By now you’ve heard of the “Tiger Mother”, both the hero and villain of all mothers here in America. Amy Chua wrote her autobiographical story about Chinese parenting in contrast to “Western” parenting, using references to her own way of parenting her children from stories from the homefront, and placing them all in the book titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. And when an excerpt of her story appeared in the Wall Street Journal (Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior), the whole thing went viral and mothers everywhere questioned her brand of parenting – and even questioned their “weaker” Western methods of raising their children.
Amy Chua raised her daughters in America, having been brought up here herself from the age of 4. Her own parents had raised her with a firm hand, accepting nothing less than perfection from their Chinese daughter. And so it was only natural that Amy would raise her daughters the same way. As it was, this caused some tension between Amy and her non-Chinese husband, the parent who would never be deemed the bad guy. Several instances were cited of Amy cracking down on her daughters, and her husband fighting her on the issue. But in the end it was Amy that won the upper hand.
As a result of Amy’s Chinese style of parenting, her daughters never attended a sleepover and are never allowed to date before they graduate high school. They each took on a musical instrument (of their mother’s choice) and were forced to practice 3 or more hours a day, even while on vacation. Any grade less than a solid “A” was unacceptable, and considered a punishable offense as well as reason for hours of study and practice tests to bring that grade up. They weren’t allowed to choose their own extracurricular activities because, after all, they were children and their parents knew better about what their interests should be. Besides gym or drama (unimportant interests in Chinese culture), they were not allowed to be anything less than Number 1 in every school subject, recital, or contest. If they failed to meet this expectation, they were considered a disgrace. And if the child was dishonorable to their parents by failing to be the best or by rebelling against the rules, they were strictly punished.
“I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”**
Amy Chua goes on to criticize Western ways of parenting. Or rather, it’s a description of the differences between her style of parenting and the way she views the American way. According to Amy, Westerners are too concerned with the feelings and self-esteem of their children.
“The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image.”**
And I can’t help but feel that maybe Amy Chua is right.
We have “Participant” ribbons for every child who competes in an event so that those who don’t receive a placing award won’t feel bad. We encourage our children to do their best, many of us still congratulating our children for the grade of a “C” that they worked their butts off for. In fact, instead of putting the blame on our children for not getting a good enough grade, we blame the teacher for not teaching it right. And we don’t call our children fat, even those that are grossly obese and are in need of a major intervention to keep them away from sodas, greasy snacks, fast food, huge portions, and dessert that is served to them every night for finishing most of their dinner. We reward our children for doing as told, through allowance and praise, even when what we ask of them isn’t really that much – even when we are the ones doing most of the work to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, as well as a clean place for them to lay their heads down at night. We thank THEM, being sure to point out how proud we are of them for doing what is expected of them. And we are to expect nothing in return – not showing gratitude or going the extra mile to do what isn’t required – all because we are the parents, and they are the children, and that’s the way it just is.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not about to take sleepovers or eventual dating away from my children. I am proud of my children’s “B”s, just as proud as I am of the “A”s they receive. I am not about to make them take on a musical instrument and practice for hours at a time every single day. And if they grow up to become the manager of Starbucks, I will be just as proud of them as I would if they became a brain surgeon.
But I also don’t believe that Amy’s way of parenting her daughters is as evil as some people are making it out to be. It’s just….culturally different. And just like every good parent out there, she is parenting her children with the goal of the best future possible for them.
Amy does admit that she made mistakes along the way. She regrets some of the ways she pushed her daughters, admitting that she may have gone too far in some ways. She has doubted herself, and worried about her daughters hating her. In essence, she is just like all of us who have wondered if our intentions really are the best for our children, or are bound to ruin them in the end.
And in a lot of ways, I actually find that Amy Chua is a hero in my book. It’s not necessarily the way she parented her children. It’s more because she was brave enough to put her story out there even when she knew it wouldn’t be warmly received in our Western culture. Even in a world where mothers are so quick to ridicule other mothers for their style of parenting. Self-describing her book as anything BUT a how-to guide, Amy was brutally honest about her Chinese parenting that many are now describing as barbaric, mean-spirited, and even abusive. There are cries out there that she is fighting the creativity and free-thinking that might exist in her children. But Amy, raised under these Chinese conditions, has just written a book that is probably against everything her Chinese parents believe in, possibly even shaming them. And she did so with creativity and free-thinking. And the liberal Western parent in me commends her for that – and also believes that her daughters, just like any of our children who are raised with our best intentions at heart, will be capable of just as much greatness – because of and in spite of the way they were raised.
**excerpts from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua