I came across Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” during a time of my own parenting crisis. I had gone into the library on a mission to find some parenting book which would help me navigate the world of toddler boys. My boys were fighting each other, me and the boundaries that I had erected.
I needed a strong tool. Destiny…kismat…karma… took me straight to Chua’s book. The tiger mom was my answer, war had been declared.
I had been struggling with my two boys. Everything lately seemed like a fight and I was beginning to lose the connection and joy I used to get with them. Instead I was frustrated, unhappy and was going through the motions of being a parent while constantly looking at the clock counting the hours they were going to be in bed.
I first heard about the Tiger Mother a year ago. This is when Chua, the petite Asian professor, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled “ Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” It seemed like overnight people were rushing to attack or defend her parenting style. Hailing from a South Asian family and having parents that were quite strict (my mom would give me a look that would stop me in my tracks) I felt like I could already relate to the Tiger Mom model.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is Chua’s journey of Chinese parenting in the West. Chua made a decision to follow the chinese model of parenting in which she had been raised in. To her the regimented parenting style meant that her daughters were never allowed to: Attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin.
She was committed to following through on her rigid parenting style and expected her daughters to work hard, excel at academics and to not take anything for granted. Chua wanted her daughters to have a strong work ethic and believed that childhood is a training period for the rest of their lives. She summed up the Western and Chinese parenting by saying:
“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”
Chua talks in detail about the challenges of this type of rigid parenting. Her husband who had been raised in the Western style was often not supportive of her parenting method. That isolated her during the periods when her daughters hated her.
Chua made her daughters practice their respective instruments, the piano and the violin for hours each day and did not let them take any breaks even when they were traveling or on vacation. Chua was headstrong, arrogant and relentless but what I admire about her is her persistence and patience. She actively was involved in every step of her daughters lives and pushed them because she believed they could do better.
It is that dicipline that I want to cultivate in my own parenting style. It is easy to let our kids be average and to let them just rot away in front of the television but to take that time and spend hours with them to help them master a skill is certainly commendable. After spending a half-hour of one on one time with my kids I feel so drained. One lesson that the Tiger Mom has taught me is that until the mother doesn’t put the time and commitment into her kids than it will be very hard for them to reach their potential.
Another story that Chua tells us in the book is when she rejected her daughters handmade birthday cards for her birthday.
“I don’t want this, I want a better one – one that you’ve put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and your sister, and this one can’t go in there…So I reject this.”
This story has resonated with me because of recent research that shows that over praising children can do more harm than good. I have in the past lavishly praised my kids for scribbling on a piece of paper, but now I take time to actually examine their art, give them some pointers and set some goals (like color inside the lines, lets try to make a square, can you draw a spoon) The results were fantastic. My three year old was more enagaged more excited and was actually learning the praise that he deserved for being creative instead of just scribbling!
Although Chua believes in the Chinese parenting style, she doesn’t particularly advocate for it. Through her journey as a parent we see the successes and failures of her extreme parenting. We see the good, the bad and the ugly.
I found her book to be extremely honest and it was an entertaining and interesting read. Chua’s book motivated me to be a more involved parent who spends quality time with their kids. Although I don’t agree with everything she did with her daughters I feel that Chua’s book is a breath of fresh air with insight into a parenting style that we often don’t get to read about.