How do I cage my inner Tiger Mother around my young daughter?

Dear Carolyn:

I don’t want to be that mother. You know, the kind inappropriately invested in her kid winning, achieving, etc. But I have those tendencies, because I think I was raised that way myself.

How do I make sure my child lives up to her potential without hounding her to distraction? She is a smart, ambitious child. She has friends and interests. She knows how to stand up for herself. She is a feisty 12-year-old. But she still needs guidance, and I struggle on how to balance it.

— The Tiger Mother in Me

Who says she has to live up to her potential?

What does that even mean?

Who defines it — your daughter, you, her peers, society at large?

And shouldn’t it be your daughter herself who “makes sure”?

I think the best way to cage your tiger is to make a habit of questioning your own assumptions about what’s good for your daughter’s future, until the habit becomes a reflex. I can’t see the impulse to “hound” a child surviving that process intact.

You’re fortunate; this is so much easier to do with a “smart, ambitious child [with] friends and interests.” She apparently doesn’t even need you to nudge her toward purpose, connections, fulfillment — allowing you the luxury of limiting your “guidance” to her ethics, manners and self-care.

Even with children who struggle socially or are prone to inertia, parental focus still belongs on ethics, manners and self-care; pushing toward achievement is about the parent, not the child. Parents of less driven kids just need to listen harder and watch more closely for what their kids want, need, need to be nudged toward — or away from — and what they will eventually pursue on their own.

Which is the point of all (healthy) childrearing, right? To equip kids to manage their own ambitions, their own emotional health, their own lives? So, tailor your guidance to that: “What tools does she need to do this herself?”

On the “winning, achieving, etc.” front specifically, often the most significant change you can make is as profound as it is simple: Let your daughter guide herself, until she needs or asks for your help.


Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend recently told me one of his adult daughters “didn’t think much of me.” When I asked which one, he refused to tell me. How would you suggest I handle this odd behavior?

— Confused in California

The words in my head as I read this were, “Wow. I have no interest in games.”

Then I thought, that’s how I hope I’d answer if I were ever in your situation. Then maybe I’d add: “Either provide enough information for me to try to fix it, or don’t tell me at all. This way I get all the bad feelings and none of the options.”

I hope for your sake he just bungled this, wanting to warn you something was up and not wanting to betray his daughter’s confidence. It’s certainly not uncommon.

But if there’s context that says he gets something out of letting you squirm, then promise me you’ll at least rethink whether this is the man for you.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

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