Tiger Moms vs. Kitty Cat Moms

My students are taking a little break after the big push to meet the November 1 deadline for submitting early decision/action applications to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, MIT, the United States Military Academy, the University of Michigan and other highly ranked schools.

It gave me some time to reflect on the different parenting styles I’ve encountered this fall, especially since my students were evenly divided among U.S. residents and those with roots in Asia.

The differences are stark among those raised by so-called “Tiger Moms,” Asian mothers who have been characterized as being too strict, and what I call “Kitty Cat Moms” from the U.S.

I call them “Kitty Cats” because they tend to look sweet and inoffensive, but the claws can come out if they are fighting for their kids.

Here are some observations:

Tiger Moms Raise Polite Kids

After a Skype session with my students from Asia, I always receive a brief email, thanking me for spending the time with them and often asking how my day is going. Sometimes, we have 8 or 10 sessions while they work on various essays. Yes, I receive 8 or 10 thank-you notes. A thank-you note from a U.S. student is rare. Showing appreciation is important and a good habit to get into, especially if you are in training for a college interview.


Tiger Moms Raise Kids with Organizational Skills

Not one of my students from Asia relied on their parents to contact me. They did it themselves, although they all said they asked parental permission first. Every one of my U.S. students had their moms make the first call or email and set up the appointment(s). Why is this important? It demonstrates to me the student’s commitment to doing the hard work. It tells me a lot about the student’s organizational skills. It speaks to fearlessness in a way. The first question I ask every student is “Do you want to work with me?” It’s pretty hard to do that when you’re going through Kitty Cat Mom.


Tiger Moms Urge Their Kids to Plan Ahead

There’s a lot of scrambling during senior year to come up with more volunteer activities, better grades and leadership positions. Not so with my cohort from Asia. I’m always astounded how much planning is done years before the college-application process, with parents encouraging their kids to do meaningful volunteer work that shows a long-term commitment to community, music lessons that start in elementary school and continue for a decade, and dedication to sports from an early age. No faking it here.

Tiger Moms also get their kids thinking about writing the college essay a year in advance. These students work on their essays all through the summer and many are done by Labor Day.

Kitty Cat moms and their kids tend to wait until the last minute for help. The weekend before the November 1 deadline was filled with “hair on fire” requests for help.


Tiger Moms Believe in Natural Consequences

I help to push my students across the finish line with their applications, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. When the pressure became too much for one of my Asian students applying to prestigious schools this fall, his parents did not push. They were supportive, but let him handle it on his own and accept the consequences of procrastination. He decided to apply during the “regular” round instead, in order to give himself more time to get the applications together. His parents were upset, but told him it would “build character.”

On the other hand, when one of my U.S. students stumbled, his mother wrote the common-application essay herself and told the student to hand it in, against my strenuous objections. I’ve encountered this situation numerous times with my U.S. parents. It’s the exact opposite of “building character.”


Tiger Moms Trust Tutors

My job is to be the guide through the process, not the ghost writer. I teach my students how to write a compelling personal essay. My students and I talk about how they can tell the best story about their lives. Sometimes we look at great essays written by E.B. White, Verlyn Klinkenborg, James Lipton or even another student.

We talk about what makes a great piece of writing, with an eye on strong verbs and specific details. We talk about elevating the college essay to the next level with novelistic devices, including scene-to-scene construction, detailing status life and varying point of view. Many of them get to this high level of writing, even within the constraints of the 650-word limit of the common application. We talk about the structure of the essay and how the best have the shape of a circle. In other words, whatever you begin with is what you end with. It’s an art.

Tiger Moms know you can’t rush the process and they are patient. Kitty Cat Moms think it can all be done in one session. It can’t.

I have never had a Tiger Mom sit in on any of my tutoring sessions. But I have had Kitty Cat Moms sit in and take notes. I wish they could meet some of the Tiger Moms I know.



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