In 2011, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother sparked a furore for her brutally honest reflections on her authoritarian parenting style common in Asian households. A decade on, the cultural trope lives on and the term remains synonymous with a harsh and demanding approach. Karen Soh, while mostly no-nonsense in front of her brood, reveal to us a gentler and loving side to tiger parenting. She candidly share the messes and stresses of motherhood and, of course, her secret confessions.
Karen Soh, medical director of Privé Clinic, strives to do it all. She spends much of her work day tending to patients’ aesthetic needs and the clinic’s administrative work, yet still carves out time to prepare meals for the family. This commitment to cooking and enjoying meal times with her children is a leaf taken out of her mother’s book, along with high expectations she has of them when it comes to schoolwork. “Times are different and children respond to things differently now compared to when I was growing up,” acknowledges the mother of four children aged between eight and 20. “Now that the kids are older, we communicate more openly. We have to learn to listen to each other more and to let things be for a while sometimes.”
“I believe that children are given to us by God for his purpose and what we are doing is to equip them to serve that. They have their own lives to lead and we are just here to support and love them.”
“Every one of the children is my favourite. I am a little more indulgent to the youngest one since he is a lot younger than his siblings but I remind my children that my love for them is equal.”
How much of a tiger mum are you?
“I was much more of a tiger mum when the children were younger. Now that they are older, they know their place and their value systems are more settled. They know what they want and what they need to do to achieve that.”
Worst punishment for the kids
“I’ve had to leave one of my children behind on our annual family holiday. It was a trip to Lyon, France, and we were looking forward to exploring the city together. I told the children that they needed to be responsible for their own school work and there were KPIs that we had agreed upon together. When he performed below expectations, we had to leave him behind. I did not feel good about it and I am sure he was miserable. I hope he learnt from that and today, he is a very responsible and dependable young man.”
How motherhood has changed you
“Motherhood has taught me that I am capable of loving without expecting anything in return. We make a lot of hard decisions for ourselves and for our children, but all these are done with much love and prayer.”
Advice for today’s mums
“There is a lot to juggle – women want to have everything! We want to be great mothers, wives, daughters, and we also want to have a stellar career and still contribute to our community. I would say there is a time for everything, and for everyone, that is different. March to the beat of your own drum! And always make time for the husband.”
“I always regret not spending even more time with the children. I am also learning to balance having personal space as well as being present for each other.”
“It’s the little things that make me proud; when they help to carry the luggage when we travel, look after the older people in our community and are serious about seeking their own faith. I am proud that the children know these things are so important.”
Biggest lesson in motherhood
“Patience, faith and love – these are the most important qualities a mum should have.”
“I am a very hands-on parent when the children are younger. I check their homework and make sure they are prepared for their tests. When the children are older, we are more permissive and they are given lots of freedom. I feel they have to make their decisions and shoulder that responsibility. My husband Hua Ming has always been the good cop to my bad cop. He is the one amusing the younger ones. He is able to talk to the older boys very well.”
Hardest thing you’ve had to do as a parent
“It’s a cliché but the hardest thing is learning to let go. The children are older now and they have good heads on their shoulders. We have learnt to agree to disagree, and to have very robust discussions around the dining table.”
“I pray! Magic happens when you pray.”
“I worry that they would not be healthy – whether physically, mentally or spiritually. And I always pray for the right people to come into their lives.”
“I make sure there is none! The children walk to school with the dog or take the school bus. They are not entitled to anything they didn’t earn.
Photography: Lavender Chang | Art Direction: Audrey Chan | Hair: Ann Lin/Athens Salon | Make-up: Sophia Chia/Makeup Works
This story first appeared in the May 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.