Book Reviews

Book Review: Battle hymn of the tiger mother

‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger mother’ is a book by Amy Chua on what she calls Chinese parenting versus Western parenting. Let me just say, I didn’t pick up this book by choice; rather it was a decision made by the book club I’m part of given that the other members are all parents and I work with children and thereby have an understanding of parenting. It is a memoir of her journey parenting her two daughters, Sophia and Louisa (Lulu) the Chinese way along with her husband, a white Jewish American, Jed.
Amy’s parents were migrants to America making her a first-generation immigrant. She and her sisters were brought up the ‘Chinese way’ and she believes this to be far superior to the Western way of bringing up children. She does admit that the Chinese form of parenting is emulated by other cultures such as Indian, Korean or Ghanian among others. Basically, she asserts that unlike Western parenting, Chinese parents believe the following:

1. Schoolwork always comes first

2. An A-minus is a bad grade

3. Your children must be 2 years ahead of their classmates in maths

4. You must never compliment your child in public

5. If you child ever disagrees with a teacher or a coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach

6. The only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal

7. That medal must be gold

Yes, and that’s exactly what she brought up her two daughters with.
She also states what Sophia and Lulu were never allowed to do: attend sleepovers, have playdates, be in a school play, watch tv or play computer games, choose their own extra-curricular activities, get grades less than an A, and not play piano or violin.
In her book, she talks about how she brought up her two daughters with the above messages. Never letting them go on playdates. Having about 4 to 6 hours of violin (for Lulu) and piano (for Sophia) practice. Doing extra school work. She pushed them to work on their music and their academics. While Sophia rarely resisted, Lulu, on the other hand, rebelled eventually especially upon reaching 13. Amy talks about how Sophia ended up playing at Carnegie Hall (thanks to her pushing) and Lulu attempted to get into Julliard’s pre-college course. Currently, the girls are 19 and 16.
My take on all of it — this woman is crazy! Nuts! Messed up!
While I agree with kids needing to pushed a certain amount, I do not agree with a one-dimensional life that revolves solely around success in academics and music. I found myself reading the book with shock. Some of her tactics border on child abuse. She talks about instances where she wouldn’t let her kids take a bathroom break in between practising especially if they were opposing her. Another incident she mentioned was when 4-year-old Lulu and 7-year-old Sophia gave her handmade birthday cards for her birthday and she verbally put them down saying the cards weren’t good enough and they hadn’t put enough thought and effort into it. She went on to tell them about how much effort she puts into hosting their birthdays and asked them to re-make the cards! Tell me that’s not crazy!
There is an undertone of her bragging throughout the book — about the amount of money they have, the big house, the talented daughters, the parties she hosts, the people she knows. You wonder whether the pushing of her children to the nth degree is in order for her to be able to brag. Ultimately, it’s her black and white view of Chinese v/s Western parenting that irks me. Her condescending attitude to ‘western’ parenting is hard to handle as is her superiority complex about Chinese parenting. And while it may have worked with her older daughter thanks to a passive temperament, it screws up a lot more kids than she realises. It’s scary to see a book like this out there. It almost justifies this form of parenting to those parents that already espouse to it. When in fact, it’s these very children that hide mental health problems from their parents or rebel or are so anxious and perfectionistic themselves as adults that they struggle with any form of failure.
I won’t deny that this form of parenting might work with some kids. But it won’t work with all. More importantly, if all you want for your child is success, success and more success, then her methods probably will work. But if you want your child to build relationships, to have friends and well, to have a childhood, a middle road is what is important. A positive parenting style coupled with encouragement is what will most likely work.
My rating for this book:

If you have to read it, borrow it from a library and learn how not to parent your kid. By that, I don’t mean doing the exact opposite but finding the middle road.

Until next time,
***This has been cross-posted at Bond with Books***

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  • Titaxy
    21 March 2011 at 10:24 am

    scary. as you said in the post on your blog, I always thought my parents were strict, but reading this makes me realize how easy I had it πŸ™‚ It’s one thing to encourage your child to excel, but it’s whole another thing to push them so much.

  • Anbu
    22 March 2011 at 2:34 am

    OK.. This book joins my list of ‘Never read’. πŸ™‚

  • cocoa.
    25 March 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Of course you got to push. If your children can’t complete your unfulfilled desires who will? πŸ™‚

  • Psych Babbler
    26 March 2011 at 5:27 pm

    πŸ™‚ I’m guessing that’s a shorter list that the “To-read” list if you’re anything like me…

  • Psych Babbler
    26 March 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Welcome here Cocoa! I’m guessing by the smiley face at the end of your comment, you are being sarcastic… (I hope so!) But with what you’ve said, I’m sure a number of parents push their kids to complete their own unfulfilled desires but even with that, there’s pushing and then there’s PUSHING!!! πŸ™‚

  • Anbu
    28 March 2011 at 3:13 am

    Yeah.. The list is too short. I would put a book in that list only when both the plot and the writing gets bad reviews.. πŸ™‚