BOTW (Book of the Week) - Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

This book has sparked so much buzz and heated controversy. In essence, it's about Chinese parenting vs Western parenting. But Chua uses the term "Chinese mother" loosely; it's more of an "immigrant mentality." And Chua's memoir has surely struck a nerve with me 'coz I'm a Chinese Malaysian mom myself, raising my 2 daughters in the States. But unlike Chua, I'm definitely no Tiger Mom, lol, I'm probably more of a Rabbit Mom. And after reading Chua's book, I found myself questioning my own parenting choices and techniques. Am I not pushing my daughters hard enough so they realize their full potential? I think Chua goes to the extreme, and for me, the key is looking for a happy medium. Here's a dishy condensed excerpt from NPR's Fresh Air (National Public Radio) of Maureen Corrigan's review.

"The back story to Chua's memoir is this: She is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and is now a professor at Yale Law School and the author of two best-selling 'big-think' books on free-market democracy and the fall of empires. When Chua married her husband, fellow Yale law professor and novelist Jed Rubenfeld, they agreed that their children would be raised Jewish and reared 'the Chinese way,' in which punishingly hard work — enforced by parents — yields excellence; excellence, in turn, yields satisfaction in what Chua calls a 'virtuous circle.' The success of this strategy is hard to dispute. Older daughter Sophia is a piano prodigy who played Carnegie Hall when she was 14 or so. The second, more rebellious daughter, Lulu, is a gifted violinist. I looked over at my daughter and had mixed feelings about her just chillin' in front of the TV, rather than plugging away in that virtuous circle of enforced practice. I guess we won't be sending out the invitations for Carnegie Hall anytime soon."
***This is the 1st part of the review - "What kind of a mother informs her daughter that she's 'garbage?' And what kind of mother believes, as Chua tells readers she does, that: "an A- is a bad grade; ... the only activities your children should be permitted to to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and ... that medal must be gold?
What kind of a mother? Why, a mother who's raising her kids the Chinese, rather than the Western, way. In her new memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua recounts her adventures in Chinese parenting, and — nuts though she may be — she's also mesmerizing. Chua's voice is that of a jovial, erudite serial killer — think Hannibal Lecter — who's explaining how he's going to fillet his next victim, as though it's the most self-evidently normal behavior. That's the other gripping aspect of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: There's method to Chua's madness — enough method to stir up self-doubt in readers who subscribe to more nurturing parenting styles. Trust me, Battle Hymn is going to be a book club and parenting blog phenomenon; there will be fevered debate over Chua's tough love strategies."

****And here is another eye opening blog post by an Anonymous reader on Quora.com that made me rethink what Chua refers to as the 'Chinese-way' of parenting.
"There's a culture clash you can't overlook here. The Chinese mother in my life had a strictly results driven, merit based mindset and a heavy emphasis on test scores, achievements and report cards being able to show that her daughter was better than everyone else in the class -- which in turn was a reflection on her success as a parent. However, the environment in which she raised us in was a different country. One that she has honestly never gotten used to or felt comfortable in living in. To her, the idea of having her children become "Americanized" was looked down upon as failure. The idea of allowing a more flexible stance, a softer tone or an expression of individualism was out of the question. This duality of living in a very "Chinese" household and going to school where our American teachers taught us to be free thinking and creative were constantly at odds with each other growing up.
Drawing from personal experience, the reason why I don't feel this works is because I've seen an outcome that Amy Chua, the author fails to address or perhaps has yet to experience.
My big sister was what I used to jealously call "every Asian parent's wet dream come true" (excuse the crassness, but it really does sum up the resentment I used to feel towards her). She got straight As. Skipped 5th grade. Perfect SAT score. Varsity swim team. Student council. Advanced level piano. Harvard early admission. An international post with the Boston Consulting Group in Hong Kong before returning to the U.S. for her Harvard MBA. Six figure salary. Oracle. Peoplesoft. Got engaged to a PhD. Bought a home. Got married.
Her life summed up in one paragraph above.

Her death summed up in one paragraph below.

Committed suicide a month after her wedding at the age of 30 after hiding her depression for 2 years. She ran a plastic tube from the tailpipe of her car into the window. Sat there and died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage of her new home in San Francisco. Her husband found her after coming home from work. A post-it note stuck on the dashboard as her suicide note saying sorry and that she loved everyone.

Mine is an extreme example of course. But 6 years since her passing, I can tell you that the notion of the "superior Chinese mother" that my mom carried with her also died with my sister on October 28, 2004. If you were to ask my mom today if this style of parenting worked for her, she'll point to a few boxes of report cards, trophies, piano books, photo albums and Harvard degrees and gladly trade it all to have my sister back.
For every success story that has resulted from the "Chinese mothers" style of parenting, there are chapters that have yet to unfold. The author can speak to her example of how it's worked for her but it'll be interesting to see how long you can keep that gig up and pass it down until something gives.
As a responsibility to herself as a "superior Chinese mother", I think Amy Chua should do a bit of research outside her comfort zone and help readers understand why Asian-American females have one of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S. -- I bet many of you didn't know that. I didn't until after the fact. It'd make a good follow up book to this one she's currently profiting from."



4 comments:

  1. W.O.W. Wow! The response post to the book is so revealing - I agree with the writer. It is so important to look at both sides of the coin. I don't have children but know that parenting is the hardest job out there. There is no right way, but so many wrong ways. I'll be adding this to my list of reads.

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  2. I read this a few weeks ago in the LA Times and was really amazed by the content. For someone who was raised by EXCEEDINGLY lax parents (the very counter to Chua), I found some real gems of truth in her thoughts on raising children. My parents took the approach that the "kids know best" and allowed us to self-express to the point of running the whole show! The pros of this are that any and all lessons I have learned come from hard-earned experience and are therefore ingrained deeply in my soul (!) but would I want to raise my kids like this? No! I think their self-confessed naiveté and optimism that "all would turn out fine" was pure luck but I wouldn't want to risk it! I love how Chua said her active/harsh parenting is really about "helping your children to be the best they can be" and I couldn't agree more with her discussion on the virtuous circle that good work generates.
    ...But again, the grass is always greener on the other side. I wish I had stricter parents because of the very lack of such discipline...Only time will tell if Chua's kids actually succeed in being HAPPY vs. just monetarily successful in life. From watching the MSNBC interview, I'd be interested in reading the book because she explains that it is more about her journey as a mother (which makes me think that, as media is prone to do, they are only highlighting the controversial aspects of her book to generate sales). Okay, I'll stop :-)

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  3. Thanks for your considered discussion on this topic and personal perspective. Having been raised in a somewhat untraditional family but fully within the standard north american soft-pedal philosophy- you are unique and can be whatever you want to be- I think there's something to be said for pushing children to achieve more, and helping to instill self-discipline. The positive message was conveyed, but without the tools to achieve it, I think. I certainly see myself and my peers floundering, with a sense of entitlement but no idea how to get there!
    That being said, I think a healthy dose of caring and perspective might need to be learned by tiger moms too!

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  4. Shoe Lover - I know, I had goosebumps when I read that response on quora.com from the Anonymous poster. Glad this is on your TBR list. Will be curious to hear your thoughts after you've read it.

    Michiko - Thanks for your in depth thoughts. I really appreciate it. My mom raised me more the Western way than the Chinese way and I turned out okay (I like to think). And I couldn't agree with you more on "all would turn out fine" does not always hold true. Case in point - the poster's sis who committed suicide. I think I'd rather have my kids be HAPPY than SUCCESSFUL.
    But at the same time, I also want to give my daughters ALL the tools available to help them become successful and prepare them for the real world.
    And after reading Chua's book, I can say that her book is more about acceptance, and it's a lot more nuanced than the articles on LA Times and WSJ would have you believe. Give the book a shot. Chua is a brilliant writer.

    The Damn Green Dress - Agreed! Tiger moms need to learn some compassion. And I think Chua realizes that in the end of her book. Her younger daughter Lulu rebelled and Chua had to eventually draw in her Tiger fangs.

    ***And ladies, thanks 4 all your comments. I was thinking of ditching the BOTW posts 'coz no one seemed to be interested. I'm so glad I've found a small group of fashionistas who are also book lovers. :)
    If you have any fav. books to share, feel free to mention 'em. I'm open to ALL types of genres.

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