Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
by Amy Chua
I've been struggling with this review because it's impossible for me to judge the book without inserting my own life experiences. And, frankly, some of them are very angsty.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is the brutally honest memoir of a Chinese-American mother raising her two daughters the "Chinese" way. Chua is careful to point out that not all Chinese or Asians do this, just as not all white people raise their children the "Western" way. The book got a lot of press and criticism after an excerpt was posted in the Wall Street Journal. After reading the whole book, the descriptions of the harsh treatment Chua imposed upon her daughter while practicing piano were probably taken a little out of context. Because there's no way I could have read this book without an enormous grain of salt.
Tiger Mother is not a parenting book. In fact, I'd go as far to say it is the antithesis of a parenting book. While the author time and again tries to show us how well-balanced and successful her daughters turned out, and how her personal sacrifices of time and sanity paid off, I personally cannot, with good conscience, recommend her impossibly demanding strictures be applied to anyone being raised in a Western society.
And so, I read this book with half a mind reminding me that this book could only be part satire, with Chua playing the role of moaning martyr mother. She talks very little about the details of her own upbringing except to say "this is how I was raised, and look at how great I am!" It makes me wonder exactly she left out. Still, it's an engaging read, but definitely not for the easily enraged who think that children are precious and must be shielded from life at all costs.
I should probably mention that tigers are known to eat their young. This is not one of the facts Chua includes in her book.
From My Point of View--Being Raised the "Chinese" Way
In my experience, Chua's outlook is not an uncommon one among traditional Chinese parents. Harsh discipline, withholding praise, comparing children, and verbal reprimands that border on abuse, all in the name of making stronger, more successful children is something I grew up with, and something many my friends grew up with. The efficacy of these methods remains in question largely because the idea of success is entirely subjective. If we don't become concert pianists, doctors, lawyers, bankers or productive mothers, if we don't earn tons of cash at the expense of our happiness, then what, exactly, are tiger mothers striving for when they force their kids to practice piano three hours a day and deny them playdates?
While there's lots to be said about not giving today's kids enough rigid structure or discipline and letting them run wild and become spoiled ingrates, there's just as much to be said about dictating every minute of your kids' lives, all while telling them they're worthless, garbage, that they'll never amount to anything, that their siblings are better than them, that you'll abandon them at the orphanage if they don't do exactly what you tell them to do, etc.
I was raised between the two parenting styles. My parents owned their own business, working eight-hours a day, seven days a week, 364 days a year. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who went to work with my father once my sisters and I were in full-time school.
My impression of the time was that we didn't have a lot of money, but were more than adequately provided for. We had a Nintendo system and a piano. My mom did try to get us to take up piano and violin. She wanted her daughters to grow up cultured, knowing classical music and reading books. But with her long working hours, Mom didn't have all the energy and enthusiasm Chua had. She certainly didn't stand over us and make us play until we cried or chewed on the piano keys.
Piano and violin lessons petered out after a couple of months. The truth was, none of us had the patience or the passion, and I think Mom realized we wouldn't work at anything we didn't love. We were bright, energetic, and impatient to learn more and move on: not ideal candidates for the strict Suzuki methods our teacher ascribed to.
The "Chinese" method of parenting came mostly in our academic studies. I would get 99% on my tests and still Mom and Dad would demand, "Where's the other 1%?" Part of me was always hurt by that question, but another part of me knew they were kidding. Mostly. Still, I strove for that perfect 100% and was always disappointed when I made that one error. Frustrated though I was, I never fought the system, never told them how irritating it was to be asked why I wasn't perfect. Maybe that's why being a writer suits me—because I'm used to criticism. 8 P
Reading Chua's account opened my eyes only a little. Living in a Western society where every after-school special hammers home the idea that your parents love you unconditionally has allowed me to believe that is, in fact, the case. I know my parents love me because they haven't abandoned me at an orphanage. And though they never told me they were proud of me, though we do not hug or phone each other just to talk every week, I know they love me, and I love them.
Chua loves her daughters, and they love and respect her and what she did for them. That much is clear in the book. But I'm not sure the same can be said for all Chinese-raised kids and their parents.