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Is it time to tame the tiger mum?


Tough love: mother maybe doesn't know best all the time

Tough love: mother maybe doesn't know best all the time

Devoted mum: Leesa Harker with daughters Lola and Lexi

Devoted mum: Leesa Harker with daughters Lola and Lexi

Not competitive: Kerry with son Dan and husband Ralph and daughter Tara

Not competitive: Kerry with son Dan and husband Ralph and daughter Tara

Happy family: Brenda Shankey with husband Jason and children Will and Lauren

Happy family: Brenda Shankey with husband Jason and children Will and Lauren

Head start: Grainne Maher's children Cuan, Seadhna and Sorcha go to an Irish language school

Head start: Grainne Maher's children Cuan, Seadhna and Sorcha go to an Irish language school

Tough love: mother maybe doesn't know best all the time

It's natural for a parent to want their child to excel and to eventually go on to lead a successful life. But it seems that some pushy parents who adopt the tough love, no fun approach to parenting can do more harm than good to a child, causing unnecessary pressure and anxiety at too young an age.

When Amy Chua wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, entitled 'Why Chinese Mothers are Superior', her extremely strict form of parenting sparked outrage among readers. In the piece, based on her 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua pointed out that it wasn't a coincidence that so many Chinese parents raised maths whizz-kids and music prodigies. She explained how she never let her two young daughters attend sleepovers at friends' homes, take part in a school play, watch television or play computer games or achieve any grade less than an A.

However journalist and parenting writer Tanith Carey, who wrote her new book 'Taming the Tiger Parent' after realising the effect the education hothouse was having on her elder daughter Lily, then seven, said it was all too common to 'demonize' pushy parents, most of whom were acting out of  'love and concern'. 

"So many mums and dads are simply worried that if they don't get heavily involved by helping with homework or paying for tutoring, kids just won't cope in this sink-or-swim atmosphere," she said.

"After all, it's not just parents. It's also the schools who want to get higher up league tables and the education ministers above them telling children they must work harder so the UK doesn't lose out to the Far East."

Ms Carey said the problem arose when the pushiness backfired and damaged family life.

"Heartbreakingly, it can create a distance between you and the very kids you are trying to help," she said. "That's because children today often feel that whatever they do, it will never be enough - and they will still disappoint you. At the other end of the spectrum, they may only feel loved for their achievements.

"There's also the fact that stressed kids also don't learn well. Children who are tested too soon and too much can develop issues like Maths anxiety and reading avoidance, which can have a long term impact on their learning.

"Of course, it helps to be interested in our kids' education. But beyond that, the question is how do we draw the line between helping kids to reach their potential and pressurising them."

* 'Taming the Tiger Parent: How to Put Your Child's Well-being First in a Competitive World' by Tanith Carey  is published by Robinson/Little Brown, priced £8.99.

So does mum always know best?

We talk to four local mothers about their own style of parenting, and what they make of the tiger mum phenomenon.

'Too much pressure could be damaging'

Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue author Leesa Harker (36) lives in Belfast with her daughters Lola (6) and Lexi (4). She says:

As a child, I was never pushed by my parents, but maybe I should have been. I went down another route; I left school and started working at 16. If I'd been pushed more, I might have gone to university instead and got a degree.

But, as it was, I got promoted when I was working and was a bank manager at 21. So I did okay, I think.

Some children are academic and some aren't. I'm certainly not a Tiger mum, but my six-year-old, Lola, is so intelligent for her age and I do push her a bit.

I'm always testing her; if we're in a shop and we pay for something that is 20p with a 50p piece, I'll ask her how much change we get back. But she enjoys that. In school, she prefers doing sums over playtime.

It's bizarre, because I always chose work time over playtime when I was at school.

If you have a child who is advanced, I think they will thank you later in life for pushing them that bit further.

Why not if they are capable of doing it? When I was eight, I could play any tune on the keyboard. I wish now I'd been pushed to do that a bit more.

On the other hand, putting pressure on a child who maybe isn't that academic will only have a damaging effect on them. But every parent should be aware of their own children's capabilities.

I don't give the girls computer games, or stick them in front of the television for hours, but of course they have fun times too.

I would never do anything to take away their childhood. A child is a child, after all."

'I'm probably too lazy to be a pushy mum!'

Radio Ulster presenter Kerry McLean (39), is from Ballymoney, and is married to fellow presenter Ralph McLean. They have two children, Tara (8) and Dan (6). She says:

I know all about Tiger mums because I always tease my big sister Seanagh about being one. She has one son, Sean (10), who gets up every morning at 6am for violin practice. He does swimming lessons too and she makes sure that he gives it 110%. Everything he does has to be at that level.

But you know what? It pays off. Sean is a phenomenal violin player. He's taken part in the Young Musician of the Year and the Big Fleadh competitions and he absolutely loves playing the violin. When we're at his house, he always runs off to get it to play for us too.

Sometimes when I look at my nephew I wonder if I should be more of a Tiger mum. He is such a confident and talented young boy and then I wonder if my two will be a step behind. I used to think Tiger parenting was quite dodgy, that it could lead to children being very unhappy, but then I look at Sean and see how well he's doing. It does make me think 'Have I missed the boat? Should I be a bit more pushy?' But the truth is, I'm too lazy. If the kids told me they didn't want to practise the violin or go swimming, I'd probably say 'Oh, that's okay, then'. I'm not a competitive person. I never was when it came to things like jobs or sport. It's just not in my nature.

Funnily enough, my son is quite competitive and maybe he would like it more if I was pushier. But I think he'd go into overdrive then. My daughter, on the other hand, is self-driven but quite anxious. She puts enough pressure on herself and my goal is to take as much pressure off her as I can. Pushing her certainly wouldn't be a good thing.

Growing up, my sister and I were actually not that different. But I think the fact that she has only one child means she can devote so much time and attention to him. I have two kids, I work in Belfast and spend two hours a day in my car. I just don't have the time to come home and start telling them to spend an extra hour on their studies.

It only feels like a moment ago that my two were babies and I want them to look back on their childhoods in the same way I looked back on mine; I want them to enjoy playing in a tent in the front garden or chalking on the pavement. Life is such a short flicker, so I don't want them to spend hours of their young lives studying.

If you were to take a bit of me and a bit of my sister, maybe you'd come up with the perfect parent. But is there such a thing as the perfect parent? We're all just trying our best."

'I want them to make the most of childhood'

Brenda Shankey (43) lives in Belfast with her husband Jason (43) and is manager of Jason Shankey Hairdressing. The couple have two children, Lauren (13) and Will (12). She says:

I have absolutely none of the characteristics of a Tiger mum; I'm too much of a free spirit and I want my children to be happy and free.

When it comes to things like manners and kindness, I'd be a lot more strict, though. And I'm strict about things like being on time for school, but I wouldn't put pressure on them to do extra study.

If a child is not academic, no amount of pressure is going to change that. My parents never put any pressure on me. I'm not academic, I went to a secondary school and chose a vocational career. But I'm happy.

Jason would be the strict one in our house and we do have the odd conflict about that. But it's not education which he has high expectations about. He is strict when it comes to things like household chores and getting them up in the morning.

I wouldn't stop the children from having sleepovers, or having fun. Children grow up quickly enough these days and I want mine to make the most of their childhood.

The only time I felt under peer pressure was when Lauren was preparing to do her AQE. Every kid in her class had a tutor and she wanted one, too.

I actually felt like a bad mum, like I was letting my daughter down, so I eventually gave in and got her a tutor.

I'd like to see them do well at the GCSE stage, but I won't put any pressure on them when it comes to their A-Levels.

You don't need a university degree to get on. And, anyway, the kids might just share our entrepreneurial spirit."

'It's good to stretch them, but in a laidback way'

Grainne Maher (40), milliner and owner of Pluck & Devour, is married to musician Ciaran. They have three children, Sorcha (9), Cuan (7) and Seadhna (6). She says:

We sent our three children to an Irish language school, Scoil An Droichead in Belfast, because we wanted to raise them bilingually. My husband is passionate about languages and we wanted to give them a head start when it came to picking languages up. I work from home, so for a few years we've also had French and Spanish au pairs; it's important to me that they know there is more than English and Irish.

Being bilingual is just normal to the children, they've never known anything else. Ciaran is very much fluent in Irish but I help with homeworks and do as much as I can. It's interesting to see how they are evolving; my eldest, at nine years of age, is actually more fluent than me.

But would I say I'm a pushy mum? Not at all. I think our approach to parenting is fairly laid back. Maybe that's because we are both artists and musicians and come from performing backgrounds. Sorcha and Cuan take piano lessons and go to the Belfast School of Performing Arts every Saturday. The kids go to after school clubs too, but that's because they want to. This week alone there were three new after school clubs and they were fretting that I wouldn't get the letter in on time for them to join. I do believe in trying to stretch them and challenge them a bit, but in a more laidback style than the Tiger mum approach.

To be honest, I think that there is too much expected of children now, they get too much homework from too young an age. My mum is an early years expert and she believes the Scandinavian model is more desirable, where children don't start school until they are seven. The education system is too strict here and there should be more incentives for parents to stay at home, but the economy wouldn't support that.

I've never felt under any pressure to compete with other parents or to have my kids compete with other children. They all tick the boxes when it comes to their schoolwork and I don't feel that I have any reason to worry. I understand that there are parents who want their children to be over-achievers and it's not for me to say that being a Tiger mum is detrimental. I'm not an expert.

I suppose, though, it depends on the child; there are those who need to be stretched and challenged and who have the capacity for that.

Maybe because my kids come from a performing background, they are already confident, but just because you are confident doesn't make you a better person. People who have no confidence can be amazing and clever too."

Those tiger mums behind the stars

Kris Jenner

The mother of the Kardashians is renowned for pushing her girls to the forefront. It was she who convinced Kim to strip off for Playboy magazine and as 'momager' to her daughters, she gets a 10% cut of their incomes.

Dina Lohan

Lindsay Lohan's mum was behind her wild-child daughter's career from an early age, pushing her into the showbiz spotlight. She signed the actress up to a talent agency when she was just three and negotiated to secure her the lead in Parent Trap, aged 11.

Collette Momsen

Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen never seems very comfortable with her celebrity status so it's not surprising that she wasn't the driving force behind it. In an interview she said: "My parents signed me up with Ford (Modelling) at the age of two. No two-year-old wants to be working, but I had no choice. I didn't have friends. I was working constantly and I didn't have a real life."

Amanda Holden

The Britain's Got Talent judge has said that she thinks her two young daughters, Lexi (8) and two-year-old Hollie, are already showing serious talent. And she wants them to follow her into the fame game. She told a national newspaper: "I won't be pushing them into showbiz but I will be doing it secretly behind the scenes."

Belfast Telegraph