Monday, January 24, 2011

What Would Tiger Mama (Amy Chua) Do?

Hi there Meltingpot Readers,

Have you heard about the new parenting memoir called, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua? The book and its author have received a lot of media ink recently because of the reportedly controversial parenting style Chua writes about in her book.

The short and overly simplified take on the book is that Battle Hymn is a parenting primer promoting the inherent superiority of Chinese parenting over Western/American parenting. And strict Chinese parenting, the kind Chua used to raise her two daughters, meant no sleepovers, no play dates and endless hours of music practice and studying. It also meant being ferociously honest with her kids about their achievements or lack thereof. There is one part of the story that is quoted ad nauseum where Chua tells her seven year-old daughter that her hand-made birthday card was garbage and gave it back saying she wanted something better.

Full disclosure, I haven't read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother yet, but I want to. I'm intrigued by the controversy but I also just enjoy reading memoirs by people of different ethnic heritages. That's kind of what we're all about here on the Meltingpot. But I am really appalled at the way people have attacked Chua and want to demonize her for daring to share her way of parenting. Besides the fact that Chua recognizes that her system backfired even with her own children, she doesn't imply that her way should be adopted by American parents everywhere. It is a memoir, remember.

And here's the key point. If people would stop their knee-jerk criticisms (Meredith Viera, I'm talking to you), I wonder if they might actually find some useful tips and/or ideas in Chua's words. I know I have, just from listening to her on all of the radio and/or television interviews I've heard her on in the last few weeks. Most importantly she has said that one of the main points of her book is to dispel the myth that somehow Asians are intellectually superior. Race has nothing to do with it, she says. Instead, Chinese (and many other Asian and immigrant parents in general) parents instill such a strong sense of self-discipline in their children they are essentially programmed to achieve, not hard-wired. That means almost any parent --who is willing to put in the time and effort -- can raise high achieving children. To me that has a lot of implications for educators, parents and politicians who try to align achievement to race and ethnicity. Instead of heralding the 'model minority' we should be heralding the model minority parenting style and trying to replicate it across the board. Obviously not everything should be copied, just the good parts. But that's the American way anyway. Pick and choose the best parts of all our immigrant heritages and create a superpower. It's about time we used that model for parenting.

So, I'm going to read the book and then tell you more of what I think. Have any of you read this book yet? Have any opinions on the controversy? I'm listening.



Christina said...

Just picked it up from the library yesterday. I'm planning on reading it concurrently with Outliers. I agree that there are likely some appropriate takeaways. That being said, I'm inclined to think Outliers will be more interesting and informative. Regardless, should be an interesting dual-read. And if you haven't seen it yet, I was particularly amused by David Brook's op ed in the NYT. Classic, that.

Jade said...

My mother is a Tiger Mother too. Not nearly as extreme, though, as Amy Chua. But a lot of the book resonated with me and my experience with my Thai immigrant (and high- achieving) mother.

At the core, I actually do agree with a lot of what Amy Chua says. I just think she's a little too dogmatic about it and that there's room for a little more balance. My husband and I don't have kids yet but we have talked about how we want to parent them. We believe in the importance of instilling values of discipline, working hard to achieve goals, and respect for elders. But we don't believe in attaching as much value to external measures of success as Amy Chua does. It's more about how hard you work, how much you honestly felt you learned, challenging yourself and meeting those challenges. And we also wouldn't want to push our kids to become 16yo virtuosos at the expense of their childhood. For Chua, it was all about their futures. I believe that all stages of life are important to personal development and leading a fulfilled life and that there is as much value in living for the present as there is in preparing for the future. The key is to find a balance.

lifelearner said...

I have this book on my to-read list. I agree that we could all learn something new, without demonizing the author. As a parent myself, I've learned so much and now I understand why my parents acted the way they did.

So she's entitled to write her memoir, I say good for her! For me, it is all about integration of various parenting styles that I like (attachment/free range/tiger parenting). Hmm I like the sound of that! LOL :)

LT said...

What a great literary combo. Can't wait to hear what you think of both books.

Thanks for sharing. I like your style. I think you bring up a really good point about putting too much emphasis on external measures of success. That can't be the focus.

Here Here. It is about integration of the best of the best. Well said.