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Proudly Supporting

Proudly Supporting

I am a Tiger Mother and a Bear Mother

By Michelle Higgins - 27th January 2011

Being a mother of a child with a special needs diagnosis tends to turn one into more of a Bear Mother than a Tiger Mother. The "Tiger Mum" tag, as outlined in Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is not unique to "Chinese parenting" although it may be most fully expressed there.

I recognise that while I mostly keep my inner Tiger Mum chained and caged she is definitely residing somewhere inside my psyche. She has a habit of breaking free the night before school assignments are due (a true Tiger Mum would never start an assignment the night before), when violin recitals and saxophone exams are imminent, or spelling bees need to be prepared for.  

When my inner Tiger Mum starts to roar too loudly, both literally and psychologically, I can rely on my husband and children to let me know that I have crossed the line and need to put my inner Tiger Mum in lockdown mode.

My inner Bear Mother is a much more pleasant beast. She truly celebrates every achievement of her child, never asking how his results compare with those of his classmates, instead measuring his achievements against his own past progress. The Bear Mother does not feel that nasty unpleasant pang of jealousy or envy when her child's more able classmates are reading at a level 20 while hers is still trying to decipher the alphabet. Ironically, the Tiger Mum will experience that pang when her child gets a 97% on a mathematics test but is beaten to first place by a child who gets 98%.

I may never have discovered the full potential of my inner Bear Mum if it hadn't been for having a child with special needs. A child whose mind works differently, whose progress across the board does not keep pace with that of his peers, but whose sweetness, creativity, imagination and amazing dance moves - traits difficult to measure on crude achievement tests - are without parallel.

Like any parent, even a Tiger Mother, I relish having children who are capable of achieving great things by traditional academic measures. But I also recognise that these children often give rise to the ugliest of impulses in a parent, feelings that are unpleasant to admit to yourself let alone the world. My child with a special needs brings out my best self, my inner Bear Mother, who is capable of much greater feats of compassion, patience and generosity than I thought was possible.

My child with special needs was not the child I fantasised about having. He is so much more. He will probably not grow up to be a doctor, engineer or teacher. He may not complete the HSC let alone go to university, pretty standard aspirations for a middle class parent to have for their children. Of course it is too early to truly predict what the life path of my son will look like but I know that the last thing on our minds will be how his achievements compare to his peers. And the thought most prominent will be ensuring his happiness and well-being – not bad goals for a parent to have for any child.

My son has a kindness and naivety that also brings out the inner-wolf in many of his more capable and high achieving peers. This was in evidence as early as preschool. There is nothing that unleashes an inner Bear Mother's protective impulses than seeing your child being eyed off as social prey. His tormentors were not "bad" children. In fact, they are the very children who will win places in gifted and talented streams and be our future leaders. Eventually they will learn to use the power that comes with intellect and mature social skills in responsible ways. But that power exercised by a four-year-old against less able peers can be a frightening sight.

Of course, the Bear Mother must sometimes be contained for she also has her faults. She is overprotective, too willing to fight her child's battles rather than helping him to build the resilience he needs to fight his own. She may in fact not recognise that she has set the bar too low, expected too little in terms of behaviour or achievement, and inadvertently undermined and delayed her child's progress. At these moments Bear Mother needs to make way for Tiger Mother's tough love but without the brutality.

I don't believe that I'm the only parent who struggles with inner Beasts, wishing to be one type of parent but too often falling short and finding herself behaving in ways that would leave her askance if she witnessed them in another parent. And there are times when the tough love of a Tiger Mum is more appropriate than the warm embrace of the Bear Mum. Different children, dependent on their temperaments and stages of development, require different styles of parenting. But at the end of each day, when my special boy wraps his arms around my neck and tells me for the 100th time that he loves me I will unleash the biggest Bear Mum hug that I can muster and remind him that I am indeed the luckiest mum in the world because I get to be his mum.

Editor's Note: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a new book by Amy Chua to be released in February. It is available via the happychild bookstore. You can also read a review of the book by Yvette Vignando here.

image Jeff Ratcliff

Comments (10)

Anj, I am so glad that this

Anj, I am so glad that this piece spoke to you! I wish that I too could be pure bear all the time but think it is important to acknowledge and understand all the impulses that drive us as parents. I don't think that we are the only cross-breed mamas out there... Hopefully on the whole the best of both breeds comes through. And with a little training our inner beasts will be better behaved!

What a fabulous post...

I wish I could more accurately describe my relief and joy at reading this post, but it will have to be enough for me to say that it truly spoke to all of those "beasts" that reside inside this mum. And makes me feel better that I am not the only multi-dimensional mum out there!!

Your boy sounds v similar to

Your boy sounds v similar to my 1st child. V high needs baby, v individual and v interesting as an older child. I love the idea of letting out your "tiger stripes" on an as required basis!

You are so right. One of my

You are so right. One of my children came home with a report covered in "working towards" which in old language would be consistent 'fails" but this was matched by "1s" for effort and comments that just rocked. My sons teacher really got my child and saw the beautiful person inside - she got that even though he was not achieving against the standard measures he was absolutely doing his best. And my other special needs kid who always gets stellar academic ratings for the first time ever this year got the highest rankings on the "social skills" section of his report - where he normally falls down. Again, a huge thrill.
I love that your son is learning bagpipes! The unique quirky nature of our "special" kids definitely makes life interesting.
Thanks so much for reading.

So agree. Bear Mother needs

So agree. Bear Mother needs to be front and centre with Tiger Mother making guest appearances at opportune moments!

Bear mother

Yay for another Bear Mama! I am sure you will retain your bear'ness through the school years although every now and again a bit of the Tiger Mama might be required. It is more difficult once they reach schools but being clear about what your own values/ideals are I think makes it easier to recognise when you are stepping over the line.

Bear Mummy Here Too!

I'm yet to discover how my kids will fare at school, but I hope that I'll be happy with the effort they put in rather than the outcome. If I know a child is capable of something and they need that little extra push of encouragment, then I show my Tiger stripes. But generally, I definitely follow the ways of the Bear. My little boy was a 'high needs baby' and this required me to rethink my intended parenting style in a big way. While he may be more clingy and emotional than the average child, he is also loving, curious, and uniquely himself. It has brought me great joy in being able to accept him for who he is rather than the inevitable frustration associated with failed expectations (when comparing him to the non-existent 'norm').


I'm so tired of hearing the praises of the Tiger Mother. I much prefer the Bear Mother.

I think we all have both inside of us, and both are probably some extent. But I think it's best for children if they see the Bear Mother more often then the Tiger Mother.

I'm with the Bears!

Oh thanks Michelle!! Thanks for expressing so well many of my own thoughts. I have a big boys with special needs too and just love the highs of celebrations the Tiger Mum will never know. How delighted was I when my son was invited on a sleepover! Never been prouder than when he was in school plays. His Year 7 report full of Ds and the odd C was a joy to read; his teachers lovechim, he has pals at school. No piano or violin for us, eccentric to the last he is learning the bagpipes.

The achievements of typical kids can seem very dull by comparison! Now I can style myself a Bear Mother and give huge hugs to all my boisterous bairns. Thanks Michelle and very well put

I am very happily a bear

I am very happily a bear mumma, and I can only hope when my children start school that I remain being so. But I guess it is hard to tell when I don't know the feeling yet of having a child that is compared to a class average.

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