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. Maria Kong, 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.
Marketing director at Hexogon Solution Maria Kong does not appear as either of these: a woman in her mid-40s, a mother of three or a self-professed strict parent. Working at a company founded by her husband Adrian Goh, she has a twinkle in her eye that hints at her once free-spirited nature. But with two daughters and a son, Ashley, Ashlyn and Ashton who are 11, eight and three years old respectively, Maria has made the necessary evolution to a devoted mother and an advocate for firm parenting. “I have a duty as a mother to nurture and guide my children, especially in their formative years,” she says.
On changes post-motherhood
“I didn’t really believe in conformity in my younger days. Motherhood has made me more grounded. It’s responsibility versus chasing dreams, and it has changed my mindset that I am no longer living for myself.”
Who is the modern-day mum?
“Mothers wear many hats: the nurturer, the enforcer, the doctor, the referee, the driver, the teacher, the cook, the cleaner… The list is endless. Some modern mums feel the pressure of competing demands from work and home life, and this makes it difficult for them to strike a balance.”
Your childhood’s influence on you today
“My parents, especially my dad, was strict with my sister and me up until we went to university. As I was the more defiant child, he got me to submit a yearly budget to propose my following year’s allowance and present any incremental expenditure and expenses, including tuition fees, once I entered Secondary 3.
I was not allowed to ask for more once the monthly budget had been firmed up for the year. I received a monthly allowance via my bank account like a salary, and managed my daily expenses and made payments by cheque to my tutors monthly. I will instil this form of discipline in my children in future when my husband and I deem them ready.”
How much of a tiger mum are you?
“I am strict with my children. They are still young and can be easily influenced by peers both positively and negatively. It’s my responsibility to lead them until they reach maturity and independence. That said, I’m not academically demanding. I believe every child is different and should be given opportunities to grow to their fullest potential. There are times when a little push is needed to motivate them.”
“I believe respecting your parents and elders is an important Asian value to inculcate in my children. There is an extract from an ancient Chinese teaching Di Zi Gui (弟子规) that is taught in my daughters’ school. It writes:
父母呼, 应勿缓 父母命, 行勿懒
父母教, 须敬听 父母责, 须顺承
Translated, it reads: ‘When my parents call me, I must answer right away. When they ask me to do something, I must not be lazy to do it. When my parents instruct me, I will listen respectfully. When my parents scold me, I must accept and obey them.’
This ancient teaching may be poles apart from the modern Westernised parenting style that gives children free rein. Both Adrian and I are traditional. We believe that respect is a good value.”
Between you and Adrian, who’s the disciplinarian?
“We are on the same page. We do not tolerate rudeness, but we make sure they know that they receive lots of love, care and attention.”
“Every child is different. A soft approach may work on one child but not on another. We switch roles between good and bad cop depending on the situation, and we feel that it works on our children as they are still young. At the end of the day, they know we love them equally.”
Worst punishment you’ve ever doled out
“I have moments when I let my children learn from their own mistakes instead of nagging like a broken record. One of my children secretly wore nail polish to school, and I wrote to the form teacher to inform her. My child came home asking me for the nail polish remover.”
Addressing privilege at home
“I do not spoil my children. Apart from food and books, they often do not get material items according to their whims and fancies. Those are only for special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas.”
“Selflessness. Motherhood has taught me that the depth of love for my children is endless.”
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.