Amanda Gates

Book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

When I first read about Amy Chua and her book in the Wall Street Journal, I jumped on the “this woman is ca-ra-zy” bandwagon. But then, the more and more I read about her, the more I wondered if she was just misunderstood? (Or was she just acting ca-ra-zy to sell more books?) Now that I’ve read the book, well, I’m still conflicted in my feelings.

When she says that accepting the best from your children is the only way a parent should behave, well, that makes sense. When she says that people don’t get good at things without practicing, that makes sense, too. She made me think that yes, maybe we Western parents do coddle our children a bit. Maybe we do make them feel entitled. Maybe they do become more disrespectful or rude. Or, by not making them practice, by not expecting the best grades through rigorous homework schedules, by instead letting them make their own choices, we’re in fact being lazy parents. Hmmm.

However, there are other times when I can’t believe the words she’s writing down. Sometimes they’re so out of this world, I laughed assuming she was joking (“Playing the drums will lead to drugs.”), but I’m not so sure she is. For example, this is what she says about her dogs, yes, her DOGS:

“My dogs can’t do anything—and what a relief. I don’t make any demands of them, and I don’t try to shape them or their future. For the most part, I trust them to make the right choices for themselves. I always look forward to seeing them and I love watching them sleep. What a great relationship.”

That’s how many Western parents feel about their children - trusting them to make choices and looking forward to seeing them.

And the fact that she spent the weekends driving her child two hours to and from New York City for a one-hour violin lesson? Um, no. What the heck was she doing for herself? But then, she doesn’t believe parents should do much for themselves, I don’t think. She’s not “getting pedicures or massages,” and seemed to judge those of us who do. But, she also seemed run a little ragged; I think she could use a good massage every now and then.

When it came to practicing piano, my own mom was a bit of a Tiger Mother. While I wouldn’t have to sit there and practice for five hours a day (and I could still go on sleepovers), there are many, many times during the first 5-6 years where I would sit at the bench for hours refusing to practice and she would yell and yell at me. She would slam doors. She would stomp around. For some reason, to her, piano was very important. However, one day she was so mad she slammed her hand against the wall. She sprained and bruised her thumb. That was the day, she told me later, when she realized it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it to our relationship or my wellbeing. She rarely yelled at me after that and she let me quit having to do the recitals (my stage fright was nearly immobilizing). She switched me to a more laid-back teacher. And I kept taking piano lessons for 5 more years. And then she let me quit. And to this day, even if I can’t play very well anymore, I don’t regret quitting (or taking lessons, for that matter). And later when I started band playing the flute, she never pushed me to practice – I practiced for me. And the flute was my choice. I stayed in band for six years and enjoyed nearly every minute.

I’m glad that Chua had her younger daughter Lulu to throw her for a bit of a loop. If both her children accepted their fate like her older daughter Sophia did, Chua would be singing the praises of Chinese parenting as loud as she could. I appreciated her struggles with her younger daughter. I still think she went too far, refusing meals and sleep until practice was done, but at least she learned different children respond to different parenting methods.

In the end, it was a good book. She’s humorous, sarcastic (I think) and a good storyteller. I got great insight into another way to parent. And while I don’t agree with very many of her methods, I do think both sides can learn a bit from each other.

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