The five years since Amy Chua published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother have largely put a nail in the coffin of the tiger-mother stereotype. Studies have shown that the relentless perfection-seeking Chua promoted can drive kids to depression and alienation—definitely not the success that she promised in her manifesto. Today, the vision of Asian mom as hard-driving task master has been replaced with a fresher, more nuanced view—like the playful Jessica Huang, who plays the mom in “Fresh Off the Boat.”
I’ve been encouraged by this trend toward a nuanced view of Asian American parenting because I recognize my own parents in it. They may have relied on some classic “tiger” techniques—but they also let me run a little bit wild. In contemplating my own past, I’ve begun to think of their type of parenting as—don’t laugh—“liger” parenting. They navigated a new order, so to speak, offsetting a demand for high-quality work with permission to prowl, and I chalk that up to my state today: feeling strong, confident, happy, and satisfied that “success” is not an end point.
The hybrid approach works especially well if you’re hoping to raise a kid with an entrepreneurial spirit. By this, I don’t mean that parents have to raise up literal entrepreneurs, but rather strong, confident, happy people who do what they care about in a meaningful way. Entrepreneurs need to answer to high standards, and even shatter those standards, if they hope to compete in a crowded marketplace, but they also need the freedom and flexibility to think creatively while doing business on their own terms. On top of that, they must learn to tap into sources of passion and courage—without these traits as drivers of innovation and resilience, anyone and any mission can crash and burn. Here are four lessons I learned from my liger parents.
- Demand quality, but also adaptability
When it comes to business advice, author Alan Deustchman may have put it best: “Change or die.” An entrepreneur might have the best idea or product the world has ever known, but if she can’t manage to adapt her message, product, or solution to a constantly changing and competitive marketplace, she’s already lost half the battle. By giving me space to explore and articulate my own interests, and also allowing me to fail in some of them, my parents made me an adaptable thinker who is very often unsatisfied with the status quo and able to get up from a knockout.
Both lions and tigers are famous for their adaptability in harsh climates, and their sum is, in some ways, greater than both parts. The powerful liger—which is a real animal, by the way—“equals and even excels in his proportions a well-grown lion,”according to an early 20th century nature magazine.
- Set an example, not a rulebook
It’s wild how many entrepreneurs have parents who were also entrepreneurs. Part of that can be chalked up to privilege, but there’s something to be said for inspiration, too. When parents pluck up the courage to pursue their own dreams, they give young entrepreneurs permission to do the same. For example, my parents left everything and everyone in Taiwan to pursue their dreams in America, and then allowed me to pursue my own dreams…not their dreams for me.
In 2011, Ruckus Wireless CEO Selina Lo told Forbes that her father was a key source of inspiration. He started a garment manufacturing company when he was only 18 and still living in Hong Kong, and he eventually expanded the business to include a diversified range of products. “My dad wasn’t a huge success, and we weren’t rich or famous,” Lo said. By 2013, Lo was at the helm when Ruckus Wireless went through an IPO valued at $100 million. This was, in large part, thanks to her father, who tirelessly demonstrated to her what was possible.
- Challenge, but don’t control
Anyone who’s thinking of trying their hand at an entrepreneurial venture should know up front that they’re in for a bumpy ride. Even Steve Jobs was fired from his own company! No matter how talented and smart you are, things won’t always go your way. In fact, you may experience some downright disasters—and that’s okay. The key is to be courageous and stay confident and focused, not letting the anxiety get the best of you.
Studies now suggest that anxiety can start in childhood, and a recent study noted that tiger parents, who are overly involved or controlling, tend to raise kids who have a higher likelihood of developing anxiety disorders. By contrast, that same study found that parenting behavior that encourages kids to step outside of their comfort zones and push their limits—while keeping the stakes low and playful—may actually decrease children’s risk of developing those same disorders.
- Encourage harebrained ideas
If you’ve heard the phrase “creativity crisis,” you already know that researchers fear creativity is on the decline among American kids. The Torrance Test, considered one of the best predictors of lifetime achievement, asks kids to respond to shapes and figures by incorporating them into drawings. The kids who perform best tend to be most successful later in life, even if their peers have higher IQs or high school grades.
But it wasn’t always this way. There’s a compelling case to be made that tiger-ish school and home environments—where kids are continuously monitored, measured, and instructed—have stifled their freedom to dream up new ideas, and threatened America’s status as a country of innovators in the process.
That’s why I’m proud of my parents for their liger approach. My parents were strict, but they let me follow my crazy, harebrained ideas, even as I witnessed my Asian friends’ parents squash theirs. I fondly remember my years from 3rd to 5th grade, when my parents not only allowed, but supported my theater and acting phase. They allowed me to write, direct, and star in a play at school, and understood that I needed many hours of practice—i.e., time spent away from studying and piano—to get the lead in the school play. With their support, which was often silent, I learned to follow my own priorities and phases, even when they were at odds with those that they or others thought I should care about. To thrive happily as an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to go for weird ideas and oddball strategies, and learn to get up from a knockout—and it helps to have hybrid parents who can both cheer you on and keep you focused as you make your way through the wild.
With contribution by Michelle Delgado of Hippo Reads.
Image Credit: CC by Joshua Smith