Gaslighting and Tiger Mums

Harsh, unapologetic, strict and impossible to impress, my mother sure taught me a thing or two about striving to be the best. If this made you think of your mother too, then you might be familiar with the term “tiger mums” and relate to the woes of being raised by one. According to experts, Tiger parenting has its roots in Asian values of independence and focuses on creating a strong relationship between the parent and child, that it stems from love and sacrifice. But at what cost? 

Being raised in a typical Asian household, there are certain cultural values that people generally abide by (using the term rather loosely here), greatly differs from “western” styles of parenting. In the pursuit of excellence, children are often the subject of constant comparison, this greatly affects confidence building and can cause strains on their relationship with their parents, especially in their formative years. 

Perhaps a cousin or sibling excels academically, does music and is well-mannered, parents often use them as a benchmark. While the intention is to motivate the child, to push towards ideas of “success”, constantly casting a spotlight on someone else’s achievements can lead to insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. 

It does not help that in Asian households, most people are uncomfortable with talking about their feelings. The result? Many kids grow up learning to suppress their feelings and choose not to tell their parents what bothers them because they fear judgement, or worse, getting kicked out of the house. There is also a cultural expectation to respect your elders, a child can be treated unfairly and be punished if they speak up for themselves, because such behaviour is deemed disrespectful. While the root of harsh parenting may be to teach important values and believing in the child’s potential to excel, it is communicated in a way that can be detrimental to the child’s development and mental health. 

Speaking of wanting what’s best for their child, there may be a certain level of psychological manipulation that is used to sow seeds of doubt on impressionable children. This is known as gaslighting. When put this way, it’s easy to see why such actions can be toxic, but they are so common that people tend to not realise that they may have performed acts of psychological manipulation.

It could be as simple as telling a child that they are hanging out with bad company without fully comprehending the situation. For example, a group of friends that may not necessarily get the best grades, but are a compassionate bunch. Just because these kids appear more playful and less studious, parents use the term “bad company”, sowing seeds of doubt in their own children by telling them to “be wary”. Even though parents want the child to benefit from mixing with good company,  such direct interference can cause the child to worry unnecessarily which can have a negative impact on their social development. Especially if the child greatly enjoys being around their friends, this can affect their self-esteem and development of social skills.

Many people have been subjected to this form of parenting and have turned out fine, but not everyone is as lucky to “grow out” of their trauma. For some, it might hurt more than it does for others. If you personally feel like your relationship with your parents have been strained because of this, it might not hurt to talk about things, especially if you know that they love you and want you to be the best version you can be. As much as it is difficult, you might be surprised with what a little honesty and the right intentions can do. 

For more on this subject, you can listen to our podcast below:


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