This Tuesday ushers in “The Year of the Tiger,” as two billion people (including our own family) will celebrate the Chinese New Year.  In a 2004 poll, tigers were voted people’s “favorite” animal, beating out dogs by a mere 17 votes. 

Mercifully, no dogs accused Animal Planet (the TV network that took the poll among people in 73 countries), of voter fraud. And so the result stands, with animal popularity stacking up in this order: 1) tiger, 2) dog, 3) dolphin, 4) horse, 5) lion, 6) snake, 7) elephant, 8) chimp, 9) orangutang, and 10) whale.  

Earl-the-Cat hasn’t said anything about his species not even breaking the "top ten," but he does spend 20 hours a day trying to sleep something off, perhaps his depression over this matter.  Local Democrats, noticing that an elephant made the list but not the donkey, have now added “Animal Planet” as a network they are boycotting, along with Fox News and OAN.  

My daughter, Alison, who tells me that she needs therapy because I never bought her a horse when she was little, needs to get over it: this poll is proof that I got her a #2 rated animal (dog) instead of the #4 rated one.  If that isn’t love, what is?

This raises the question of whether it would have even been legal for me to buy Alison a tiger, had she wanted that instead of the lower-ranked horse. Given that we lived in Illinois, the answer is no.  Illinois does not permit private ownership of tigers.  If you have a zoo, circus, or veterinary hospital you can get away with it.  Therefore, even though our house sometimes felt like a circus when the girls had friends over, we did not officially qualify.  A dog was the best I could do.

But now that Alison lives in Missouri, she can get her daughter a tiger... as long as she gets a permit and registers with the local police.  (Alison should be grateful that Isobel is only 3 and can’t read my Sunday Posts, as Isobel is her mother’s child and would likely make an issue of this.)  

If Isobel someday reads this and persists, and Alison isn't able to get a permit for a tiger, the whole family can move to Alabama.  It’s a bit far from grandpa, but at least Alabama has no restrictions on owning lions, tigers, or bears.  They do, however, prohibit ownership of a mongoose or a moose down there.  (I really don’t understand Alabama...)

But I digress:  back to the Year of the Tiger. If the tiger is first in the hearts of “Animal Planet” viewers, it discovers itself in an embarrassing third place in the Chinese zodiac.  According to the myth, there was a foot race to see which animal would hold the most esteemed position. The rat won out for its cunning, and the ox came in second for its plodding persistence. The proud tiger had to settle for beating out such critters as the rabbit and the monkey. 

Those born in the Year of the Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022) are thought to be endowed with such tiger traits as vigor, ambition, daring, courage, enthusiasm, generosity, and self-confidence.  On the negative side, tigers can be brash, controlling, dictatorial in the family, insensitive, prideful, and lonely.

This brings us to the term, “tiger mom,” popularized in recent years by the novelist Amy Chua.  Ms. Chua turned from fiction to nonfiction and wrote a memoir about trying to raise her American-born daughters the Chinese way.  She calls the traditional Chinese mom the "Tiger Mom." Chua argues that the American way is to indulge children and encourage them to be their own little bosses. She says that the Chinese way is to arm children with skills, work habits, and self-confidence.  Not every Chinese mother is a tiger mom, and sometimes western moms can be tigers.  But in any case, her 2011 book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is a great conversation starter.  

The “tiger mom” is sometimes starkly contrasted with the “helicopter parent,” parents who hover over their children, show up at every event, side with their children against all outside authority, and bail the kids out of every trouble. With a tiger mom, if you cause trouble for the teacher, you get in trouble at home. (My dad was a tiger dad in that regard.) It is hard to see how helicopter parenting equips children for the real world. The intention may be laudable, but we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, a road that can lead to young adults who are clueless about how to make it in the real world.

Tiger parenting is not a license for abuse. No child should be wounded by a parent re-creating inhumane social and economic realities at home. Where is the line between tough love, toughening up a child, and abusing a child? Part of good tiger parenting also involves comforting a child in hard times. Comfort given wisely does not soften a child. A good tiger mom is not just dictatorial, but also willing to spend hour upon hour explaining to children WHY discipline and self-control are so important in life. There is no rule that a tiger mom can't also have moments of tenderness with her children.

One good thing about the "western way" is that children are taught to think and make decisons for themselves, follow their curiosity, know their strengths, and rely on their individuality. The western way can make for good leaders, people who can actually challenge and change unjust systems. The western way nurtures the spirits of courage, imagination, and activism in a person.

As a Bible scholar, all this leads me to ponder what kind of “parent” God is.  Of course, God is full of mystery and will ultimately defy all categories we use for understanding and relating.  And while some stories about “God the Father” are certainly not something we should “try at home,” there is wisdom in our biblical texts if we are willing to wrestle for it. The parenting side of God seems to have all the bases covered: Tiger mom, loving dad.

Finally, this brings me to the notion of “tiger wife.”  I did not know there was such a thing until I became a son-in-law of China. Let’s just say it’s in my self-interest for me to not write about it.  But to all who live with tigers, those born in the year of the tiger, tiger moms, and tiger wives… enjoy!