When Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the latest primer on tough love parenting, hit the shelves, it sparked a huge debate. Being a mother herself, Laura Warner soberly entered the fray and provided a more thoughtful consideration.
While the hype seemed very entertaining, I had no intention of reading another parent’s latest musings, mainly due to my strong aversion to the rise of mommy-literature and mommy-bloggers. I feel no need to publicize my child-rearing methods, nor do I have a desire to read the same philosophies of mass-marketed pseudo-intellectuals. Alas, my efforts to avoid the debate came to an end one evening when one especially cheeky rascal tossed a copy of the book in my lap over dinner. As he sat there quite proud of his gag gift, I managed an underwhelmed “thanks,” while I struggled to decipher whether it would fit in my purse with my more important books. When I finally committed to reading – what I was expecting to be sanctimonious garble – I was incredibly surprised. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was frustrating, inspiring, thought-provoking and above all entertaining. It was not filled with the mere tirades of a matriarchal maniac, but instead featured the courageous journey of one tremendous woman determined to create the best life for her daughters as humanly possible. I found myself wanting to defend Amy Chua to the bleeding heart masses.
Chua makes a compelling defense of her thesis that the Chinese method of parenting is superior to that of the Western style. This argument is fueled by Chua’s fear of a declining civilization. "This country is going downhill,” she articulates throughout her work. Chua is petrified for the next generation, the generation that “because of the hard work of their parents and grandparents” are reaping the benefits of an upper-middle class. She worries that this generation has become both lazy and satisfied with mediocrity. To prevent her daughters, Sophia and Louisa (Lulu), from falling victim, she installs what she believes is a superior method of parenting. This requires Chua to be, what she describes as, a Tiger Mother. This means strict schedules, little involvement in the whimsical touchy-feely activities practiced by Western parents. She is dead set on raising children far ahead of the curve, prodigies in fact.
|Amy Chua with daughters Sophia and Louisa|
As I read Tiger Mother, and came across each of these so-called injustices, I could not help but wonder how many people actually listened to the author and how many were just going into knee-jerk hysteria. If one read carefully, they would realize that Amy’s threats were mainly talk. She used various verbal tactics of installing both pride and shame in her daughters. One example that sparked a lot of disparagement was when Chua described how, when at her wit's end with her enraged three-year-old daughter Lulu, she demanded that Lulu stand out in the cold until she agreed to play the piano properly. Did the reader not get past the part where Chua felt immediately guilty and pleaded with her defiant daughter to come in and, after eventually coaxing her, put her in a warm bath with brownies and hot cocoa? In my opinion, this more than made up for the ordeal. True, some tactics are unorthodox in this day and age, but I disagree that there was any abuse or neglect. Her daughters at no point were afraid of ever standing up to Chua’s punishments: Lulu obstinately stood out in the snow to spite her mother. Chua just put more effort into raising her children than the over-psychoanalyzed critics would like to admit.
This thought-provoking work made me contemplate much of my own childhood, which was also very strict and sheltered. While there are many things that my parents did that I still disagree with, the installation of a strict schedule is not one of them. I give much credit to many of my accomplishments and my abilities to the fact that I had discipline installed in me through childhood. Like Chua, I have been able to work “psychotically hard” when necessary. With hard work comes rewards, freedoms and responsibilities that I now enjoy. Chua perfectly describes the difference between idealistic actions and responsible ones: “In Disney movies,” she describes, “the good daughter always has to have a breakdown and realize that life is not all about following rules and winning prizes, and then take off her clothes and run into the ocean or something like that. But that’s just Disney’s way of appealing to all the people who never win any prizes. Winning prizes give you opportunities, and that’s freedom – not running into the ocean.”
|Author Amy Chua|
Thus while hard-work is imperative to success, it does not guarantee it. Natural intelligence, genetics, social abilities and socio-economic placement also come into play. Chua’s daughters are successful and disciplined mainly thanks to Chua’s parenting, but also luckily thanks to their genes and their socio-economic platform. Those without these platforms may find benefits to tiger parenting, but may not have as great of results.
The last third of the book is more introspective and philosophical. You see a softer side of Chua as she is grief stricken by an illness in the family and emotionally brought to her knees by a rebellious teenager. She even, to a degree, acknowledges that she had to ease up on her youngest daughter who, while she benefited from Chua’s simulated boot camp, was just not responding well to the culture in her thirteenth year. It is here I could see not only the physical effort that Chua has invested in her family, but the emotional investment as well.
Overall, the Chua sisters had a tremendously enriched childhood. Those weeping over lost childhoods are in need of a reality check. Sophia and Lulu’s childhood was spent travelling the world, experiencing opportunities of a lifetime, receiving the highest standard of education, and grooming for success. They turn out as bright, well-adjusted, ambitious young women who are in no need of anyone’s sympathy.
Would I instigate any of these methods into my own daughter? Not entirely, especially since my daughter recently attended her first sleepover at the tender age of two. I believe there is no categorical imperative to child rearing. There are people who just do not respond to authority, and while one can try their hardest, you just cannot change people. I do, however, hope that I have the courage and tenacity that Chua had. I hope for the strength and ability to inspire an equally unique and strong human being.
As the title of the book reflects, Chua was born under the sign of the Tiger. (While she claims to disagree with astrology, Chua still finds pride in her sign.) According to the Chinese zodiac, those born in the year of the tiger are courageous, charismatic, and diligent. They are also stubborn and authoritative. Chua does reflect this perfect combination of being extremely admirable and extremely overbearing. The Tiger Mother, regardless of how strict, is an extraordinary parent. While she followed the road less taken, it was much harder, not only in time and effort, but she also had a mind blowing schedule of legal lectures and penning two books, while she invested so much time in her daughters’ upbringings. She also fought a lonely battle, separated from other parents who believed that Chua was in the wrong. But the Tiger Mother kept going. This alone confirms that she is a respectable and admirable person. Whatever one feels about her parenting methods, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother certainly proves that Amy Chua is a force to be reckoned with.