By Vittoria Elliott
In the upper middle class suburbia where I grew up, helicopter parents were the norm. But my mother was a different animal. Long before the concept of the Tiger Mother emerged, there was my mother. My mother is a lawyer—and a good one at that—and being a lawyer is integral to her being. She was the first class of women in her university, and went to law school at a time when my grandfather’s friends still viewed educating a woman as a waste of money. She quietly pushed up against sexism in her professional and academic life with her unimpeachable, no-excuses work ethic.
So when she retired early from her job as in-house council for a large transportation company when I was in eighth grade, all the intellectual power that she had previously devoted to her beloved law career went towards a different project: me.
My Tiger Mom
My mother, never comfortable with new technology, was an uncharacteristically eager early adopter of my school district’s grade portal, much to my dismay. While I was at school she would click away, monitoring not just my overall mark in a class, but every, single score on every single assignment. I would regularly arrive home to find a print out listing each item for any class where the overall percentage hovered below a 94%. Any assignment that had received less than an A would be highlighted in bright yellow ink.
While other parents in my high school called teachers and advocated for grade changes, my mother met any complaint of teacher disfavor with a dispassionate, “I guess you’ll have to figure out how to fix that.” Even moments of praise from teachers or coaches were tempered with reminders of how I hadn’t worked that long on the assignment or how she hadn’t heard me practice piano at all that week. On the volleyball court, while other parents yelled at refs and coaches about bad calls and playing time, my mother sat back and saved her commentary for the car ride home.
Any activity not directly related to school was always met with the question, “Is this the best use of your time?”
At the time, I was often annoyed at her, feeling she was never on my side. I didn’t like the overbearing parents of my classmates and my teammates, but I certainly didn’t enjoy being the object of my mother’s incisive attention and brutally objective evaluation.
But I realized as I got older that my mother wanted me to be able to learn and advocate for myself. If a teacher didn’t like me, it wasn’t her place to step in, it was mine to fix the relationship or produce work that was above the politics of favoritism. She told me once that she was harder on me and expected more of me than any teacher or coach because she didn’t want criticism from those figures in my life to phase me. She wanted me to know that she believed I could do better, not because she was disappointed, but because she never wanted me to believe I had reached the limit of my potential.
Would I rather have had a tiger mom or a helicopter mom? I’m glad I had my tiger mom who taught me how to expect the best from myself.
Vittoria “Tori” Elliott is a freelance reporter and student at the Columbia Journalism School.