Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hear this mother roar

Amy Chua was courting controversy when she wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Her non-fiction book focused on how she raised her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, on the traditional Chinese way. This means no sleepovers, no playdates, no TV or computer games, no grades less than A, and piano and violin lessons every day.

Of course, Chua is quick to inform the reader that she's using the term"Chinese mothers" quite loosely, saying that she's also observed very strict parenting among other ethnicities such as Koreans, Japanese, Indians, and, yes, even white Americans. Still, and even though this may sound very stereotypical, it is the Chinese who are able to raise math wizards and music prodigies.

Chua's alarmingly honest account of how she raised her daughters is both cringe inducing and terribly funny. She has no qualms with calling her older daughter "garbage" and even recounts this story at a party. One party guest even had to leave in tears because of this story. Chua, however, remains unapologetic. After all, that name calling did work for her daughter, who becomes an overachiever just like Chua.

Chua compares the Chinese mother with Western mothers, who more or less allow their children to choose the things that they want to do. The Chinese mother, according to Chua, wants nothing less than obedience. One can only laugh or be horrified by what the Chinese mother believes:
  1. Schoolwork always comes first.
  2. An A-minus is a bad grade.
  3. Your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math
  4. You must never compliment your children in public.
  5. If your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher of coach.
  6. The only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually with a medal.
  7. That medal must be gold.
I think it's best to read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as a memoir rather as an inspiration or motivational book. It is the story of Chua after all. The book is so rich in detail that you can imagine being in the unfortunate shoes of any one of Chua's daughters. I think I'll go crazy if ever my 13-year-old self would go through this itinerary every weekend:
1 hour drive (at 8:00 a.m.) to Norwalk, CT
3 hour orchestra practice
1 hour drive back to New Haven
1-2 hours violin practice
1 hour family fun activity (optional)
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is one very entertaining read. You'll be amazed how Chua sees everything in black and white. There has to be no room for failure or second place. If you come home with an A- in your report card, you'll get the scolding of your life. If you get a B, you might as well not come home.

The book's thesis at the start makes you feel that Chinese parenting is definitely superior to the contemporary Western way of raising children. However, at the book's end, Chua is forced to admit that this strict parenting may not work for every one. Chua's second daughter Lulu constantly rebelled against her, and it was only when Chua allowed her to take up tennis does Lulu become truly happy. However, this didn't stop Chua from sending text messages to her daughter's tennis coach and giving the occasional advice every now and then: Don't move your right foot on your kick serve!

Read this book if:
  1. You have very overbearing parents.
  2. You've been scolded for coming in second place.
  3. You've been forced by your parents to take up something you really hate.


Book Dilettante said...

I think I should send this book to my two sons so they can see how easy they had it! Great review!

Peter S. said...

Oh, you definitely should! It's an eye opener!

Stepford Mum said...

That schedule was just like mine for many years!! At age 10-12 on a weekday I did school, a 1.5 hour drive from Alabang to UP Diliman, 4 hours of ballet class and rehearsals, a 2 hour drive home. My mom did all the driving. She didn't push though, but she did discourage me from giving up because my teachers all said I had talent. I was an honor student all on my own, doing homework backstage and between acts. It paid off, I think. ROAR!!

Peter S. said...

Stepford Mum, I think you'll totally relate to this book!

Karen and Gerard said...

We read this book too and liked it although i wouldn't think of raising a child like this. It is an interesting memoir though and gives good insight into the Chinese way. Here's a link to our review if you're interested:

Peter S. said...

Hi, Karen and Gerard! Thank you for the link! Great review!

Midnight Shadow said...

This type of parenting seems strict. I think I would read this book just to appreciate in a greater way how strict my parents weren't. Or at least how much more so they could have been.
I think that such a type of parenting could easily lead to resentment from child to parent. Yes there is great value in expecting your child to do their best and excel, I think there's a line there though.

Peter S. said...

Hi Midnight Shadow! Very well said. That's why I think that this type of parenting wouldn't work for all children.

fantaghiro23 said...

Read so much about this book and loved what I read. Loved all the debate and the horrified reactions. In fact, I was thinking of trying out this parenting style. Ah, but who am I kidding? I could never sustain it.:)

It does remind me of my grandmother's parenting style though. But I loved her.:)

Peter S. said...

Oh, I think you can sustain it, Honey!

wow account for sale said...

WoW! great review of the book. .=)