Lessons for great parenting and success from my Chinese, non-Tiger Mom

Photo: Po-Ling Ng

“You have degrees from Stanford and Harvard? You must have grown up with a Tiger Mom,” people often jokingly assume.

That’s natural since I conveniently appear to fit into the Asian-American model minority stereotype.

“Goodness, no!” I often find myself laughing boisterously in response. Quite frankly, if my mom had been a traditional “Tiger Mom,” I don’t think I would have been able to ascend up the corporate ranks to be a Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at a big company and had the guts to start my own company, Inspiring Diversity.

In fact, given how under-represented Asian-Americans are in executive ranks in Corporate America, I think there need to be fundamental changes in how many of us raise our children.

As we’ve come to learn, hard work, technical skills, and intelligence are minimum requirements to ascend but will only get you so far if not complemented with leadership skills, a focus on helping others, a healthy attitude towards learning from “failure,” as well as other soft skills that can help you rise up the ranks. These success factors apply to people of all backgrounds, not just to Asian Americans. Traditionally though, many Asian/Asian American parents have tended to focus primarily on reinforcing academic excellence instead of on developing those “other” skills and behaviors.

Sure, my mom has been known to be a “tiger” in and for the community and she jokingly calls herself “a little tiger” given the extreme power packed in her petite 5-foot-2, 90-pound physique.  In terms of her parenting style, though, she has been anything but a “Tiger Mom” who hovers over her children, constantly cracks the whip, and tells them they could do better if they were not No. 1 academically or in music.  She simply had no time to be a “Tiger” or “Helicopter” Mom.  Instead, she focused her time and energy primarily on being there when we needed her and role modeling successful behavior and excellence.

My mother, Po-Ling Ng, was widowed at the age of 32 and was left with four very young children to raise on a social worker’s salary.  Instead of giving up, she got two master’s degrees and devoted her life to the community, helping everyone from young children to senior citizens.  Fast-forward four decades and over 100 awards later, she is one of the most successful people I know.  In 2014, she was brought back to China by the Chinese government and awarded for her impact on overseas Chinese.  On May 24, 2017 it was Po-Ling Ng Day for the great borough of Manhattan in New York City.

My mother, Po-Ling Ng, never had the luxury to be a “helicopter” parent and also made it a point not to be an “absentee” parent either.  Instead, she has been a “present” parent:

Present because she has always been there when we needed her, including our important life and school events.

Present because she is attentive to us when we are together (except for when she is stopped on the street by the press or people expressing their gratitude for all that she has done for them and the community).

Present because she has given us three incredible gifts of:

  1. Opportunity: Despite our limited means, she always sought out resources and opportunities to help us to flourish – including a nurturing daycare, great public schools, heavily subsidized leadership and math camps, and even a free congressional exchange program! Although it was a substantial financial burden, she also ensured we had the opportunity to attend top private universities.
  2. Empowerment: My mother had confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves and empowered us with independence and self-sufficiency early on. She allowed me to make my own choices (even ones she disagreed with) and I was able to learn from my own failures as well as successes.  This carries through to me today, as I am confident in my ability to handle difficult situations that come my way.  This belief in myself has given me the confidence to travel, live, and work in different parts of the world and to start my own company.
  3. Inspiration: Most importantly, she has inspired us by role modeling what it means to propel yourself and others to success while managing what matters. My mother inspires me to strive for excellence every day … and gives me confidence that “I can” during any temporary moments of weakness when I think “I can’t.” She has inspired me with the fundamental belief upon which my company is based – that “Anything is possible, regardless of your background, as long as we help each other to succeed.”

In fact, my mother is the inspiration behind my company and our PO-LING POWER framework, book, and app. Namely, my mother has role-modeled what it means to live according to PO-LING with a focus on (P)riorities and Personal Vision, (O)thers, (L)eading, (I)nspiring, (N)etworking and (G)rowing.

Further, she has embodied what it means to manage what matters for yourself, your community, and your organization by ensuring that what you’re doing is aligned with each party’s “POWER” (Priorities, Obligations, Worthwhile Activities, Energy, and Resources).

How lucky was I to have Po-Ling Ng as my mother?  My mother’s “present” parenting style reinforced with the PO-LING POWER approach is far superior to the alternative “helicopter,” “Tiger,” and “absentee” parenting approaches.

While I do not claim to be a perfect mother and know that I have room for improvement, I believe I am on the right path by adopting my mother’s approach to parenting my own children. In fact, recently, I was filled with such extreme pride when my ten-year-old daughter and I had the following exchange:

“I am so proud to be your mom,” I suddenly blurted out when my daughter had helped mediate the reconciliation of two of her classmates.  I have also always loved her fearlessness and the creative ideas she and her brother come up with, including writing a children’s animal stories book based on the PO-LING principles!

“Thank you, mommy.  I think you, Po Po (“grandmother” in Chinese), and I are very much alike.  We always know what we need to do and get it done.  We also care a lot about other people,” said my daughter proudly.

So, let’s focus more on “present” parenting and role modeling PO-LING POWER behavior for our children.  It is important in helping them reach their full potential (and yes, to rising to the highest ranks of corporate America if that’s what they desire). After all, what organization doesn’t want employees who propel themselves and others to success while managing what matters???   By adopting and role modeling the PO-LING POWER approach as “Present” parents, we not only position ourselves but our children for success to achieve more than we ever thought was possible.  There will be no limit to what we can all achieve TOGETHER.

Thank you to Po-Ling Ng, my incredible Chinese non-Tiger Mom, for teaching us all what it truly means to propel yourself and others to success as well as for inspiring us that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

Betty Ng is the co-author of PO-LING POWER: Propelling Yourself and Others to Success, and founder/CEO of Inspiring Diversity, LLC “iD,” which offers a practical multimedia solution to building inclusive, collaborative, and high-performing organizations and communities. iD works with organizations to drive profitability and sustainability through increased employee inclusion, engagement, and performance. iD is also a collaborative community with members of all backgrounds who inspire, empower and elevate each other to achieve goals. Ng holds degrees from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a tech entrepreneur, media and content creator, author, trainer, public speaker and consultant. Ng was a high-level executive at Citigroup and Moody’s. She has appeared in several top-tier publications including Forbes and Bustle.