Title: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Author: Amy Chua
Genre: Memoir; Sociology; Culture
Publisher: Penguin Press
Pub. Date: January 11, 2011
Never has a book that I haven't read caused such intense emotions for me -- emotions that necessitated my taking deep, calming breaths every time I thought about it. Although I did see this book in the stores, I didn't pay much heed because the cover didn't draw me in. But then I saw blog posts and articles popping up and I learned what this nugget was about. The Asian style of parenting!! The author refers to it as "Chinese parenting". (I would link but commentaries have been written in all the major periodicals out there, so you'd be fine just googling it). The articles excerpt the book including examples of the author's parenting decisions: no sleepovers, play dates, tv, or video games for her children; calling her children "garbage" and other degrading names; forcing hours and hours and hours of practice time on the piano and violin -- going so far as to forbid bathroom or water breaks until a certain piece was perfected; expecting all around perfection from her children; rejecting birthday cards they made her because the lack of quality reflected the dearth of time spent on making them. Furthermore, in everything written about her, the author, Amy Chua, (who happens to be a Yale law professor), sounds arrogant in her insistence that "Chinese parenting" is far superior to that of "Western parents".
The discussions of this book made my blood boil. I have passionate feelings about parenting which, I'm sure, has a lot to do with how I ended up in the field(s) of work that I did. We already know child abuse is a problem, but many people underestimate the quantity and significance of emotional abuse. And I consider extreme parenting like that to be emotionally abusive in nature. And there is research out there that shows the unhealthy and otherwise negative effects of such extreme parenting. And though many Asians fit into the stereotype of being great, smart, often perfect students, there are also many Asian Americans who seek therapy for the same things that made them that way. And being Asian American myself (technically bi-racial or bi-ethnical, if you will) I have very personal feelings regarding the Eastern attitude toward parenting.
*Whew*. Those feelings were intense. Then I found yet another article about the book in People, and the author talked about how she ultimately had her "comeuppance". So, with my curiosity about that and my thoughts that I should not allow a book I haven't read affect me in such a way, I decided to read the book and see what I felt afterward.
Now, my opinion towards that type of parenting has not changed. But I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed this short and engaging cultural, parenting memoir. I almost feel like I can understand the author slightly more, though I still don't agree with her. Ironically, it's possible that, in the end, I may relate to or appreciate this book more so than some "westerners" who have never been exposed to Asian culture. None of the Eastern belief systems and thought processes were new to me since I do have one Asian parent. (I do think, though, that anyone would be fascinated with this book).
I also wanted to point out that I do agree that there are some flaws in the very western form of parenting. For instance, I believe that in many ways, the typical expectations for children are too low. I'm a proponent of Michelle Rhee's Students First campaign in which she aims to transform our educational system. I wanted to point this out because it's not about an eastern/western thing for me. I have my own opinions in general, though overall I tend to lean towards the western style of parenting.
Anyway, I've rambled enough. Ultimately, I was happy to meet this family and learn more about them. In terms of technicalities, the succinct chapters maintained a quick pace in the book in which enough information and anecdotes were given to keep the reader interested without overdoing the topic. I was surprised that the focus of the book was so heavy on the children's musical "careers". While she hinted that her parenting style rolled over to all topics, the author talks mainly about the issues they had with the girls practice time, performances, etc. On the other hand, this is a largely Asian concept -- the extreme focus on learning "classical" instruments. I played the piano off and on until I was 13-years-old when I insisted to my dissenting mother that I quit playing. However, I think I would have maybe liked to see more of their interactions regarding other areas.
I do think the author was brave to write this book. She was brave in "exposing" herself and her family (which just so happens to be a very non-Asian thing to do). She even mentions the therapeutic nature of writing this book which also is a non-Asian concept. She has hailed a storm of critics who have loudly spoken out against her (me not excluded, though I'm less credentialed or significant than the journalists who have done so...)
There were several times throughout the book when I literally laughed out loud. I loved reading the interactions between her and her daughters. Her younger daughter was the one who, essentially, called her on her ridiculosities (totally made-up by me word) and threw her for a loop when she didn't know how to react to her daughter's disobedience. I related a lot to the older daughter (being the older of two girls myself) in the way she just went along with most of it. But there were moments when she too yelled out in anger towards her mother and I could understand exactly where she was coming from. It was a new and uncomfortable feeling for the author during one specific scene when her fight with her youngest came to a head. The author talked about how before her eyes, she became one of those "western" parents with a disrespectful, bad (paraphrasing) kid. But that made me realize just how much this author didn't know. In what I found a powerful scene, her older daughter, Sophie, who was being yelled at for her stupidity in forgetting again to close the pantry door to keep the dogs out of the food, stands up for herself and points out how great a daughter she truly is. Again, I totally related, and I wanted to swoop in and validate her thoughts and feelings, and then yank the author off with me to see the horrors of the families that I see every day.
Ultimately, I don't know how much the author really learned about parenting. I think this part is sort of subjective to the reader because of the way the ending was written. It's possible that even the author isn't quite sure. I think she may have traveled to a place where she is more open-minded. But sort of in the way that the families on Wife Swap are when they return -- they learn to appreciate a few things from the other side, but only incorporate them rather than change everything. And that's fine. I get that. But I think that underestimating the significance of positive self-esteem and autonomy is a very dangerous thing. The author was very lucky to wind up with such wonderful girls. I do think, though, that it came across that she loves her girls. And while I don't agree with the parenting decisions, she had a purpose she felt was justified for everything she did. I think it could have/should have been done differently, but I did want to differentiate the author from those parents who have zero regard for their children in the first place who call their children names, etc.
So even though I'm not quite sure that the author completely had the "comeuppance" she mentioned in People Magazine, I am glad I read this because my blood stopped boiling. I no longer need to calm myself down. I like this family. And I feel a little hypocritical, but I would love to hear her children's music... they're apparently (and NOT just according to family) the best!
This is not a book I feel was intended to offend. I think the intention was more being straight and answering the question so many have asked of her regarding how her children became so perfect. This is a book about the differences in beliefs and parenting in eastern and western cultures. I think most will be riveted by this book!
**Oh, I wanted to add a disclaimer to something she writes in the book. I am half-Korean. I know many Korean people. Not I nor anyone I have ever met eats dog. My Korean relatives have dogs as pets just like we do here. Please do not perpetuate this stereotype. Some Americans eat rabbit, but I wouldn't generalize that to all Americans and certainly not to someone like myself who has had a rabbit as a very lovable and very loved pet. Ok, disclaimer over.**