An awe-inspiring, often hilarious, and unerringly honest story of one mother's exercise in extreme parenting, revealing the rewards—and the costs—of raising her children the Chinese way.
"This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old." —Amy Chua
All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. What Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reveals is that the Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions and providing a nurturing environment. The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicles Chua's iron-willed decision to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, her way—the Chinese way—and the remarkable results her choice inspires.
Here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:
- have a playdate - be in a school play - complain about not being in a school play - not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama - play any instrument other than the piano or violin - not play the piano or violin
The truth is Lulu and Sophia would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practicing their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) and perfecting their Mandarin.
Of course no one is perfect, including Chua herself. Witness this scene:
"According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:
- Oh my God, you're just getting worse and worse. - I'm going to count to three, then I want musicality. - If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!"
But Chua demands as much of herself as she does of her daughters. And in her sacrifices—the exacting attention spent studying her daughters' performances, the office hours lost shuttling the girls to lessons—the depth of her love for her children becomes clear. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an eye-opening exploration of the differences in Eastern and Western parenting—and the lessons parents and children everywhere teach one another.
Amy Chua is a Professor at Yale Law School and author of the debut novel THE GOLDEN GATE, coming 9/19/2023. She is also the bestselling author of numerous nonfiction books, including World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (2003), which was selected by both The Economist and the U.K.’s Guardian as a Best Book of 2003, Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall (2007); The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (2013); and Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations (2018). Her 2011 memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was a runaway international bestseller that has been translated into over 30 languages.
Disclosure: A friend linked me to Amy Chua's Wall Street Journal article when it first appeared. I admit, my first reaction was a mixture of anger and bitterness, since I recognized much of my own childhood in how Amy Chua treated her daughters. I read several reviews from journalists, Chinese children, Chinese parents, Western parents, Western children and so on. Amy Chua is assigned a gamut of roles, from crazy batshit insane to the messiah of parenting. I thought I should read the book and judge for myself.
More disclosure: I'm Chinese. I was raised by strict immigrant parents who moved to North America when I was a toddler. I played the piano. I did math drills starting at age three. And yeah, I went to an ivy league school.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not a parenting primer, whatever the original WSJ may have lead people to believe. It's not even close to a parenting primer. Amy Chua both defends and questions her methods throughout the book, and she accounts for her generalization of "Chinese" and "Western" mother. In the very first chapter, she defines her terms, assigning "Western mother" to a certain set of parenting beliefs/views on childhood and "Chinese mother" to another. The crux of the question is this: what should childhood be like? The romantic Victorian notion of childhood permeates "Western" parenting: children should have the freedom to play, explore, make a mess, and be creative. Amy Chua's "Chinese" parenting views childhood as a training ground for life. While the Western kids are cutting snowflakes and colouring pictures, her kids are practicing the piano or violin.
Amy Chua also doesn't believe in bribery--she expects her daughters to do what she tells them. This does come from a tradition of filial piety, one that is actually fading on mainland China with the growth of "little emperors and empresses." Which is why you'll get people arguing that actual Chinese mothers in China don't act the way Amy Chua's "Chinese mothers" do. The filial belief is that kids owe everything to their parents for giving them life, food, shelter, resources, and so on, and when parents get old, their children are supposed to take them into their homes and care for them in return. This is certainly the view I was brought up with, as opposed to the view that children don't get to choose their parents, and that the parents are responsible for providing for the child and nurturing them to be their own person. After that child is an adult, the parent and child don't owe anything to each other. Either way, both these views flow from generation to generation.
Chua mentions all of this in the book. In fact, her platform makes her a pretty convincing person to write a book like this, having a Jewish husband and in-laws who put forth many of these "Western" ideas that contrast her own. Here are a few of her points that made sense to me:
1) Most activities are not fun unless you're good at it 2) You can't get good at something without practice (and passion, I would add) 3) Practicing something you suck at isn't fun, and you may need external motivation 4) While verbal encouragement can give you confidence, great results give you a lot more confidence
Thereby, making the not-fun activity you now kick ass at, eventually fun. QED. Self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, tons of sucky singers who audition for American Idol spend their whole lives being told that they're awesome. Don't you wish they'd had a mom like Amy Chua? Amy Chua would tell them, "Actually, you sound like a tone-deaf frog. I'm getting you voice lessons from the best teacher in the country or I NEVER WANT TO HEAR YOU SING AGAIN."
I don't think it's a bad thing to demand excellence. My parents often indulged my or my brother's pet hobbies: figure skating, voice lessons, tae kwon do, drawing, etc. I gave up figure skating when I was twelve, because it was so expensive and I wasn't willing to put in the long hours. My parents stopped funding my brother's drawing lessons because he wouldn't follow instructions. The point is, you learn quickly not to do anything half-assed. Give it your all or it isn't worth doing, whether it's playing the piano or making a birthday card. And no, you can't expect perfection right away, you have to practice the hell out of it. When things don't work out, you don't blame the teacher, the curriculum or the system--you acknowledge your own shortcomings and correct them. While I certainly believe plenty of teachers, curricula and systems are messed up and beyond a single individual's control, I also think that the American education system would be a lot better off if parents would shut up about their special snowflake. (There are obviously exceptions to special needs children, but I don't for one second believe all those eight-year-olds need to be on Ritalin for ADHD). You learn a work ethic, and that carries you no matter what underwater basket-weaving you get into.
Amy Chua isn't the villain some people are making her out to be. Her methods skew more to the strict than the lax, certainly, and the line will always be thin between tough love and emotional abuse. It's different for every parent, every child, and every parent-child relationship. If you're on the fence about this book, I'll tell you one thing: Amy Chua is a snob. If we were peers, I'm not sure we'd be friends. She's certainly obsessed with the dominant social view of success, of putting on appearances, and of being admired and appreciated (then humbly protesting). She's also not creative herself--she shares that she only went to law school because she didn't want to go to medical school (obviously, those are the only two acceptable options!) and instead of thinking outside the box, all she wanted to do was memorize everything her professor said. But if you're envious of her and her daughters' success, the book is worth checking out. You have to stop putting social value on her accomplishments if you want to badmouth her belief system.
I do believe Tiger Mother is an honest recount of Chua's parenting years, much of it involving the musical pursuits of her daughters. While lacking the sparkle of literary non-fiction, Chua's writing is precise, thorough and easily readable. It's not a work of art, but it is a well-put together book that really opens up the table for discussion. I'm not sure if, at the end and after all her reflection, Chua advocates a form of hybrid parenting, but that's certainly what I got from this book. So there you have it.
Some of my friends may be horrified, BUT I do not believe Amy Chua is the devil. I actually agree with a lot of what she believes. Although sometimes she may go over the top with it (keeping your daughter up practicing until after midnight is just not okay in my book), I think that this disciplined, practice-practice-practice idea is the way to achieve greatness.
It's funny. Yesterday in the car, I was explaining to my daughter Bianca my theory on talents. It went like this: I think that having a talent in something gives you an early "success" and that makes you want to do the thing again and get that feeling of success again. So I don't think that if something comes naturally then you shouldn't have to work at it. Then later, as I was reading this book, Chua explains it in a similar way:
"What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning. . . Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in math, piano, pitching, or ballet--he or she gets praise, admiration, and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more."
Practice is the only way you can be good at something.
Now, I have to admit that reading about Lulu and Sophia's practice sessions with mom hovering sounds a lot like what happens at my house on given days. I didn't MAKE Bianca choose to play viola (although piano is required by me as if it were another subject in school). But Bianca chose music and I choose to make sure if I'm going to put the money into her private lessons and expensive instruments, then I am damn well going to get my money's worth. I've threatened to make Bianca stop doing private lessons, then she cries and cries and goes over and does what she needs to do. Because she likes being good at something. Her thing is music. You see, I'll never be a soccer or football mom, but I'm already a "music" mom. There's a whole vicious world out there. It really is cut-throat as Chua explains. And it is highly dominated by the Chinese. There's got to be a reason for that, and I think it does come down to Chinese parenting.
And I think sometimes we're so worried about our kids' self-confidence that a lot of mothers praise their kids even when they don't deserve it. I was once at the library when they were doing a little craft for children. It was coloring a pirate hat and when you were finished, you could go get a golden dabloon. Anyway, Portia was working on her hat for about twenty minutes when a little boy comes and sits next to us and starts scribbling crazily on the hat and his mom was praising him: "What a great job--it's wonderful!" and I was thinking if that were Portia, I'd say "You're not doing your best work. No dabloon." Why would I praise her for doing mediocre work? The part in this book about Chua rejecting her daughter's birthday card was okay with me. I've done a similar thing. I know what my daughters are capable of and I expect them to do their best work. I don't think we should praise mediocre work or why would our kids ever need to try harder? Also, when Chua said that she made her daughter keep practicing (although I would have given up way before Chua did) because she believed in her, it kind of makes sense. She was showing her daughter how much confidence she had in her by NOT letting her quit. She knew her daughter could do it--was it abuse or a confidence builder?
On the other hand as Chua discovers at the end, you've still got to give a little. There's a balance here that needs to be met that will work for each child and you are the parent and only you know it. I actually see bits and pieces of both Sophia and Lulu in my Bianca, depending on the day and her mood. I do know that my child has a lot of potential and if encouragement will help her be something a little above and beyond, then by all means I'll do it. I actually don't think Chua was being selfish (okay, it does feel good to have someone praise your child as it is a reflection on you) but the child will not regret knowing how to play an instrument in the long run. I fought my mom every day as a child and I'm so, so, so glad she never let me stop playing the piano. I enjoy it now more than I ever knew I could. It's actually a very relaxing thing to sit down and play.
The book was funny at times, informative, and deeply absorbing. Even if you don't agree with "chinese parenting", I'd say this isn't a bad book for any parent to read.
Like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Totto-chan is also a memoir about the upbringing of children (mostly focuses on the little girl main character: Totto-chan), but it sends an entirely different message to its readers.
Disclaimer 1: I'm a Chinese and I had my own taste of strict parenting throughout my childhood, but comparing with what Amy Chua's daughters had gone through, my experience is really, really tamed.
Disclaimer 2: No, please don't think every single pair of Chinese parents raise their kids with Amy Chua's so-called Chinese-parenting. It's misleading. I can see that her parenting-methods are partly inspired by Chinese culture and practices, but it's not the whole picture.
Disclaimer 3: I read the Chinese translation of the book, not the English text.
Disclaimer 4: Amy Chua aimed to train her daughters into 'successful' young musicians as soon as the girls were old enough to sit before the piano. Honestly I have no idea how young pianists and violinists are supposed to be taught and trained, maybe Yo-yo Ma had gone through similar treatment when he was a little boy, who am I to judge?
Disclaimer 5: No, I'm not a parent.
My reaction to Amy Chua and her parenting methods:
If I made it a drinking game to down a mouthful of liquor every time I have to suppress my disbelief when reading this book, I would be dead before I finished.
If I had to sip down a mouthful of liquor every time Amy Chua screamed at her daughters, I would still be dead before I turned the last page.
To be honest, I don't think there's anything outstanding about a woman *forces* her daughters to study and practice. Everyone can do this the same like everyone can train animals to obey orders.
The kind of parenting which I would consider to be outstanding and amazing is when parents find their ways to motivate their children to go studying and practicing on their own, at their own free will. To make a long story short, I'm as outraged by this book as people are outraged by Fifty Shades of Grey.
Well, I might have not been so outraged by Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother if only it's merely a memoir just like Chua has claimed, I know Tiger Moms and Tiger Dads exist, and I accept that's how some people, if not many people treat their children. But sadly Chua's claim isn't quite true, throughout an entire book she went out of her way to tell you how and why HER parenting method is superior than the other methods.
Some readers may ask, how can you tell her method is superior? That's easy, look at her daughters Sophia and Lulu, haven't both of them turned out to be well mannered, highly accomplished young ladies? The end justifies the means, right? Obviously to many people, it does.
So why would I have problem with this book? Here're some points.
First, I would like to point out I have problem with how Amy Chua defined 'Chinese parenting' and 'Western parenting'. Simply put, her definition is misleading at best, totally fucked-up at worst.
According to Amy Chua, 'Chinese parents' are not limited to parents who are ethnically Chinese; white people and Jewish etc can be 'Chinese parents' as well, as long as they treated their children according to Chua's methods of 'Chinese parenting'(e.g. making all decision for your kids, not allowing them to have any say, being strict to them etc etc etc) And Chua's so-called 'Chinese parenting' is a mixture of Chinese belief and practices, the practices of Amy Chua's own parents and Chua's own achievement-focused parenting.
Well, then why call it 'Chinese parenting' instead of 'Tiger Mom's parenting' or 'Amy Chua's parenting'!? This definition of 'Chinese parenting' is just so confusing. Hey, own up to your own ideas and actions! Don't use 'Chinese' as a shield!
As to the so-called 'Western parenting', basically Chua gathered all sort of examples for lousy parenting and then labeled them all as 'Western parenting', that's it. It looks a bit unfair to me.
Secondly, I want to talk about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as a story. Our main characters are Amy Chua, her husband, her two daughters and two family's dogs. Supporting Characters being: Grandmother(her husband's mother), Chua's own parents and sisters.
The narrator and main character of this story is Amy Chua herself, so don't be surprised when you find Chua went out of her way to make herself the focus of the whole book. She had so many things to express, she came on so strong to try convincing you that her 'Chinese parenting' is better than the lousy, spineless 'Western parenting', to a point that her husband and daughters become very secondary in the book. Guess what? After reading the whole book, I still have no idea what Chua's older daughter Sophia likes and dislikes, I only know she is there to practice piano, get high grades and be the Perfect Daughter so her mother would be pleased. Well, I believe this girl actually has a personality, but her mother never bothers to present it to us. Plus, Sophia is no fool, she saw right through her mother's halfhearted 'respect' to their Grandmother for what it really was.
Thankfully Sophia's younger sister Lulu is more vivid and three dimensional character, she is a fighter, she's more outspoken than her sister, she doesn't like being forced, she likes to do things by her own terms, she fights back when she is bullied or treated unfairly. I admit I adore this girl. To be honest, I'm not sure I can put up as much a fight as Lulu had done if I were in her position, I might long have gone self destructive if I had been dragged through the mud the same way like Amy Chua had done to her kids.
As to Amy Chua's husband, I found out he got shove to the background for most of the time. Plus I'm surprised that Chua barely appreciates what her husband had done for their kids. HOW DARE HIM to let the girls play, read story books, have outings, have fun and just be kids? HOW DARE HIM?
I'm serious, Chua gave her husband hardly any credit when their daughters' upbringing is concerned. She bragged about how much time and effort she had spent on the girls, how much sacrifice she had made for them. She downplayed her husband's role, she made it sounds like the daddy did nothing but playing and having fun with their daughters; not once did she ever consider perhaps her husband (alongside with some of their relatives) having the good sense to allow the girls to have fun and simply be children helped the kids to develop further. No, Chua just has to claim all the credit.
I learnt that after her book was published, Amy Chua claimed her messages have been read out of context, but I see that she has only herself to blame, it was her who chose to present her daughters' childhood in that way. It was her who filled her book with what SHE wants her kids to do, what high achievements SHE wants her kids to achieve, what SHE thinks is best for her two daughters, what sort of expectation SHE wants her kids to meet up with. Seriously, who else can she blame here?
Thirdly, I want to talk about how Amy had chosen to present herself in her book. I found her to be so arrogant, so unlikable, so self-centered, so judgmental (e.g. allowing your kid to play drums will make them junkies, yo!). She also loves to brag about her successes, she puts people into stereotypes and generalizing different cultures, parenting methods and practices in an overly simple and offhand way. Remember she's a Yale professor? Then why would she views things and measures successes in such a narrow-minded way? I don't know why.
Amy Chua also based her moral high ground on the 'Chinese culture and virtues' she presented. I admit many of the virtues she had mentioned are accurate, but I would like to remind you Amy Chua only shows you a narrowed version of Chinese virtues or presented them out of context in her book. There're so many things in Chinese culture and belief system which Chua had ignored to a point that I think she misrepresented Chinese culture--a culture she claimed to be oh-so familiar with. I also found it rather ironic because this woman seems to forget being humble and subtle is a major traditional Chinese virtue as well. Instead she spent a lot of time to brag about her shinning career, her fine husband and daughters, such kind of bragging would be viewed as rude and bad taste in the eyes of many Chinese.
Plus, somehow we're supposed to believe it's okay for Chua to brag about her degree and many successes, but at the same time her daughters need to have their ego hammered down non-stop. Since when it's okay to set up double-standards when you're educating your children?
There's one more thing in the Chinese's belief system Chua never bothers to mention: balance, remember Yin and Yang?
There's no balance in Chua's mind: You either spoil your children into spoiled brats or groom them into obedient little puppets who don't even dare to have a thought of their own. Can things ever really be that simple in reality!?
For me, the one thing that Amy Chua's book has managed to do is to show me the many shortcomings of the parenting methods which focused upon gaining good grades and achievement, which are adopted by many Chinese parents: For example, Chau mentioned about her days as a student: I am not someone who's naturally critical about everything. I am not keen to get to the bottom of things. I only want to write down everything the professors had said, then memorize all these.
Well, if you planned to educate your children to become some machines to memorize details, be my guest.
Next, I want to mention how much I was unable to suppress my disbelief when I read about how Amy Chua put her daughters through so much unnecessary stress and discomfort throughout their childhood. No, I'm not even talking about her forcing Lulu to practice piano for hours, cutting off dinner and bathroom break until the girl could play the piece perfectly. Plus I want to make it clear that I don't think there's anything wrong about parents disciplining their kids, even parents expecting their kids to get good grades is fine, as long as they are being reasonable about it.
But...for the life in me, does discipline have anything to do with calling your kid 'garbage'!? What good can come front when you hit your daughter for not holding the violin *perfectly*!? What good can it do to interrupt your child's school life and social life to a point she doesn't have friend? What kind of mother would *ignore* her daughter's emotion outburst at the eve of her grandmother's funeral!? MY GOODNESS! I can't see why being a total jerk to your kids and bully them would be viewed as ideal parenting, I just don't understand, and I need to tell you I hate bullies, I hate bullies even more when they are some people else's parents.
*sighs* It's not like I can't see where Chua's ideology (if you can call it that) came from: as immigrants, Chua's own parents needed to work extra-hard in order to get a head start in America, so they taught their children to focus on achievements and making their way to the top of the food chains with hard work and extraordinary performance. All of these are understandable, really. But it's quite ironic that in the end even said parents have the good sense to realize time has changed, and their parenting method is not suitable to every child, whilst Chau ignored their advice and kept demanding her daughters to be 'perfect'. *sighs*
My suggestion: Well, please brace yourself and prepare for disbelief, disgust and eyes-rolling if you ever decided to read this book.
Just to light the mood, let me tell you a little story:
Once upon a time there was a boy in Japan, whose parents were music teacher and musician of classical music; said parents wanted their son to be a classical musician as well, so they arranged for him to practice violin.
Later the boy grew up, but instead of becoming a violinist, he dyed his hair, learnt to play a guitar and joined a rock band. Need not to mention, his parents protested against his choices bitterly, for they honestly thought rock n' roll was garbage.
But the boy, now an adult, still played violin for some of his band's songs.
Holy cow, I hate this lady so much. Her book kind of gives me a headache, but I can't stop reading it. I hope it doesn't end with one of her kids waving a gun around at a piano recital, but I won't be surprised if it does.
I slept on it before I finished my review of this book, seeing if it would make me more calm... but nope. Amy Chua is just appalling! I can't stand this woman. She pushes her daughters to be the best at everything, because if you're not the best then you're garbage (a term she uses for one of her young daughters). She makes them practice their piano and violin everyday for hours and hours and they can never play or hang out with friends or do anything else Chua writes off as a dumb, time wasting Western thing to do. -shudder-
Lots of people seem to respect this lady for her strict parenting but I don't. Is being the youngest person to perform at Carnegie Hall the very most important thing in the world? Chua thinks it is. I don't. She is so controlling she ruins an idyllic family vacation to Greece with making her daughter practice her violin (and do it the way Chua wants or it doesn't count).
I can't argue with the fact her daughters ARE accomplished and amazing musicians and all that. But I'm pretty sure that isn't the most important thing in the world. No matter how I try to look at it, I just can't understand the Gestapo parenting that Chua is advocating. Seriously. I couldn't put this book down because it was so disturbing!
I loved this book! This family is so interesting it reads almost like fiction. It has been a long time since I could pick up a book and thoroughly enjoy it, but this one was a breeze to enjoy. It's so entertaining. She is funny, witty, intelligent, and more. I have read a lot of criticism about her parenting style. I can understand why people might criticize her, but when I have looked deeper into her actions and read the book more carefully I see that she is a very caring mother. Her style is just different. The kids don't feel abused because they know that she loves them, otherwise they would not survive the pressure. But they do survive, and excel. The basis is the foundation of their relationship which is not explained in this book. For example, when it was her birthday and her two girls gave her a birthday card that they made themselves she said to them never to give her such a gift that they probably made in minutes. Then she retold of how when she was a kid on her mom's birthday she would get up early , clean the house, and make her mom breakfast. When I read this there is no way I can think she is an abusive and mean mom to her kids. One child complained that she had to do piano practice that day so she didn't have time, and the mom said, "so you should have gotten up earlier." There is strictness no doubt, but not mean. She is tough, but not aggressive or violent. She lets her kids express themselves, sometimes wildly and aggressively (such as when Lulu tears up the music script), but the mom doesn't react by beating her, as some moms might. Instead she buckles down and gets more determined to win and teach her child the music piece. Why? Because as she says, she has faith in her kids, and knows they can do well. She won't let them fail, which is what happens to many western parents she says. The worst thing she says is to give into the child's frustrations because then you are telling the child that they are right, and that they cannot do it. Instead she seems to stick with them until they achieve. *** It's several days later since writing the above.I'm reading it again. I love the freshness of her personality, the openess, the frankness, the directness. She is such a trooper, so much on her plate, but she keeps going, flying to California for a lunchtime speaking engagement and returning to the east coast the same day. She is forever on top of her children making sure they are keeping up with their music practice. She includes a script of directions that she gives to Lulu when she isn't there to supervise her. This script is so detailed. I wonder how long it took her to write it? And she says she has hundreds if not thousands of them laying about the house. Her passion for life is irresistible. I love her honesty in telling the story that led up to her running out of the cafe in Red Square in St. Petersburg, in sandals, and crying. Great stuff. I want to hang out with her!
I did not like this book and really won't recommend it except to argue with anyone who agrees with author Chua that she has an imitable or admirable parenting style. Her tone was superior and smug, all the while mostly a "brag book" about her talented, abused daughters and how SHE made them so successful. I don't understand a husband and father standing by listening to the insults and humiliation, disguised and excused as a fierce maternal love, heaped by his wife onto his precious daughters. No, thank you. I guess I'm of the mind that parenting impressionable children and raising them to be responsible adults is difficult and lacks a fool proof road map, but I would choose a method and style that, though strict in some ways, would not be cruel.
I would also like to talk to children who have been raised like this, and also to see if later on, they do likewise to their own. This, to me, is more than mere culture difference. But of course, just my opinion. We are all going to ultimately raise our children in a manner that we deem appropriate. I considered much of what this mother did to be child abuse and wonder if child protective services would have intervened had they been called?!
As a mother who has taken a pretty staunchly anti-tiger approach to parenting, I took this book on more as an exercise in cultural literacy. I expected my feathers to be ruffled (and they were), and to be furiously highlighting areas of philosophical difference (and I was - my Kindle got quite the workout).
What I didn't expect was a well-written memoir with honesty, wit and even self-deprecation and self-questioning between the lines. The author admitted that she wasn't yet sure about 'how it would end', referring literally to the memoir, but more figuratively to the life and relationship outcomes for her and her girls. There were also elements that induced me to think about and acknowledge the tiger parts of myself, and the parts of my own parenting that I often struggle to reconcile, and I think that my own walk and talk about parenting, teaching and learning is enriched as a result.
Ugh... I am neither a Tiger Mother or a Pushover. Granted, my daughter is only 4. Should I be concerned that she is not fluent in a second language, that she isn't reading and despite a year of ballet is not on deck to be a prima ballerina? Of course not. There is time for all of that.
I have taught middle school for 15 years. I see the impact of both types of parents. As a result I have 8th graders on the verge of nervous breakdowns, ulcers or both because their parents demand nothing short of perfection. On the flip side I also see parents let everything slide because "he/she's just a child after all".
There is a happy medium to be found. A life where children are taught that hard work and determination pay off, but there should also be time for play and celebration.
Nothing like as extreme as some reviews would have you think. It's an upper-middle class very educated family trying to get their kids on the same track as themselves. It seems like Tigger Daddy said that if Tiger Mother wanted to raise them in that hothousing and exhausting way and was prepared to do the pushing, pulling, chauffering and putting up with rebellion, then fair enough, but he was going to be Nice Daddy and just be there for kisses, hugs and recitals.
In any case, it didn't last. When the eldest daughter rebelled the mother caved in (I almost heard a guilty sigh of relief from her at this point) just as she will when the other, more placid, child, gets a hormonal surge of rebelliousness in a year or two.
There are three different ways of seeing childhood. As a precious time to be cherished and indulged for its own sake. As an expected part of life without too much philosophising or deviation from how it is in your community - kindergarten, local school, college or not and then you're on your own. Or the third, driven way, as being the time when one lays down the skills, resume and connections necessary for a glittering, high-earning adult life. And that's how the Tiger Mother saw it. (Tigger Daddy was more of the second option).
Not a very laid-back upbringing and one totally at odds with my own philosophy but just because her way isn't my way doesn't mean I don't think she isn't doing the right thing. Each to his own. Her to New York city and me to the slooow pace of island-life. Her great ambition is to get her kids into law school (or similar) and my kid, despite our no-pressure life-style made it there all the same.
The bonus for her kids is when its time for them to have major angst and go into therapy, they will really have something to grind up and get their money's worth sorting out. My kid... therapy? Hmmm, what's he got to complain of with a perfect mum like me (!)
Wow I read this book literally a decade ago when I was in high school so um, please ignore my original review or read it from the perspective of a high schooler lol. I'm providing this update because of how problematic Amy Chua is in how she has exploited the model minority myth for her own gain so yikes. I'm leaving my 4-star rating for now just because I haven't gone back and picked out specific problematic aspects of the book, but I do want to leave some resources for those who want to educate themselves if you've stumbled upon this review:
I can't count on my fingers and toes how many times my own tiger mother has called me stupid, worthless, or pathetic due to receiving an A- or for not excelling in every subject at school. She once called me pitiful for recycling, stating that I should spend my time studying instead of caring about the environment.
When I tell my friends these things, one of two things happens. Either they cry out in disbelief and sometimes accuse me of exaggerating, or, they shake their heads and mutter a sympathetic "I know" (the latter is what my closer friends usually do). Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother proves that there are many "tiger mothers" out there, willing to do whatever it takes to make their children succeed - even if it means pushing them to the edge of their limits.
I assumed along with others that reading this book would be a painful experience. It wasn't. Amy Chua's writing is clean and effective, nothing less than what I would expect from a Professor of Law at Yale Law School. There were a myriad of funny moments as well as instances inundated with tension - reading this book never got boring, which is why I finished it in one day.
Now, for the whole Chinese vs. Western debate, I pulled a few quotes to exemplify my opinion on this argument.
"For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong.
If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise their child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure.
If a Chinese child gets a B - which would never happen - there would be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish, and shame the child.
In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently."
I can see the benefits of Chinese parenting, and I agree that most Western parents are too easy on their children - and I don't mean that stereotypically, either. I have an aunt who raises my cousins in the "Western" way, believing that they should just try their best and see what comes of it. At times I'm envious my cousins are treated this way while my own mom curses and screams at me for the smallest nuance, but sometimes I'm glad that my mom has instilled a drive for perfection in me (though part of that drive is a part of my own personality).
My over-arching opinion is that the mindset of Chinese parents - assuming that their children can achieve excellence - is better than the Western attitude of simply "try your best", but the Western method, which uses kindness and compassion, is better than the Chinese practice of shaming children and harshly reprimanding them. In the end, there is no one perfect way to raise a child, but I believe that it should include a healthy mix of these two styles fitting the child's specific needs.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. As you can see from my verbose review, I was greatly affected by it - it's no wonder the popularity of this book skyrocketed immediately upon its publication.
If you're a parent or thinking of becoming one, I highly recommend reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
There's no way to review a book like this without disclosing some of my upbringing because it shaded how I saw all of this while reading. My father had... control issues. I wouldn't consider him a "Chinese mother" because it was more about dominance than it was about the individual success of any of the children. A slip in any grade would definitely result in extreme punishment, but it would also take a lot less... a lot less.
My main problem with the Chinese childrearing system is it can easily breed abuse. The author would roll her eyes at this and call it so American of me to say that, but a roll of the eyes doesn't change it. More than once the author expressed her fear of her children having outbursts in public, not just because it was humiliating, but because Westerners didn't understand her methods. The children couldn't have play-dates, sleepovers, or friends involved in their social spheres. Secrecy and isolation are things child abusers feed on. If either of Chua's children had told a teacher some of the things she said and did to them... I think child welfare would've gotten involved. I don't think the children would have been removed from Chua's care, but I think she would've been under some scrutiny. Perhaps that scrutiny would've led to a more balanced life for the children.
Do I think Sophia and Louisa were abused? Yes and no... Loving a child, which Chua clearly does, doesn't create an impenetrable shield against abuse. Isolating children and hitting them are two different things. I believe Chua raised her children the best way she could, but I don't think the methods are utterly infallible. Isolation is damaging although not in the same way physical abuse would have been.
Chua does a fair bit of questioning her own rearing. She doesn't flinch from telling the truth, even when it portrays her in a bad light. By the end of the book I respected her and I believed there were some merits to the system. It's impossible not to respect someone who happily -- enthusiastically sacrificed for her children, but I wish she had done some intensive research on child abuse instead of universally dismissing the idea of child abuse as an American thing. Sometimes she sounds racist and ignorant, as if child abuse was strictly pseudoscience. She also blinded herself to the issues within her own culture. China's got some serious flaws with childrearing and I'm not just talking about the kids so terrified to tell their parents about a B that they fling themselves in front of trains. Think about the two child policy and the missing female children of the country. China's standards are not the automatic golden ticket.
So mixed feelings. I think Amy Chua could do with a big dose of empathy and the occasional glass of wine to unwind, but given how much she loved her children and how hard she tried -- and the way she learned to evolve her system over time, I think there are far worse people to have as mothers.
Let me make it clear that I am giving this book four stars not because I necessarily agree with Ms. Chua's ideas and parenting style, but because I found this book highly engaging, funny, and moving. I respect Ms. Chua's honesty in portraying herself as a fanatic mom who wants what's best for her girls even to the point of making them unhappy.
Amy Chua is a Chinese mother and in Chinese tradition, the children are expected to study hard and be the best at everything---academically and musically. This means lots and lots of practice which leaves little time for the things kids like to do, like sleepovers, playdates, free time,and fun with friends. Anything less than an A is unheard of and music lessons involve several hours of practice per day. Ms. Chua describes an afternoon of piano and violin practices as daily screaming matches and battles of will with her daughters. Usually the threat of losing a prized toy forever kept the girls at their instruments as children; but as they matured, Chua herself admits that her tactics came short of sheer torture. She describes herself as an overachiever who expects nothing less than 110 percent from her girls and does not hold back if something is not up to her standards, i.e. the dreaded birthday card story.
Chua ties her daughters' successes with her parenting ability. If her girls got B's or didn't win some sort of competition, than she blamed her own parenting. Chinese belief is that children honor and respect their parents above all else and children must spend their lives making them proud and being grateful for their existence. It is with this mentality that Chua has raised her daughters and, though it worked wonderfully with her eldest, her youngest fought her every step of the way.
Long story short, Chua's parenting came to a blow out once Lulu, her younger daughter, got older and downright refused to obey her mother. Lulu hit her rebellious teens and if Chua did not reexamine her relationship with her younger daughter, she would lose Lulu forever. Though much of the fights that Chua describes broke my heart, it is evident that everything this mother did for her daughters came from a loving heart and the desire to watch her daughters succeed. At times it did seem as though Amy was living vicariously through her daughters. She admits that she would have loved music lessons as a child if her parents could have afforded it, so in forcing lessons on her daughters, Chua was giving them the opportunity she never had.
Chua justifies her actions as preparing her daughters for the future. She says it is a tough world out there and Western parents are too soft with their children, allowing them to waste precious hours in front of the TV, playing video games. She states that today's young people are not going to be able to compete in the working world because they just aren't bright enough. More importance is placed on athletic successes than academic ones. She sees today's youth as disrespectful and spoiled. For some this is arguable, but I can see where she is coming from. She doesn't want her children to turn out that way.
Parenting is the hardest job on earth and children don't come with a "How To.." book. We each do the best we can and many of us learn our parenting skills from our own parents, the good and the bad. Chua admits that she raised her girls in a very strict way and wonders that some things she could have done differently. Deep down, though, she is proud of that. But she is also proud of her girls and that is as it should be.
I am dropping this book halfway. Not because it's unreadable - it's actually engagingly written - but because it triggers me on so many levels.
Amy Chua is of the school which believes "spare the rod, spoil the child". No, she does not seem to advocate corporal punishment, but she drives her children like a drill sergeant (rather like the Sarge in Sad Sack comics). According to her, this is the Chinese way (as opposed to the Western way) and it helps them realise their full potential. In contrast, the Western way which treats children as human beings and not inert, puttee-like beings to be moulded into whatever their parents want them to be, somehow gives rise to substandard human beings.
I understand where she's coming from. Being Indian, I also belong to the generation which believed children should be disciplined and not left to their own devices. I have been guilty of the same in my parenting. But - and this is the key thing - I have been less overbearing than my parents, who in turn must have been less overbearing than theirs. The point is, it is not a fight between Chinese and Western, but rather, between the old concepts and the new. And Asia lags behind the West in cultural changes.
In all fairness, I can say that the jury's still out on the "best" way to raise kids. But I will vehemently say Ms. Chua's way is not the right one. Her kids might have turned out all right (I will know that only if I read to the end of the book), but then, that would have been a fortuitous occurrence. More often than not, children are scarred for life by demanding parents who want them to be numero uno always - forgetting the fact that only one can occupy the top spot, and ultimately, it does not make any difference.
No, Ms. Tiger Mum, your way of raising kids is absolute crap. And it does not absolve you even if you write a funny book about it.
Amy Chua screams at her daughters more than prepubescent girls scream at Justin Bieber. (At least the screaming girls are screaming affectionate things at the Biebs.) See, Amy is a "Tiger Mother". She DEMANDS perfection from her children on all fronts. For example, she forces them to practice their instruments for hours on end, and when the pieces played are not PERFECT, she yells things like, "you are a disgrace!" and also threatens to burn their stuffed animals.
For quite awhile, she is able to bribe, humiliate and strongarm her daughters into behaving a certain way. Under her iron fist, they become accomplished young musicans, playing for prestegious teachers in even more prestigious venues.
The youngest daughter eventually rebels. It's ugly.
I love this Tiger Mom, but yet I hate her. She is waaaay too hard on her daughters, and at times I wonder if it really is intended to make the girls strong, smart women, or if it is for Chua's personal gain. (Bragging rights, if you will.) She often yells things like, "you are an embarrasement to me!" Nice. And then there is the scream of, "What will people think of me?"
She claims everything she does is 100% for thier benefit. I wonder.
On the other hand, I totally agree that "Western" parenting is lax. I will point to the lack of parental involvement in many schools, the lack of manners, the overuse of social media and video games, parties where the parent provides booze to minors... Lordy.
We lack balance. Somewhere, between being your child's best friend and being a tiger, ready to pounce, there is a happy medium. And with that, some happy, balanced children.
I don't know if you've ever seen Glee. There's an episode in season 1 where an opposing group named Vocal Adrenalin perform "Another One Bites the Dust", throwing the main Glee club (New Directions, the dumbest name ever) into a depressed funk. Once they get out of it, they perform the one thing VA apparently can't...a funk number. Anyway, Vocal Adrenalin look gobsmacked, and it's this exchange that reminds me of this book; Jonathan: They did a funk number. We've never been able to pull off a funk number. Other girl: Well, that's because we're soul-less automatons.
Amy Chua is quick to insist that the terms "Chinese" and "Western" when applied to parenting don't necessarily mean race as much as they do a cultural mindset of childrearing, but she is quick to throw around terms like "American-ly" when referring to what she refers to as failures as children. She is also quick to assert her Chinese heritage and often notes that without this, her children would have become mindless savages, just like them damn white people.
Amy Chua does not believe children should; - go to sleepovers, - have dumb pets (extensive research must be done to obtain the pet with a highest IQ, the only thing worthy of a Chinese family). The kids are, however, exempt from all responsibilities of actually looking after the dog - have extracurriculars they don't pick themselves - play drums because they lead to drugs - do crafts because they don't lead anywhere - play any instrument other than the piano or violin - get a grade below an A (yes, an A- is unacceptable)
The list is endless, and the bile, it rises in my throat. Have some more quotes! I hope y'all like them!
"As I watched American parents slathering praise on their kids for the lowest of tasks - drawing a squiggle or waving a stick - I came to see that Chinese parents have two things over their Chinese counterparts: (1) higher dreams for their children, and (2) higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take."
"I also wanted Sophia to benefit from the best aspects of American society. I did not want her to end up like one of those weird Asian automatons who feel so much pressure from their parents that they kill themselves after coming in second on the national civil service exam. I wanted her to be well rounded and to have hobbies and activities. Not just any activity, like 'crafts' which can lead nowhere - or even worse, playing the drums, which leads to drugs - but rather a hobby that was meaningful and highly difficult with the potential for depth and virtuosity. And that's where the piano came in."
"Speaking of personalities, I don't believe in astrology - and I think people who do have serious problems - but the Chinese Zodiac describes Sophie and Lulu perfectly."
"I had my first face off with Lulu when she was about three...Fifteen minutes later, she was still yelling, crying and kicking, and I'd had it. Dodging her blows, I dragged the screeching demon to our back porch door, and threw it open."
"I was determined to raise an obedient Chinese child - in the West, obedience is associated with dogs and the caste system, but in Chinese culture, it is considered among the highest of virtues - if it killed me. 'You can't stay in the house if you don't listen to Mommy,'..."
"'RELAX!" I screamed at home. 'Mr. Shugart said RAG DOLL!'"
"As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized."
"The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable - evan legally actionable - to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, 'Hey fatty - lose some weight.'"
"Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have 'The Little White Donkey' perfect by the next day...I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic." [Please note that at this time, the daughter in question is 7.]
"I gave the card back to Lulu. 'I don't want this,' I said. 'I want a better one - one that you've put some thought and effort into...I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and eraser party favors that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.' I threw the card back."
"I broke in, 'Do you know how sad and ashamed my parents would be if they saw this, Lulu - you publicly disobeying me? With that look on your face? You're only hurting yourself. We're in Russia, and you refuse to try caviar! You're like a barbarian. And in case you think you're a big rebel, you are completely ordinary. There is nothing more typical, more predictable, more common and mow, than an American teenager who won't try things. You're boring, Lulu - boring.'"
I tried writing more, but there's blood dripping out of my eyes and ears.
For what it's worth, my mother also called me garbage growing up. Contrary to Chua's belief, it didn't make me feel like trying harder. It made me feel like garbage (shocker there) and it made me want to die.
Dear Amy Chua, This is why your daughter didn't make it into Julliard. This is why the world's greatest classical composers are European and not Asian, because they played with love and not through robotive repetitive training. It takes a certain kind of love to give music a soul, no matter how many hours you practise. You can get the technique as perfect as you like, but Beethoven could play the piano in his head through his love for the instrument, not because mommy told him to. THIS IS WHY YOUR DAUGHTERS ARE SOUL-LESS AUTOMATONS. Love, an Asian kid with an abusive, controlling family who knows how to play the piano
Couldn't resist reading this one, especially after following all the media buzz about Chua and her "extreme" ideas. Confession: I found a lot of her practices less startling than apparently much of the general public, as we have (apparently!) been somewhat "stricter" with our own kids than many people today. To mimic Chua: A list of the things my kids haven't done: - Watch limitless hours of television (no cable TV here since my eldest was 5) - play video or computer games non-stop - fiddle with cell phones, iPods, iPads, iTouches and i-whatevers (my eldest got his first cell phone as a h.s. freshman, with no texting---and then only restricted options-- for another year) - cruise the Internet for hours on end, unsupervised
Ok, so it's easy to slip into the self-righteous mode when reading Chua. Some of her efforts regarding her daughters' upbringing certainly seem extreme, and I keep thinking her husband must be one of the most saintly, patient men ever born, but there is some sense in the core of her message: kids do need, require and even appreciate at least some degree of guidance in order to make it through childhood with some skill acquisition and ability to function/succeed in the "real world." I totally buy that.
However, Chua's arrogance and scorn of those who adopt too much of the "Western parenting" philosophy wear a bit thin as the book goes on, and her outsized pride in her daughters' successes (check out what she ordered at New York's St. Regis hotel for the reception following her eldest daughter, Sophia's, recital at Carnegie Hall) is sometimes hard to swallow for a Midwestern gal like me.
Still, I can't help but think that Chua is laughing all the way to the bank, as I noted her book is currently (as of 2/2/11) #1 on the New York Times (non-fiction) bestseller list--and all because she was willing to be honest about her child-rearing practices and open herself up to criticism and, in some cases, ridicule. Would we could all reap such handsome profits for laying our family's foibles out there!
I can't wait until my book club discusses this in late March; I'm sure that within my largely conservative group of mates there will be some interesting discussion triggered by Chua's revelations.
When it comes to cultural differences, as G.K. Chesterton notes in his essay on “The French and the English,” every cultural vice is partly a virtue, and every cultural virtue is partly a vice. The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother mucks about in this uncomfortable truth. It explores, sometimes in sweeping stereotypes, sometimes in subtler ways, the differences between Asian and American culture, as seen through the lens of parenting.
I teach in a school with a large Asian population. One of my colleagues told me I HAD to read this book. Before I read it, my sense was that Amy Chua's critics were ethnocentric and ignorant of Asian culture. After all, I'm a pretty big fan of the Chinese. Like Chua, I think most American parents are way too permissive and too concerned about their children's self-esteem. I also highly value academic achievement; I detest mediocrity and I consider myself a bitchy elitist in general. So while I expected perhaps to find Chua's methods unfamiliar, I didn't expect to have such a dramatically negative reaction to this book.
This lady is CRAZY. I would say this about a parent of any ethnicity who says and does the kinds of things she says and does. During piano practice, she calls her daughter "garbage" and threatens to burn all of her stuffed animals unless the next song is "perfect." She forbids "play dates," sleepovers, and participating in the school play. Sure, she has two virtuosos for daughters--but at what cost? While she argues that Chinese children don't end up resenting their parents any more than Western children do, it's pretty clear that she makes her entire family miserable. I wouldn't want her as my mother, and I sure as hell wouldn't want to be married to her. I don't even think I want to go to lunch with this woman. She claims modesty and humility were instilled in her by her Chinese parents, but I see no evidence of either in her character. The whole book is a huge brag session about her own accomplishments and those of her kids, and her lines drip with condescension toward Western ideas about parenting. Worse, she's constantly playing the martyr, saying that Western parents have it "so much easier" and complaining about the hours of effort she has to put into her children's music careers.
Here's an idea: instead of being a joyless harpy, why doesn't she find something she's passionate about and MODEL achievement for her children? I think children follow less what their parents tell them to do and more what they SEE their parents themselves do. Chua seems like she was never really that happy at her job. She claims that kids naturally don't want to work and must be forced, but has she considered that when children are truly motivated by something they love, they generally demonstrate a high task commitment and take pride/feel joy in their achievements?
I'm not a parent yet--I'm about to be one--but everything in my bones says this woman is bad news. I've never felt less sympathy for the author of a memoir.
Anyone who is Asian (which I am not), or read an Amy Tan novel (which I have), will recognize the overbearing, hyper-critical, driven, martyred Chinese mother. Amy Chua strikes a bargain with her Jewish husband: if she "allows" him to raise their two daughters in the Jewish faith, he will "allow" her to raise them in the Chinese way. That means each must play a musical instrument, and practice said instrument several hours every day (even on weekends and vacations); each must earn straight A's (even an A- is a failure); no sleepovers, or playdates. Their first child, Sophia, is the perfect Chinese daughter, obedient and compliant. Their second daughter, Lulu, is not. Complications ensue.
This book is generating a LOT of controversy, a good deal of it, it seems, from people who have heard about the book, but not read it. I was surprised at how funny it was; Chua, while belittling and berating her daughters in order to get them to perform their very best, appears to be self-aware, at least some of the time. She admits her failings with Lulu, and although *SPOILER ALERT* eventually letting her choose her own path (to a degree), she still chafes at the lack of control.
You can't argue with the results Asian mothers produce; honestly, it's a style to admire in a lot of ways. I quickly realized that there is no way I could do this with my own child, however. I'm just too lazy--I'd much rather sit curled up in the corner of the sofa, reading a book, than drilling my daughter on math problems or music scales. I'm happy to settle for being a "better," more involved parent than my parents were, and hope that my daughter will be a better parent than I, someday.
With all the hype leading up to this book, I thought that it would anger me, but instead I ended up agreeing with much of "Tiger Mother's" philosophy. Of course, there are some things that were too extreme, but many of her comments about "Westerners" are very true. And the birthday card chapter that has caused so much outrage? I loved it! She was totally justified! I've seen my children pull out a piece of scratch paper and whip out a birthday card in less than a minute. When I've received those, I smile and say thank you and when they are not looking, I throw them away. Now that I've been inspired by Tiger Mother, they will see me throwing it away, and I will tell them that when they make a card fit for the mother who spends most of her time, energy, and money devoted to their welfare, then I will cherish and save it.
Other quotes I loved:
p 29: What Chinese parents understand is the nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. . . . Once a child starts to excel at something . . . he or she gets praise, admiration, and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun.
p. 49 during an argument with her daughter: "My goal as a parent is to prepare you for the future -- not to make you like me."
p 52 "Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
p 62 But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.
p 227 All these Western parents with the same party line about what's good for children and what's not -- I'm not sure the're making choices at all. They just do what everyone else does. They're not questioning anything either, which is what Westerners are supposed to be so good at doing. They just keep repeating things like "You have to give your children the freedom to pursue their 'passion' when it's obvious that the 'passion' is just going to turn out to be Facebook for ten hours.
Chances are, if you're Chinese American, or even Asian American, you've probably heard about the uproar Amy Chua's article in the Wall Street Journal caused. With an incendiary title like "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior", it's hard not to get all riled up. Unlike most people who just read the article, or skim it, choosing to form their opinions on what an editor left out, I decided to read Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother before commenting too much about it.
Although the newspaper article was written tongue in cheek (something a lot of people seemed to have gloss over), it left out some important elements that are present in the book. First, there's humor. The article was funny, especially to one who has been on the daughter's end of things, but the book is laugh-out-loud funny. Funny in the "oh god, this same thing happened to me" funny. Sure, it was frustrating and painful while my own mother did some of the things Chua writes about, but I have to laugh when I think back about how we pitted against each other back then.
Another thing missing in the article is her conclusion. If you've read the book, you'll know that Chua isn't saying that the Chinese way is superior. I don't want to get into spoilers, but there's a whole lot that the Wall Street Journal leaves unsaid and it's no use getting your panties in a rutt about it if you don't bother reading the entire book.
The book is a breeze to read through (or maybe it's because I have super-human reading speed thanks to my Chinese mother forcing me to read the dictionary 5x every night before going to bed?) and Chua captures the every day battles of raising two children in a warm, almost nostalgic way. While reading this book, I found myself rooting for every success the daughters earned through their hard work and practice. I also found myself laughing at some of the things Chua forced them to do. I only wish there was more about Jed, her husband, who seemed to be just on the sidelines but as she noted, that may be for another book.
Chua's story of setting an ideal of how to raise her children, the difficulties she faced from within her family as well as from living in a culturally different country made me think of my own mother and the fights that we had. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother should be necessary reading for anyone who has a Chinese mother.
Okay, I know I might get in trouble for saying this, but I sympathize with Amy Chua. I keep seeing all the flak this remarkable woman (re: former editor of Harvard Law Review, current law professor at Yale, mother of two musical prodigies and math whizzes, and the list continues...) is getting for being honest about her parenting methods, and it really disheartens me. Why are David Brooks and other otherwise respectable reviewers wasting time calling Chua names when the real criticism should be leveled at parents who actually neglect or abuse their children? Some people have said that Chua's parental methods count as child abuse, but if you read what Chua's children actually have to say, it's obvious they feel they've been taught how to fulfill their personal potential, and they credit their mom with teaching them that.
Also, I can't believe how people could read this book and not understand that Chua has an awesome sense of self-deprecating humor. I read the book sitting in a chair at a bookstore, and I laughed out loud so often that the people around me probably thought I was a little crazy. Chua is reflective, insightful, and SO funny (especially in the chapter when she talked about how she tried to apply her parental methods to her dog!). Granted, the NY Times article that generated so much publicity for the book spliced pieces of the book together and did not include any of the humor that pervades the actual book; it's understandable how the article could leave a bad taste in someone's mouth. (In fact, my husband was so disturbed after I read the article out loud to him that he felt upset for the rest of the evening--I can see how others who hear Chua's stories and don't have any personal experience with "Chinese parenting" might have similar reactions.)
All in all, this is a thought provoking, funny, and poignant read about one extraordinary woman's experience of cross cultural parenting in the States. Highly, highly recommend.
i love buying books and having them- i'm glad i borrowed this one. it was interesting, but sort of self-indulgent, and ultimately missed the point. it's sort of an excuse for some pretty impressive emotional abuse, blamed on being chinese. the author really tries hard to make it seem like if you criticize her parenting, you're criticizing chinese culture, but it's just not the case. she sees "western" and "chinese" as mutually exclusive throughout, and decides in the end that a blend of methods is best... which is weird. the point of her method from the start is that you can insult kids because they know that they aren't living up to the truly high opinion you have of them. seems like they would have to know that you think highly of them for that system to work, and i didn't see that in her story. i'm not sure how the best parenting is supposed to work, but i'm pretty sure that your kids have to know that you love them unconditionally, and most of the rest of the stuff is trivial. she tells her kids they aren't good enough, they shame their family, they're garbage, etc. being chinese wasn't enough of an excuse for me to inflict that sort of thing on children. worth reading, not worth taking parenting advice from!
PS- i forgot to say that i think she should have called it "the mea culpa of the tiger mother, or how to destroy cultural identity in the third generation."
Decided to listen to this as a breezy audiobook during a few long runs, simply because people are getting all upset and I wanted to know what Amy Chua really had to say. I was vaguely familiar with her academic work on markets, democracy, and globalization (2002's World on Fire).
I listened to this as memoir, which is what Chua intended, and certainly not as a parenting manual! Unfortunately, as a memoirist she's too self-aggrandizing. Her tone is often sarcastic, relentlessly provocative, intended (I think?) to be amusing and over the top; but full of wincingly banal cultural stereotypes and intentional condescension, occasional off-notes and vapidity. But perhaps my annoyance with her tone occurred because I was hearing Chua read aloud, and she is simply not a good dramatist and mightn't be very good at understanding how this comes across. If I'd read her on the page I'd have generously added a self-deprecating mockery to her words. Unfortunately, I cannot be sure what she intended, since what I heard was painfully earnest ("playing drums [as opposed to the piano or violin] leads to drug abuse!").
To her credit, Chua gives ammunition to her critics by depicting her almost-failures, her mistakes, her ruining of family vacations, and the countless - and distressing to imagine - fights with her daughter, Lulu. She also shares Sophia and Lulu's opinions and sometimes their exact retorts (having taken notes and record verbatim conversations throughout their lives). And Chua acknowledges that her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, had a very different childhood and still ended up a successful Yale professor (and novelist). I was disappointed that after offering such counter-evidence Chua fails to analyze it other than in a very shallow way: the book is not particularly thoughtful or analytical, it is merely a recounting of her interesting "saga."
I'm guessing I don't have to do much to introduce this book to you, as it has already received quite a bit of attention in the news, on Facebook, on blogs and message boards and everywhere else. I must say that last week I spent more time than I should have defending this book to those who had only read the one article in the Wall Street Journal and I've read so many incendiary comments addressing it that I finally had to walk away from the computer.
But anyway. In case you've missed all of the hoopla surrounding Amy Chua and her new book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, please read on...
Like Chua, I was born in the year of the Tiger as per the Chinese Zodiac and I consider myself to be a fairly strict mother. By American standards, that is. (Perhaps there really is something to that Zodiac...) I have been told more than once that I am "weird" to not allow television, computer/video games or playdates on weekdays. I am not a fan of sleepovers, and I mostly don't let my children participate. The only exceptions are when we are out of town and friends are watching our children or vice-versa. Like Chua's children, mine are required to play a musical instrument, and they must practice that instrument daily.
Tiger signs and strictness aside, I loved this book. Loved it. I read it all in one great gulp a few days after Christmas. After I closed it, I sat and I thought about what I had just read. I learned a lot about myself as a parent and about my children while reading it.
I was absolutely fascinated with the story of this Chinese-American mother--herself a law professor at Yale University which is certainly a highly demanding job--and how she sat with her two daughters for their daily practice and homework sessions. Practicing for up to six hours a day on the violin and piano. Drilling them with math problems so that they knew the material backwards and forwards. One hundred percent devoted to the success of her children and going much more than just an extra mile to help them.
Being a Suzuki mom myself, I was a little shocked and more than a little impressed when I read about Chua's daughter Lulu, and how she was already playing Dvorak's Humoresque after only six months on the instrument. Um. Bria just learned that song last year, and she's been playing for six YEARS.
Did I agree with everything Chua had to say? Absolutely not. But one thing in particular resounded with me in a very big way. It is my job as a parent to help my children be successful. Children are much too young to always make good choices, and while offering them choices in some things is good, it isn't okay to just let a four-year old choose everything about her life. Or a seven-year old. Or even a ten-year old. And especially not a teenager, although I wouldn't know anything about that.
If I left it up to my children, they would rarely do their homework (especially not math), they wouldn't practice their instruments, they would watch a lot of TV, they would eat candy for breakfast, cookies for lunch and who knows what for dinner, they would never brush their teeth or shower and they would be generally miserable. And they would have no idea why.
It is my job to see to it that they not only complete their homework, but that they do it well. It is my job to make sure they not only pick up that violin/sit at the piano and practice, but that they actually do their scales (hoo boy do I ever have a funny story about Bria and her scales--remind me later) and pay attention to proper technique. It is my job to make sure that they are filling their time with wholesome activities and not just watching whatever happens to be on the television, which, as we all know, is often nothing good. It is my job to make sure that they have healthy meals and to limit their sugar intake. My job to make sure their teeth are brushed twice daily and that they sometimes floss. My job to make sure they bathe.
Having high expectations for a child is not a bad thing. It does not ruin their self-esteem. It can only help them learn responsibility, the value of hard work and oh, raise their self-esteem. Do I think this can be accomplished without yelling or calling names? Yes. There is a balance.
Have I found that balance? No way. My children have experienced something of an inconsistent childhood, having a mother who one day makes them practice and practice until it is perfect, and the next makes them do it themselves or forgets altogether. I fully admit to forgetting to make them brush their teeth at night or letting them have a cookie just because I don't want to deal with the temper tantrum that is sure to follow. I am by no means a perfect mother.
And neither is Amy Chua, and she certainly doesn't purport to be. Her book is not a story of why her parenting methods are "superior" as the Wall Street Journal's headline reads. Her book is not even a "how to be a better parent" kind of book. Her book is a memoir. A memoir of a mother who begins her journey as we all do--no instruction manual in hand and only the experience of being raised by her own Chinese Immigrant parents to guide her. She learns along the way what works and what doesn't. And then, there's always the fun trial of having a second (and then a third, in my case) daughter who is nothing like the first one, and you're at square one again.
At the end of the memoir, Chua learns some valuable lessons about balance. About letting go a little bit and letting her children carve their own lives. She also makes fun of herself throughout the entire book, and I am fairly sure that she doesn't mean for us to take everything she says quite so seriously. I'm even going to go out on a limb and say she'd be totally okay with her daughter earning the silver medal in something!
What about Chua's (American) husband? Well, I happened to catch an interview with the both of them on NPR the other day (I highly recommend listening), and I found it very interesting what he had to say about his wife's parenting methods: "You know, to me, maybe I'm wrong, but I always thought the way we were raising our kids was more of a traditional American way. You know, the values of hard work and perseverance and being taught that you can overcome obstacles and respect. And, you know, it's an interesting thing. When did Western parenting become associated with the more permissive style? I think it's pretty recent. I mean, I think maybe the 1960s. So I didn't really think of it as Western versus Chinese. I guess I thought of it as maybe a kind of old-fashioned parenting style. " And that about sums it up for me. I wouldn't say I'm Chinese, but I suppose I am old-fashioned.
I really wanted to hate this book. I remember being appalled by the excerpt that came out in the Wall Street Journal -- the one that set off all the brouhaha in the media about this book. But I think what many of the reviews and comments missed is that this is not a child-rearing treatise or a how-to manual -- it's a memoir. And it's a very bittersweet. touching and funny one, as well as being extremely honest. I admire Amy Chua's bravery in putting it all out there -- her finest and worst moments as a parent. I actually loved this book.
As for her parenting methods -- yes, they can be harsh and I don't think they would work for me or my particular kids. But there is a lot to admire in her strength, determination and high standards. There is something to be said for expecting the best from our children rather than coddling or excusing them.
So, all in all, I truly enjoyed reading this book and there are some laugh-out-loud funny moments, as well as ones that made me cry. If you can set aside judgement and read this book for what it is -- one woman's story of her struggle to parent her gifted, spirited daughters -- I think you will enjoy it too!
I see a lot of outrage in the reviews and I must say that I don't quite understand where all of this is coming from.
First of all my mother's parenting style was very lax, she wasn't very present for me emotionally, she's done certain things very right, others very wrong, either way I do know that she always tried her best and wanted the best for my brother, sisters and me.
I ended up having a lot of stress and attachment related issues (between other things), I put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself about the smallest things and having had a mental breakdown in my teens, academically, I am a total failure. I thought I would give you a little bit of background on my upbringing because I think it does shape my views on parenting. (I don't have kids yet but am looking forward to it in the future).
I do think that there must be a happy medium between the tiger mother parenting style and my mother's, but let's be real, you would probably never reach the level of achievement Amy Chua's kids have reached with it either way.
There are a lot of things that she says to her children that I find no need for, but then again I do think the difference in culture changes a lot of things. I find that a lot of black and asian parents can be -verbally- really tough to their children, and as someone raised by a white, western woman, my first reaction is to deem it rude, sometimes borderline abusive. But actions do speak louder than words and I do believe that these children -at the right age- could be completely aware that this is only to push them farther and that their mother loves them with all her heart. There are certain things you can take from your parents because you know how they function, while anyone from the outside would find it shocking..
One thing I find rather terrible though, is making them skip meals or practice until late into the night. Although it isn't going to kill them, it is teaching them that their work ethic is more important than their health I think it's a really poor life lesson and just flat out not okay.
The thing with parenting is that I don't think there is a right method. It all depends on what you want for your child's future. If your main focus is for your child to be successful in society, for them to reach a level of academic excellence to then go on to have a high paying job, then I think this method probably works really well. The author has certainly given her daughter an incredible work ethic and their practice will have offered them a myriad of possibilities. They seem very tough and polite too.
Although this would help later in life, I don't think it would be my main focus as a parent. Things I do wonder about are: what about their social skills ? Are they creative ? How was their stress level as children and did it really make their debut adulthood easier ? Did they learn to truly think by themselves ? And how about their self esteem, was it really built up thanks to their achievements (musical and school related) ?
I would have loved to know a little more. We definitely don't hear about it all. People are horrified about this book, but we don't read a lot about the loving moments they spend together, the more peaceful times, because it wouldn't make for an entertaining read. We must remember that these people have a full life and we only got a glimpse of it in the book.
Whatever your opinions on the "tiger moms", I think this was an enjoyable read. It is written more like a memoir than as a "how to" book. It's very funny in places and very well edited, never dragging and never boring. More importantly, it helped me to see things from a different perspective. Something that also needs to be pointed out is that Amy Chua, is never pushing her belief system onto anybody here. She is telling the story of her family as it is, showing, explaining and even questioning her point of view.
I think this woman can take pride in knowing what she wants and working towards it with more energy than you would imagine possible and despite the huge amount of pressure her girls faced, their mom did teach them that if you fail it is okay as long as you really gave your all, you just have to try again. In my opinion there is good to be taken from this book. Nothing says that you have to apply everything from her methods onto your own family but a little resilience against kids laziness wouldn't hurt some of the parents I know..
As a parent, I think I would expect a lot from my children, however, by controlling their lives too much -no matter how tempting- I would fear that they would run around like chicken with their heads cut off as soon as they'd get a little freedom (i.e go to uni).. I guess it all depends on your child's personality.
I basically had to read this book. My wife is from Shanghai. She teaches piano, so I have some exposure to many Asian parents. I went to Yale Law School. And we own two Samoyeds. So there were simply too many points of connection. On the other hand, I don't have kids.
I admire the book for a number of reasons. She writes very well, and its extremely easy to read. It's a memoir, but she pretty much casts herself as the villain. She at times has a bit of a sense of humor about herself and seems to realize how ridiculous she has been. And In the end, it seems like her kids both probably turned out pretty well.
The failings of her attitudes, however, overwhelm the good parts. First, the author, though she would not put it in these terms, is unabashedly racist. This comes out in a number of ways. There's the perpetual mockery of Western parenting. There's an episode where she gets really upset because her daughter insists that she is not Chinese (her father is white and a Jew), because no-one in America thinks she's Chinese and no one on their recent trip to China thought she was Chinese either. To Chua, this was unthinkable and a deep insult. And the point comes up in little asides, like the observation that tennis might actually be a worthwhile activity because Michael Chang was a tennis player.
Another thing that annoyed me was how often she contradicted herself. She says early on that she doesn't believe in astrology, but the title belies the assertion, as do numerous references to Tiger characteristics. At the beginning of the book, she explains how Sophia, her first daughter's name, means wisdom and how Louisa means fierce warrior, and how appropriate the names were. She also takes great pride in her Chinese name. Later, she excoriates her kids and tells them never to judge anyone by their name. Worse, she frequently talks about how a Chinese child always respects her parents. Yet the book is basically full of screaming arguments between her and her younger daughter who continually tells her that she hates her.
As for her parenting style: its not for me. But I actually don't think she had much of a choice. At one point, she observes that her younger daughter is, like her, compulsively cruel. I think that observation, more than anything else, is the key to her excesses. She can't resist screaming, mocking, being derogatory, threatening her kids, etc... And so the "Tiger Mother" model probably was the only thing she could have done.
Let's face it, she admits that she can't even train a dog. The reason is simple: she seems only to believe in punishments, threats, and the weight of her disapproval. With dogs, you get the behavior that you reward. And you get rid of most behaviors that you don't want by ignoring the behavior. The same thing works with people, too. But Chua says she doesn't believe in bribing kids. This makes me wonder how long she would continue to be a professor at Yale if they stopped paying her, and instead simply threatened to punish her. It seems to me that she could have manipulated her kids more easily into the same ends, and in a way that was more pleasant for everyone involved, if she could have just seen her way through to rewarding her kids for their hard work. But maybe that's just the soft Westerner in me. I do tend to prefer Capitalism to Maoism, even with its faults.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is Amy Chua's much touted (I could say notorious) memoir of how she raised her two daughters to become academic high achievers and musical prodigies using Chinese methods. Chua states up front that her sweeping assessments of the relative virtues of "Chinese parents" and "Western parents" are just that, very broad opinions, and that Chinese-style parenting can be found in many non-Asian homes, typically where the parents are first-generation immigrants.
Having a kid who spent much of middle school in gifted classes where the Chinese kids outnumbered the rest, I can confirm anecdotally that much of what Chua covers in her book conforms to the normal practices of Chinese parents. An extremely limited social life, "always programs" as one mother proudly told me, Chinese school at the weekend, hours of homework and extra drills were the norm; a grade below an A was unacceptable. My child hid her very first D from me because in her Chinese friends' world, a D meant a total parental meltdown and probably solitary confinement till the age of 25. When my kid grew away from her friends in high school she plunged joyfully into the Western model of underperformance, only to rediscover achievement all by herself in her senior year. She now tells me that I should have been more of a Tiger Mother and that she's going to raise her kids the Chinese way.
But enough about me! I really enjoyed Chua's book. I agreed with quite a few of her criticisms of Western parenting as selfish (she is particularly critical of mothers who neglect their children's education so that they can pursue interests of their own) and lazy (Chinese mothers are willing to invest every spare minute in their children's development, etc.) And she attacks the scary spectacle of self-esteem, which is producing impossible children unable to deal with authority. Believe me, I know. Sorry, me again.
I was interested in Chua's own overachiever, type A+++++ personality; she cheerfully admits to her tendency to spread tension over every family gathering and her inability to enjoy herself. Toward the end of the memoir she does come over as a bit more human, and begins to concede that Chinese parenting does not always work (it was not successful for her father, and only partially worked with her youngest daughter) and that some Western ideas, such as pursuing your own passions rather than your parents', have some sense in them.
Still, when you consider how limited our Western aspirations are for our children (most of us just want them to be happy and to have monstrous self-esteem like my kids SORRY) compared to those of Chinese parents, who see Yale, Harvard, Nobel prizes and Olympic medals in their children's future, you may pause for a moment. The Chinese parents I've met began saving for college when their children were foetuses, and investigating Ivy League institutions when their kids were in 7th grade. So now I don't feel so horrible after all for insisting that we start homework straight after school AND WE SIT AT THE TABLE TILL IT'S DONE (that lasted until high school, when I lost control).
I'm struck by how much this book made me reflect on my own parenting successes and failures, as illustrated by the way I keep interrupting this review with news about me. Battle Hymn was very nicely written, lively, and easy to read. I rather hope that some of Chua's ideas catch on.
This book definitely has that magical "unputdownable" quality. I started reading it while waiting for the bus and was immediately engrossed. So much so that I definitely neglected my work to sneak in a few more chapters throughout the day.
I think the media's shrill reaction to the book is largely unwarranted. Excerpts taken out of context are inflammatory for sure. But I think, as a whole, Amy Chua is pretty frank about both her strengths and her insane moments, and admits several times that she's just as clueless as everyone else when it comes to doing the right thing for her kids.
And it's funny! My favorite is the stuff about her goofy dogs, and how she tried to Asian-parent them. She eventually comes to the conclusion that "although it is true that some dogs are on bomb squads or drug-sniffing teams, it is perfectly fine for most dogs not to have a profession or even any special skills."
I grew up with a kitten mother myself. For example, one of her least favorite things to do was drag us out of bed in the morning. If we were persistent enough about being exhausted, she'd let us sleep in and skip school for the day. That sort of thing. As a result, I can't read Chinese, don't play any musical instruments unless you count Rock Band and am crap at self-discipline. Do I wish my mom had been stricter when I was growing up? A little bit. (And incidentally, we still fought like crazy when I was a teenager. It just comes with the territory.)
This book made me think about what kind of parent I would be. I think I'm likely to be much stricter than my mom, just based on my attitude towards my younger brother. Even when he was in elementary school, I was always urging my parents to push him harder while my mom just wanted him to be a happy little kid. "What kind of crap is that?!" I remember thinking. And this was my incredulous Facebook post in March: "HOLY SH*T!!! My brother got into Harvard Law!! I guess I can't give him grief for being an underachiever now....."
It also made me think about my own parents, and how hard it must have been for them to raise their kids in a western society that was completely unfamiliar to them. I remember my mom helping out with school fieldtrips even when she barely spoke English, and helping me make "exotic" dishes like spaghetti and meatloaf like my friends' moms made. I think my parents really tried to be open-minded about the benefits of western education - creativity, independence, etc. - while still conveying the best of their Chinese values. So a big thanks to them for their unfailing hard work and care; my appreciation for the magnitude and complexity of their task grows every year.