Forget Tiger Mums, make way for Tiger Dads. Forget Tony “They’re Grrrrrrreat” Tiger of Frosties fame, I’m talking about survival of the fittest; who is the King of the Tigers?
Tiger Mums have been getting a lot of negative press recently and to be honest, I think most of it is justified. This is probably because Tiger Mums make me feel small part inadequate, small part lazy and most part cross. We all want the best for our children and we all feel proud and rather over-excited when they are successful at something – we have to stop ourselves shouting out – ‘that’s my little Johnny, yes, over there, the one who is so so so good at bla bla bla”. However, putting my children forward for MENSA at age 2, insisting on distinction in grade 8 piano by the age of 4, expecting them to be national squad players in at least 6 sports by the age of 10 is just not my thing. Anyway, the genes don’t look good for my children – forget MENSA, I can hardly remember my name these days; I can only just about play Chopsticks despite learning the piano for ten years and as for sport, the only running I do now is a bath at the end of the day.
So what about Dads? Unlike women who often tend to try and hide their “tiger” tendencies – pretending to be all laid back whilst subjecting their children to hour upon hour of extra coaching on the quiet – their little secret – most men are the absolute opposite. They are competitive and they don’t care who knows it and they are utterly incapable of hiding it.
I am not suggesting that all women are like this, or all men are like that – that’s far too simplistic . Of course, there are men out there who are pushing their children to extremes – true Tiger Dads – we’ve all read about them – just as there are lots of women who are competitive for their children without being obsessional. However, just as often little boys behave differently to little girls, the same tendencies are played out in adulthood in relation to their children. Actually most men are not really Tiger Dads, just typical Dads.
Take a kids’ cricket match as an example. Forget the competition between the boys playing – obviously that’s there and anyway a bit of competition is healthy. No, look at the Dads, listen to the Dads. It is as if they have regressed in age by about 30 years and our living out their former competitive glories through their sons. Like Father, like Son. There is humour and ribbing and an awful lot of chat (and that applies to both the boys and their fathers!)
So why is it that the Tiger Mums get the negative press whereas the Dads largely slip beneath the radar, their competitiveness laughed at and even expected? Well, I think it is because the Dads’ competitive nature is so much more palatable to the observer – they are very open about it; they take it seriously but there is still much lighthearted banter amongst themselves. They behave in some ways like the children they are watching – over-excited and noisily competitive – but it feels very natural and not obsessive in the way Tiger Mums are so often portrayed to be.
This sort of competition is healthy. One of my largest problems with schools and children’s activities in the UK today is this overbearing nannying of our children so that we protect them from ever losing at anything, from ever being disappointed. Life is not like that and our kids need to experience the reality of life from early on in a controlled and nurturing environment otherwise they are going to have one large shock when they are grown-up and out there in the real world.
We need to teach our children that you win some, you lose some. We need to teach them that a degree of competition is healthy and there will be a winner and a loser. We have to stop giving every child a medal just so that no-one is singled out as being successful. A confident and balanced child will learn in childhood that they can’t be number 1 at everything, that they will come second, third or whatever and that is just the way it is. They will be secure enough in their own abilities to be able to shrug off the disappointments but also enjoy their successes. Success has become a dirty word and it shouldn’t be. It should be something to be celebrated.
So let these “Tiger Dads” be. I for one find them very amusing and very unthreatening. Their competitiveness is not unappealing but rather endearing. They just want their kids to do well and there is nothing wrong with that, it’s entirely normal. Of course, there are lots of mothers out there who have got the balance just right too. But true Tiger Mums and true Tiger Dads take note, competition is healthy, obsessional pushing is not.