Structured, But Not a Tiger Mom

Every kid is amazing. That is, every child but mine. At least, that is what I used to think.


For years, my inner critic blamed me for the Noyes’ boys and girls lack of amazingness. It nagged, “You don’t push enough. You push too hard. You’re not smart enough, hard working enough, kind enough. Blah, blah, blah.”

It didn’t help that my kids berated me for making them do onerous tasks like dinner dishes, piano practice and church attendance. (I eventually caved and excused those practicing instruments from dish duty—justifying that the music they made for the rest of us to work by lightened everyone’s load.)

After years of contemplation, meditation, therapy and prayer, I quieted that critical voice to realize that my kids were amazing. I just needed to relax and enjoy them, while enforcing some common sense parameters:

  • Lead with love and nurture my child’s natural interests
  • Model hard work, gratitude and helping others, and expect it from my child, too
  • Reward effort more than achievement
  • Keep family time sacred
  • Consistently enforce curfew and other rules
  • Prohibit TV during the school week (except for family bonding shows like “Glee,” when homework is already done)
  • Scouting, music lessons, religious education and thank you notes are mandatory

I felt terrific about my fabulous family until the alleged success of Yale Law Professor Amy Chua’s extreme parenting, described in her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” (Penguin Press), raised new doubts about my weak parenting ways.

My inner critic started screaming, “All your kids won’t go to Harvard and it’s your fault! Merely encouraging them to work hard, pursue their passions and make meaningful contributions to the world is the lazy mother position.”

I needed help. Fast. So I talked to Cheryl Rampage, Ph.D., senior vice president for Programs and Academic Affairs at The Family Institute at Northwestern.

“Think about the Tiger Mom as an extreme on the parenting continuum,” Rampage says. “The other extreme is someone hyper-focused on a child’s happiness, as in, ‘I don’t care what they do, I just want my child to be happy.’ ” Rampage is not a fan of either extreme, but she doesn’t say that either is wrong.

Rampage is sure about the importance of family philanthropy: “When parents teach affluent kids to be grateful, they develop a natural tendency to give back. Also, a correlation exists between a strong faith tradition and using affluence for a better purpose.”

I leave Rampage’s office reassured that my “Structured But Not A Tiger Mom Guidelines” haven’t ruined my kids for life. Better yet, with that critical voice silenced again, I see that my children are amazing. They are my greatest gifts, and I’m hopeful that they will give great gifts to the world.