Reviewed May 8, 2011.
The Penguin Press, New York, 2011. 235 pages.
I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle reading this book. Here in Northern Virginia, there are so many Tiger parents pushing their kids, and I had a feeling I'd feel sorry for the kids. Either that, or I'd be filled with guilt that I hadn't been more of a Tiger Mom and ended up with prodigy children.
But Amy Chua handles the delicate topic with grace and humor. Although she acknowledges that there are stereotypes involved here and every single Chinese mother is not one way and every single American mother the other way, she does point out that the culture in which she was raised was completely different than typical American parenting culture.
There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.
However, she also uses the book to show that, no matter how strong your convictions about parenting, every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. We all make mistakes, and the important thing is to do your best.
And nothing shows you your own weaknesses and misconceptions like being a mother.
Amy Chua tells a good story, too. She tells of her noble quest to sacrifice to raise perfect children, and the obstacles and drama along the way. I found myself a fascinated by how well it was working out with her prodigy children, though she definitely shows her own defeats. And, what do you know, the girls did not turn out to need years of expensive therapy.
All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments thirty minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.
And this Tiger Mother believed her way was definitely best:
As I watched American parents slathering praise on their kids for the lowest of tasks -- drawing a squiggle or waving a stick -- I came to see that Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts: (1) higher dreams for their children, and (2) higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take.
All in all, this book made me feel much less judgmental of the overachieving parents I see come into the library. And other people who don't parent the way I do. The fact is, everybody can think they have the one right way to parent, but there are strengths and weaknesses with every approach, and every child is different. In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, you can read along as Amy Chua learns that lesson.