Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Cate on July 18, 2013

Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherI remember all the controversy when the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother originally came out a few years back. I made a mental note to add it to my “to read” list and eventually made a request at the library, adding myself to the already long waiting list.

I was curious about the controversy, to see if it really was that appalling, but also to get a peek into another mom’s (and culture’s) parenting style. And I got it.

A few weeks ago, I was at the lake with the kids, diving into the book. When they came to sit with me for a few minutes, for a drink break, I read them a section from Amy Chua’s book, more specifically what she won’t allow her children to do:

• have a play date
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin

“See how easy you have it?” I asked them, really driving home Chua’s point that she believes that Western parents are too lax on their children. “You think I’m hard on you now, can you imagine if this was how I parented?”

The dividing line between how the Chinese parenting style versus how Westerners parent can perhaps best be summed up by a quote right from the book … “Chinese parenting does not address happiness…”, it addresses accomplishments. By many accounts, though, to be fair, Chua’s methods of extreme parenting do not wholly represent Chinese parenting across the board. Keep in mind, this is not meant to be a parenting book. It is more of a memoir of one woman’s journey. That being said, Chua is prone to sweeping generalizations, whether it comes to her own cultural background, Westerners, or even dogs.

Every decision that Chua made for her two girls was with the eye on the prize, so to speak. Both girls, accomplished musicians, had wild success, participating in a concert in Budapest, playing at Carnegie Hall at a very young age, and even pre-college auditions at Julliard.

But at what cost?

Chua’s oldest daughter, Sophia, did everything willingly (hours upon hours upon hours of music practice, with no let up), whereas her youngest daughter, Lulu, pushed back and challenged at every turn. Chua herself said that her relentless pursuit of accomplishments for her children went beyond even what her own parents were comfortable with.

Her approach is very divisive and take-no-prisoners. It’s not done with warmth, and certainly no rewards (except for the applause at the end of a performance, and even then, it’s not coming from Chua). There was always the not-so-underlying current of always wanting more, better. Once one goal was met, they regrouped and strived for even more. While her singlemindedness helped her daughters climb some mighty tall mountains, particularly at their young age, it was quite polarizing.

There was never a moment for her or her children to sit back and relish in their achievements. Her own husband wondered how their children were going to look back on their childhood. What would their memories be like?

While I agree that sometimes parents can be too lax, and sometimes kids *do* need to be pushed, I am also a strong supporter of balance. In everything. Whether it’s our schedule, the sports the kids play, or the choices we make, there has to be balance. And I am very conscious of not letting anything or anyone into our lives that upsets that balance.

Kids need time to be kids. And that means, sometimes an afternoon is nothing more than blowing bubbles, building sand castles, and eating a dripping popsicle. Their days are also peppered with school work that I expect them to take seriously and do their best on, sports teams that I expect them to join and participate in, and characteristics that I work hard to foster and develop in them. Balance.

Chua’s dedication to her cause (namely her children’s accomplishments) is quite impressive, but it left me wondering how her kids will look back on their childhood. Would it be happy memories? Or just of their mom cracking the whip? I think her greatest flaw is that there isn’t the balance, and that’s exactly the way she wants it.

*This is the 11th book I’ve read in my quest to read 52 books this year (although I’ve actually finished a handful more, they’ve yet to be reviewed).
1. Believe It, Be It
2. Touch and Go
3. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
4. Here I Go Again
5. Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture
6. Drinking & Tweeting and Other Brandi Blunders
7. Cleaving
8. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
9. What I Learned When I Almost Died
10. Dwarf: A Memoir

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne July 19, 2013 at 6:18 am

Though I do intend to be a strict parent, being that strict seems INSANE. you’re right, there needs to be a balance.
Joanne recently posted..Egg Sandwich with Green Bean Slaw, Spaghetti with Parlsey Pesto, and Ice Cream, Ice Cream Everywhere

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Cathy July 21, 2013 at 11:20 pm

I work for a Tiger Dad… it sucks. Nothing is ever good enough… I’m sure he was raised that way, and I feel for his daughter, whose pictures playing the piano and violin are all over his office… poor kid.

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