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Sleepy song of the Snake Mother
by Clara Chow

ANIMAL-STYLE parenting, it seems, is all the rage these days.

First, there was the savvy, self-styled and self-satisfied Tiger Mom, Yale law professor Amy Chua, and her two high-achieving tiger cubs.

Then came the cane-wielding Wolf Dad - Chinese businessman Xiao Baiyou - who recently published his parenting manual to controversy, claiming that his strict methods ("Beat your children every three days") made sure three of his four children made it to Peking University.

Littered along the way have been a panda dad (writer Alan Paul, who is "happy to parent with cuddliness, but not afraid to show some claw"), and a lion mother (a blogger who believes in bringing up kids to survive as "life is hard and the world can be a cold place").

Even koalas, hippos and pussycats have been dragged out of the menagerie to help parents brand themselves.

Inevitably, the backlash against animal mums and dads has now started. One blogger, Ms Renee Ghert-Zand, wrote last week: "Let's hope people get tired of parenting at the zoo. The reductionist notion that human parenting can be compared to animal parenting is absurd."

While I agree with Ms Ghert- Zand's sentiments, I do wonder if she is taking the whole animal analogy a tad too seriously.

After all, nobody actually believes that being a tiger or lion mum means you will literally teach your cubs how to hunt antelope and mark their territory. As preposterous as the imagery has become, animal-themed parents are merely a convenient way to get attention and package certain child-rearing tips into convenient categories.

However, I have a different bone to pick with these "animal" parents. Why choose only glamorous, exciting and attractive species to relate themselves to, and neglect the myriad worthy contenders in the animal kingdom that have a thing or two to teach us about raising successful, useful and self-preserving individuals?

If I had to choose a fauna alter ego, I guess I'd be a snake mum: Lazy, but scary and able to hiss my neonates into line.

Going by the Chinese zodiac, I was born in the Year of the Snake, while the Supportive Spouse was a Rat Year baby. Such a pairing is not conventionally desirable: A Chinese proverb goes she shu yi wo ("snake and rat in a nest"), which refers to troublemakers being in cahoots or up to no good.

But in our household, it translates into my being the one who coils up in comfortable corners of our flat, reserving my reptilian energy for moments of necessary action (such as slithering out to break up a fight between our two sons, aged five and two, or sounding the rattle on my tail to round them up for a school run).

The SS is the more industrious parent, bringing home the bacon, moving our cheese and, generally, tending to our young and nudging them into shape.

Yet, what is wrong with being a small but shrewd player in the food chain? We don't believe in going all out to make sure that our offspring become child prodigies. Neither are we planning to fight tooth and nail to get them into prestigious schools.

We will, however, make sure that our sons can pursue whatever they are passionate about or display an affinity for. We are happy with our modest and cosy domestic arrangement, but remind our boys constantly that there is so much more beyond our ken and that there is no better education than travel.

And, for all the ambition and power of the big cats, they are the ones which have been hunted close to extinction - whereas the snakes and rats of the world stay under the radar but are no less feared (by some).

In a natural, healthy ecosystem, organisms that have traditionally been reviled by people have their irreplaceable functions and strengths. Similarly, the world is made up of all sorts of parents and children.

To chase after tiger's stripes or howl like the wolf is to forget that splendour lies in our differences.

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