges of parenting. So over dinner, we asked our friend, "So how was it like to be raised by a Tiger Mom?"

Ever so open, he shared his experiences. To our surprise, he said that he had always been at the bottom of his class since primary school days and in secondary school - number 38 out of 40. And he never does well for Maths, even until today. His brain is just not wired for Maths.

He shared how his Tiger Mom stuffed his schedule with activities, even during school holidays. He actually appreciated it. It gave him the chance to try out many different exciting things, i.e. playing the keyboard, swimming, cooking classes, summer camp, wood work, mechanic work, language camps, speech and drama, etc. Although he never did well in Maths, nor in school, his mother enabled him to find success in these other non-academic activities. He could play the keyboard, and he was good in swimming. These non-academic successes gave him his self-worth and helped to compensate for his academic "non-performance."

Although his mother was a "Tiger Mom" in the sense of scheduling activities, she did not give him pressure to perform in school. She just let him try out different activities, and to find out things that he like and could do well.

I commented that his parents must be very well-to-do to be able to send him for these extra activities. He said that was not the case. His father was a factory worker. He said that his parents used all the money they had on all these activities for their two children. They had no savings at all as a result. To this day, he was amazed and very grateful at how much his parents were willing to sacrifice for them. I was very touched to hear his story.

I thanked him for sharing his story, and told him that he had unknowingly answered my questions about my nephew JN. I should not try to ask JN to do better in Maths. JN has probably tried his best, and was discouraged by my "encouragement." I had aim to find out JN's strengths and what he likes, but along the way, I have lost sight of it, and have focused instead on exactly the things that he isn't doing so well. He should be given as much opportunities as possible to try out different activities instead.

We are all gifted in different ways. It is alright to do poorly in Maths. In fact to this day, our IMD professor friend is still very bad in Maths. It is alright not to do well in school. We just have to find something that we are good at and have interest in, and life would be enjoyable. I have to remember that.

Thank you God for an answered prayer, and for sending an angel through our friend to tell me, what it was that was puzzling me and troubling me. I know now what are the next steps I can take to truly encourage JN.

To summarize:

1. I need to continue to try to find out the strengths of JN.
2. I do so by trial and error and elimination.
3. I do so by letting him try out different activities and eliminating each activity, until we find out his strengths.

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