These days you can find many books about the parenting strengths of one culture over another. No matter where you are from, many experts would have you believe that someone is always parenting better than you are. But educator and mom Maya Thiagarajan invites us to do away with these either/or, better/worse paradigms so we can learn from each other. It’s time, she says, to learn from each other’s strengths to move beyond the Tiger Mom and draw from the best of East and West to raise children ready for the global age.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Beyond the Tiger Mom for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, Multicultural Kid Blogs receives a small commission.
I had the pleasure recently of interviewing Ms. Thiagarajan via email about her new book Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age. We chatted about the inspiration behind the book and how she is putting its lessons to work in her own parenting.
Beyond the Tiger Mom: Interview with Maya Thiagarajan
1. You seem uniquely positioned to write this book, having been raised in India but begun your teaching career and parenting in the US. Can you talk a bit more about how your background inspired you to write this book?
Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you want to read, and no one has written it, then you must write it.” Since I really wanted to read a book that reflects the real life dilemmas and decisions of parents like myself – parents who have been exposed to East and West, parents who draw on multiple cultures when making decisions for their children – I began the long project of writing Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age.
I think my own multicultural background also made me more open to a range of perspectives on parenting and education. I’ve always straddled different worlds, and the parenting advice that I got in India, for example, was always very different from the advice I got in the US. So my background sparked my interest in different ways of raising and educating children.
2. How has researching and writing the book influenced your own parenting/teaching style?
One interesting thing that all the Chinese moms I interviewed stressed was the importance of greetings; Chinese kids are expected to stop whatever they are doing at home to greet elders (parents, grandparents, visitors). The moms believe very strongly that these greetings teach kids to value and respect their elders, and that these greetings are very important for family unity and harmony. I think living in Singapore and interviewing parents here has made me think much more deeply about ways to create family unity and harmony.
Academically too, I think I’ve been very influenced by Singaporean culture. As I say in the first chapter of my book, the parents I interviewed influenced how I think about math education and the importance of early math skills.
Additionally, as a parent and an educator, I also think a lot more about how to extend my kids’ (and students’) attention spans. In the US, teachers are routinely taught to accommodate short attention spans by entertaining kids, making everything “fun,” and moving quickly from one task to the next. Here in Singapore, educators and parents don’t accommodate short attention spans; instead they deliberately train kids to extend their attention spans and concentrate more fully on a complex task for a sustained period of time.
3. As an American mom, I was fascinated by the cultural differences you unearthed but also really appreciated the strengths that you discovered in each culture. Why did you feel it was important to emphasize what each culture can contribute rather than just the differences?
Having lived and taught in both the East and West, I know first hand that both cultures have tremendous strengths. It was very important to me that my book didn’t set one culture up against another – all cultures have deep strengths, rich traditions, and lots to offer. I wanted to write a book about how to blend the best of different cultural approaches to educating and raising kids.
I think that parents on both sides of the globe have a lot to be proud of, but also a lot to learn from each other.
While I have learnt a lot from Asia, I’ve also learnt a tremendous amount from the US, and I have a lot of respect for many aspects of American parenting and education. I hope that comes through in the book.
4. I also really appreciated how practical your book is. Instead of just talking about the importance of creating a “math rich” home, for example, you give readers an extensive list about how to do so. Do you have a favorite practical tip you’d like to share?
Even though there is a lot of research on the high correlation between visual-spatial skills and success in STEM fields, most schools overlook visual-spatial skills. However, these skills can be taught and cultivated just like any other skill. I offer parents a list of excellent activities to help develop visual-spatial skills at the end of my chapter on Math.
As an English teacher myself, I’m very passionate about reading. At the end of my chapter on reading, I discuss some wonderful ways to create a culture of reading at home. One thing that works well in my family is that we discuss what we’re reading over a family meal on the weekends. We’ll go around the table, and each of us will share what we’ve been reading. These are very informal conversations, but they send a strong message to my kids about the value of reading.
5. Much of your book is about finding balance between seemingly opposing values: freedom and structure, math and reading, challenging yet respectful of elders, etc. What advice do you have about achieving this balance?
It’s not always easy to achieve this balance, and it’s something that I still struggle with. However, there are a few things that have really helped me.
The first is knowing myself and reminding myself of the importance of balance. If a mother knows herself well, she’ll figure out what her natural anxieties and tendencies are, and then she can self correct when necessary. Here’s an example: as a teacher myself, my natural tendency is to engage my kids in lots of learning and academic work at home in fairly structured ways; however, since I know this about myself, I make a conscious effort to back off a bit and give them free time to play (preferably outdoors) every evening.
The second is having a strong sense of what I value as a parent. Educators are often required to write their own personal education philosophy and mission statement. I think that parents too need to create a personal parenting philosophy to help them know what they value and what they really want for their kids. If we have a guiding vision of what we want to give our kids, we won’t feel as anxious and we won’t be pulled in as many different directions by peer pressure and the media. Then it’s easier to do what feels right and strike the right balance.
6. As someone with an interest in Latin America, I was curious how the rest of the world fits into the East vs West paradigm you used in your book. Is the East/West paradigm still the dominant one in the world today, and if so, why do you think that is?
From a personal perspective, my own life has been largely influenced by Eastern (South Asian/East Asian) and Western (American) ideas, so my book naturally focuses on these parts of the world. Perhaps, politically and economically, the East-West paradigm is dominant because these parts of the world are wealthy and powerful, and they (particularly the US and China) seem to be engaged in some sort of competition for global power and influence.
However, there is absolutely no doubt that other parts of the world — Latin America and Africa, for example — have tremendous amounts to offer when it comes to raising and educating children. I would love to read a book about Latin American approaches to parenting and education.
We need a lot more books and stories that reflect the diversity of family experiences and value systems in the world. Just as we need more diverse children’s literature, we also need more diverse parenting and education literature. All parents need to see themselves, their contexts, and their dilemmas reflected in the literature.
7. How has the book been received in the East and the West? Were you surprised at any of the reactions?
So far, the book has been received really well in both Singapore and the US. Singaporeans enjoy seeing themselves reflected in the book, and they can relate to it.
Americans seem particularly interested in my chapter on math. That seems to be a part of the book that has struck a chord with them. Also, many Indian-Americans have written to me about how the book resonates strongly with them.
I have been delighted with the wonderful reviews I’ve gotten so far!
8. Do you have another project in the works??
Well, I have an idea for a second book, but I have just begun the researching phase, so it will be a while before it’s out. I’ll keep you posted!
Thank you so much to Maya Thiagarajan for taking the time to answer our questions! For more, be sure to look at her website, as well as these reviews of her book from Castle View Academy and Crafty Moms Share. You can also read our review of other multicultural parenting books. Be sure to share your own experiences in the comments!