Here comes the curry mom!

In Australia, the tiger mom phenomenon shows no sign of abating – but she may now have a rival. 

Though Chinese mothers have gained notoriety in recent years for pushing their children to extremes, Australia’s Indian mothers have demonstrated that no nationality has a monopoly on the battle cries of the tiger mom.

Take, for instance, the parenting regime of Indian-born Melbourne mother, Mrs Kaushaliya Vaghela, who gladly admits to being something of a tiger mom.

During her daughter’s final school exams, Mrs Vaghela took 18 months off work to make sure her daughter attended private tutors and avoided video games and focussed on her studies.

“Most of the things true for tiger moms apply to Indian parents,” she told the Straits Times.

Mrs Vaghela, 43, who migrated with her husband and daughter to Australia fourteen years ago, said she took time away from her fashion business to ensure her 18-year-old daughter, Aishwarya, was not distracted. She was pleased with the results: Aishwarya recently scored well in her final-year exams and is planning to study science at Monash University.

“Not that I can study for my daughter,” Mrs Vaghela said. “But I wanted to be at home to pick her up and drop her off and take her to her private tutors - and being at home I know she’ll study and not go to the computer or play video games.”

In Australia, one among the developed countries where children of migrants perform better than their native counterparts, students of Indian backgrounds have increasingly joined those from the rest of Asia at the top of the high school results tables.

In the state of Victoria, which has the largest Indian community – 112,000 Indian-born people  - Indian students have increasingly placed among the state’s highest ranking students. 

Another Indian mother, Mrs Navjot Dhaliwal, told Melbourne’s The Age newspaper earlier this year she hoped her two daughters pursue triple-degrees at university because a double-degree is “very common”. 

She said that unlike Amy Chua, author of the 2011 bestseller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, she allowed her daughters to take breaks to visit the restroom and watch television, but did not allow them daughters to sleepover at friends’ houses. Sports, she said, can be “time consuming” and might cause them to “fall behind in their studies”.

As noted by Ms Chua,  who prompted a global debate after describing her unrelenting approach to rearing  her two daughters, the tiger mother phenomenon is not restricted to the Chinese or any single culture. Mothers of all backgrounds can possess the traits attributed to tiger mothers: strict, demanding, focussed on academic results over sports or the arts, and highly ambitious for their children. 

Indeed, Ms Chua noted earlier this year that Indian tiger moms may outnumber China’s.

In Australia, education is run by states which have different ranking systems and do not release information on the performance of students by ethnic or cultural background. However, an analysis of the names of the top-performing students shows high numbers of students from Chinese, East Asian and Indian backgrounds. Women also out-performed men.

However, an Australian education expert, Dr Ben Jensen, from Melbourne’s Grattan Institute, an independent public policy think tank, noted there was actually very little evidence-based analysis of the tiger mom phenomenon.

“It is dangerous to assume that every Chinese family that comes across is a family of academic superstars or will push their kids harder than everyone else,” he told The Straits Times. “There are an awful lot of stereotypes around this.”

Dr Jensen said socio-economic status was often the dominant factor.

Indian parents in Australia reportedly spend up to 33 per cent of their monthly income on their child’s education, often including private tuition. While overall figures are unknown, this is believed to be far in excess of average spending on education. 

Mrs Vaghela said Indian parents are often motivated by their exposure to poverty back home and tend to push their children to study either engineering, medicine or law.

As for herself, she said, she had always accepted her daughter’s decision not to study medicine and to instead pursue a career in animal research.