The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother | Overstuffed Overstuffed

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

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.

My.  Job.

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.

(And I loved this book.)

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I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in return for this review.  I was not required to write a positive review, all thoughts are my own.

23 comments :

  1. Thank you for sharing your opinion on this! I read the article, and watched a bit of the ladies on "The Talk" talk about it. Until now, everything has been a bit negative, but I think that's the media's fault. Negativity sells more. I appreciate your positive opinion and I think I'm going to read the book! I love memoirs!

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  2. I must be a bit old-fashioned too... I'm so behind on the world, I've never heard of this book until your blog (see how important you are!) and I appreciate your opinion. I love when people are confident enough to go against the opinion of the media and (heaven forbid!) say how THEY feel about something! YEAH! :)

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  3. I was raised in an "old-fashioned" way, and if I was able to raised all my kids over again, I would do it the way mine parents did. Right now, I am in kind of an uncomfortable rut that I would like to get out of. Your book reviews inspired me to read it and hope that I can get the inspiration to get out of my rut!

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  4. Great review, never would have guessed you'd have this type of review with all the hub-bub about the Wall Street article. Wow, did they slant her book!

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  5. Every child is different and I think you have to take that into account. I don't parent my kids the same. Dave's mother was very hands off and let her kids make some of their own choices. Her kids all turned out to be very productive members of society. Other families who I have known growing up were raised in very strict homes and most of them became very rebellious. There has to be balance. And there has to be some consideration of the child's personality.

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  6. Throughout this whole post I was thinking it was an "old-fashioned" parenting more than anything. It's what I grew up with, and I know my friends thought my parents were pretty strict. I don't see what's so wrong about having high expectations for your kids and teaching them to be responsible? When did the world get so lazy that they think it's "permissive?"

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  7. I'm going to need to read this book. I've heard a lot about it, but a lot of what is said seems to be knee jerk and uninformed. After reading your synopsis, I'm intrigued enough to pick it up and try it for myself.

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  8. I've thought a lot about this book and I agree with a lot that is said.
    BUT, I also think you need to ENJOY your job and if your only job is being a slave master then that is no fun for anyone.
    It's all about balance, but I've actually thought about the book a lot lately, and cracked down on a few laws around here. :)

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  9. So many people are talking about this book this week. I am conflicted. Do we guide where there are natural propensities? Do we make our children into something? Do we encourage in what they want?

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  10. Derek sent me a link to the article--I think it was NY Times--about this book. The author has received death threats and hundreds and hundreds of hate letters since she published it. I guess it sparked a convtroversey anyway right?
    I want to read it just so I can have an informed opinion. I'll have to get to it at some point. I did hear the loudest complaint was that even though a lot of it was tongue in cheek, the readers claimed it was hard to tell when she was joking and when she really did say those things to her children "I'll burn all of your stuffed animals if you don't play this perfectly."
    I'm glad I'm not having to expose my parenting for the whole world because I know I'm certainly not perfect, but I do believe that by setting expectations, I'm helping my children be better people. Anyone can babysit, but no one will love your children like a good mom right?

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  11. I've been thinking a lot about the article and the controversy surrounding it, too, and I think I'll need to read the book before I have a fully-formed opinion. Right now, I think there is something to say for high expectations dealt out in a loving way. And I fall far short from that ideal most of the time.

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  12. Being a parent may be a job, but being a child isn't. There's little that I've read around the Web that indicates that there's much about play and creativity and enjoying life. Teaching a child to be successful is one thing. Not allowing a kid to watch a lot of television is one thing. Making a child work...that's another story, and that's the impression I get.

    I could be so, so wrong. I'd like to know more about that.

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  13. Thanks for this thoughtful review. You make a good point about this being a memoir and not a parenting "how to" book and I am sure the author has been mischaracterized in the media. While I can see the benefits of a less permissive parenting style in terms of TV watching, sleepovers, etc (in fact I had similar restrictions growing up) what I found disturbing about some of Chua's stories from the book was her unyielding criticism of her daughters (the story about the card she tossed back to one daughter stating it was unacceptable comes to mind) - it seems quite harsh and I wonder about its long term impact on her children. As the child of immigrants who also had a singular focus on making their child successful, I can attest to the long term impact the constant drive to achieve and make good on the many sacrifices made on my behalf had on me. Perhaps the support and positive messages Chua provides for her children did not come through as well in this book but a parent's exacting standards in the absence of that support has the potential to negatively impact children in ways that may not be apparent until they are into adulthood.

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  14. TopherGL, I respectfully disagree. While I definitely believe that play and creativity are essential to childhood, I also believe that work is just as essential. I make my children work, and I see nothing wrong with that. I don't make them work 24/7 or anything, but they have chores and practice they must do before they can play. If we don't teach our children to work, how will they ever learn its value? How will they survive when they actually have to work?

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  15. Wow! Sounds like a book I would like. Thank you fro the review. I haven't kept up with the news or facebook.

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  16. I'm definitely not as strict as Chua but I also am much more strict than the other parents I know - my sister and I argue over this quite often (I think she's a pushover and she thinks I'm too mean). Still, the idea of calling my child names really rubs me the wrong way. It sounds like this book is a fascinating read about a woman who tried to stick to her values and do the best she could. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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  17. I have apparently missed all the hoopla over this one. And now I kind of want to read it. . . like a lot.

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  18. I'm intrigued. I hadn't heard of this book until you wrote this; I'll have to give it a look. Thanks.

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  19. I'm a little behind the times, as I just heard about this book last week. I like the idea of striking a balance between strict and relaxed, and above all, leading with love.

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  20. I've only caught a little bit about this book and have to admit that I wasn't too impressed, but I am having second thoughts after your post. Thanks for giving more insight.

    Being on the other side of the coin now, with adult children, I can look back and see where I would have done some things differently. Stricter on some things and allowed them more choices on others. I guess one can just do the best they can with each individual child.

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  21. Oh even ***I*** have heard something about this book! Although, I didn't realize it was a book that all the hullabaloo was about. Now I have to read it.

    I'm afraid after many, many years of fighting, I have lost the TV battle with my 15 year old. Her dad gave her a laptop, & these days computers and televisions are the same thing. But I had a good run of keeping them away from all that for many years. Sigh.

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  22. I admit, I hadn't heard the hype about this book but I'm intrigued enough to read it. I'm a weird mom, I think. Strict in some things, not so strict in others. But I think we all just do our best and sometimes, that best is just loving them.

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  23. I'm so excited to read this book. We talked about it at our last book club and we haven't even read it yet. I am extra curious because of my own parenting styles and Montessori-ish philosophies. Thanks for the review! How do you get signed up to do those thingys?

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