Portrait of the Hong Kong Mum: Scary or Not? You be the Judge.
“Scary Mom: Rigid and relentlessly demanding of their children and their performance.” Catherine Steiner-Adair
Are you destined to become a Tiger Mum if you were raised by a Tiger Mom? Is it genetic or a learned behavior? I received The Roar of the Tiger Cubs by 1o-year-old twins Estèphe and Perrine Corlin with Tiger Mum Rosalind Corbin by way of a mutual friend Nat and the cycle of the Tiger Mum is what struck me.
I find the whole Tiger Mom thing a little disturbing so when this book arrived, I found that it’s not too dissimilar from watching reality TV. Here is a portrait, carefully edited, of a Tiger Mum and her cubs. In the case of Tiger Mum, I get the impression that this book is to show the world how normal and well adjusted their family is, but what they don’t say is equally revealing.
To get back to my question, how influenced is this particular Tiger Mum by her own mother? Is she consciously or subconsciously seeking her mother’s approval? Let’s take a look.
My first observation is that Tiger Mum’s mother (the maternal grandmother) gets two chapters in this book. Her husband, on the other hand, gets just one and it’s about the twins’ birth. It seems he has no say literally and figuratively in the book and perhaps in real life for their day-to-day life. Telling?
So, here is Tiger Mum’s Mum doing that bragging-about-their-kids thing that Tiger Grandmothers tend to do:
“I hear my daughter waking up Estèphe and Perrine. It is five in the morning. Thirty years ago she was also waking up at the same time for swim training. She was swimming for Malaysia at the early age of ten, the youngest in the Malaysian team. At thirteen, she swam in the Junior Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Today she is called the Tiger Mum of Hong Kong. Everyone is talking about her, comparing her to Amy Chua. Websites all over the world published my grandchildren’s photos in front of the Louvre Museum in Paris.”
“I am in Tokyo, staying with my youngest son. He brings me a bunch of articles … I find they scored As in the Math exam! I am excited, I rush to the phone.”
Did you catch that? It’s as if Tiger Mum, her daughter, did not exist or accomplish anything noteworthy from the time she was thirteen until her daughter was able to ink some press regarding her twin’s math accomplishments. And, Tiger GrandMum gets her news about her own grandchildren’s accomplishments via the paper. It’s also strange to me that Tiger Mum would tell the press before her own mother when her children passed the A level math exam.
Is Tiger Mum obsessed with PR? I quote from her book:
“In the interests of readers, we aimed to get the book out as quickly as possible. We were confronted by a tight time constraint. We found time in between the children’s daily routines, lessons and trainings for the writing and illustrations. We stole precious minutes whenever we could during the day and before their bedtime at nine o’clock during schooldays to work on the book. I myself found time during the early five thirty morning swim trainings when I am waiting for the children…”
Are the 15 minutes of fame driving the rush to publish? “Estèphe and Perrine, twins, aged ten, scored As in the Cambridge University International General Certificate Secondary Exam (IGCSE) and received worldwide recognition. They created news and controversy over the subject of parenting…”
Are you, Tiger Mum, trying to cash in on the PR? “This is why we have decided to donate a portion of the sales proceeds from this book to a charity…” I was struck by the unspecified amount that is to be donated.
Enough about Tiger Mum and what appears to be her conflicted relationship with her own Tiger Mom. My next question was to get a sense of how are the kids doing. The twins, while both achieving at high levels in math, chess, swimming, judo and foreign languages, have very different perceptions of themselves:
Estèphe, the son, writes this:
“Mum always says she is glad she has Perrine because she is always perfect…This does not mean that mum regrets having me, she tells me often enough that she adores me and I know it for a fact. But there are times when I just do not feel like working… I wonder if other boys have their good and bad days. I doubt that girls feel the same way, Perrine always looks so perfect…. There is too much at stake to give up at ten years old.”
What is your reaction to this ten-year-old boy’s words?
My preschool director mom friend says that school psychologists can use self portraits of children to analyze how they feel inside. For preschoolers who can’t verbalize their feelings, this is particularly telling. So, let’s take a look at the illustrations that Estèphe and Perrine have drawn. Two really stood out:
The Law of Moments is written by Tiger Mum explaining how she balances her children’s lives:
“I quit my career in finance when the children were close to three years old…Some days I must admit that I am tempted not to take them swimming, especially at five thirty on a cold winter morning. As I turn the alarm clock off and force myself to get up I tell myself if my children can do it, I can too.”
But Estèphe writes, “Dring!!! Dring!!!! Drinnnnng! The exasperating alarm clock rings deafeningly. I felt like picking it up and throwing it out of the window…The door opens as if to confirm the time and dreading hour .. swim training! …I am tired despite going to bed at eight thirty in the evening.”
Perrine, the daughter, adds: “My mum sacrifices a lot of her time with my brother and I. Literally, my mum has never missed a single Math paper I have done.”
What do you think of this drawing depicting the balance in their life? What do you think your children would draw if you asked them to draw a picture of them working and playing?
Here is a family portrait:
I’m not an expert in interpreting children’s artwork for their psychological state of mind, but these do not look like happy kids.
There are happy photos of the twins on the cover of the book, but when I looked closely I realized that they were taken during when they were toddlers and are multiple shots taken during one moment in time. There are eight more photos in the back but only one is of the entire family and in that shot, Perrine looking sullen. It is a little strange that the photos on the cover are not recent shots, isn’t it?
Finally, the signature of the twins is very revealing if you apply handwriting analysis. Their signatures show how the children view their “public” image. This analysis is from Handwriting and Personality: How Graphology Reveals What Makes People Tick by Ann Mahoney.
“The signature, stylized and practiced, reflects the public you — the persona you wear for the outside world and the public personality you slip into as easily as you glide into your signature.”
Notice how Estèphe’s signature is smaller than Perrine’s and he omits his last name? His also crosses out his name. Here’s another observation. There are smiley faces next to their signatures, but only one illustration in the entire book depicts a child with a smile. I would interpret this to mean “Smiley Face” is what you project to outside world, “illustration face” is how you feel inside.
The graphology book says this about smaller and crossed out signatures:
“When the signature is smaller than the rest of the writing, the writer may be too modest, underestimated himself or his abilities. Not one to actively seek the limelight, his talents and accomplishments often go unrecognized, even by him!”
“…you’ll find that a crossing out of one name or another, indicating that the person is not happy with the image as it stands and would like to make a change.”
The “P” in Perrine’s name is taller than the rest of her name. Estèphe’s “E” is also taller, but the letter “E” is distorted. The book doesn’t have analysis for this but I suspect it would read something like this: The large “P” relative to the rest of Perrine’s name reflects how she sees herself relative to the rest of her family. The oversize “P” shows that she is confident and secure that her place in the family is slightly more prominent than everyone else. Her brother, on the other hand, has to distort his personality to get a share of the attention. This is not this authentic self but he must to do this to get his share of attention, which he feels is already marginalized.
Professional graphologists, will you step in? What do you think?
“When the first name is emphasized, the writer has an inner feeling that he can survive and make it, even in the worst of times.”
“Tall Upper Zone: The taller the loops, the higher the person will reach to obtain knowledge.”
“Incomplete Lower Zone: If the lower loop remains unfinished, the writer has failed to integrate past learning experiences into present-day reality. In other words, he hasn’t learned from past mistakes and is likely to repeat them.”
To be honest, I am not totally sure what the purpose of this book is. Rosalind says it’s due to public demand. While she wants to be known as the Tiger Mum of Hong Kong, she seems to think her children are more balanced than Tiger Mom Amy Chua’s girls because they participate in competitive sports. The Twins are only 10-years-old so rebellion (or worse) is just around the corner. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out in the end.
p.s. My Mom Friend Nathalie who is quoted in the book and knows them well would protest that the kids seem very happy and well adjusted. While this parenting method isn’t for everyone, it does seem to be working for the twins.
p.p.s. The twins seem to be chronically sleep deprived. Their bedtime is 8:30 and they wake up time at 5:30 to swim. That’s only 9 hours of sleep of night for a 10-year-old. The American Academy of Pediatricians sleep recommendations are:
Between Ages 3-10, children need 10-12 hours
Between Ages 11-12, children need about 10 hours
Teenagers need about 9 hours of sleep per night
p.p.p.s. Related Link: Gifted Children Just as Likely to Fail
p.p.p.p.s. Another Related Link: The Importance of Play by Dr. Michele Borba