Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom, Meet Yvonne Thornton’s Lioness

Because some black parents can make things seem impossible for their kids, too.

By Jamilah King Feb 11, 2011

Watch out, world. Apparently Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom has competition. The Root recently profiled Yvonne Thornton, a black mom whose memoir of no-holds-barred child rearing was published around the same time as Chua’s infamous Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Raised in a poor family that was helmed by a ditch digging father (the subject of her first memoir), Thornton’s second book Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy recounts her journey to raise two young prodigies while balancing the demands of her medical career.

Her children, now both in their thirties, seem to have benefited from her no-nonsense approach to parenting; her son was a national junior chess champion, graduated at the top of his class at Harvard, and is now training to be a neurosurgeon. Meanwhile, her daughter has degrees from Stanford and Columbia and is studying medicine at Howard. Both were still in diapers when they started classical piano lessons, and were banned from playing Nintendo.

From The Root:

The memoir tells the story of Thornton’s struggle to achieve the goals her father laid out for her in childhood and, at the same time, balance a demanding medical career with the challenge of managing a home and raising her children.

.."People asked me, ‘How do you do all this and raise good children, too?’ I hope readers will take away from the new book the message passed down from my parents to me and from me to my children: With hard work, determination and education, you can achieve anything."

Think Thornton’s parenting was less demanding than Chua’s? Think again.

After my daughter graduated from Columbia, she said, ‘Mom, I got my master’s degree–aren’t you happy for me?’ " Thornton recalls.

"I said, ‘I’m very happy, dear.’ But I couldn’t help thinking of my father’s words: ‘They don’t care about you unless you’re dying, and if they are dying, they don’t care who you are.’ My daughter said, ‘What do you want from me?’ I told her, ‘You know what I want,’ and raised an eyebrow. And now she’s in med school."

In the middle of the so-called Chua-gate, Julianne Hing wrote that it’s inequity, not culture, that drives Tiger Mothers. Clearly, that doesn’t just apply to the Asian American community. Thornton’s parents weren’t immigrants, but still lived in America’s economic and racial margins. And, like Chua, it’s that tenuous position that probably drove to her demand the best of her kids in order to hang on to their place in this country’s ever-shrinking middle class.