The Virtual Book Club: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I read the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother this month. In case you were hiding under a rock when this book came out, the author, Amy Chua, explains her parenting philosophy as a Chinese American raising two daughters, who excelled at music (among other things).

The book went viral on my Facebook page because parts were published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and NPR, among other places. She made some controversial statements in her book, and the media (and the Mommy Warriors) just went wild. (Note to future writers looking for a publicity angle: a mother who admits she called her child “garbage” and won’t let them go to sleepover parties is guaranteed a spot on Today. You are welcome.)

I read the outtakes, chuckled to myself and forgot about it.

Fast forward almost two years later and my sister, who has excellent taste in books, recommended I give it a try. I resisted for a week or so, but finally made it to the library and checked it out.

I’m glad I did.

First, it’s not a parenting book. Don’t think it’s a lecture on how you are parenting your kids wrong, because that’s not what it’s really about (in spite of the aforementioned media attention). It’s a memoir, and I love a good memoir.

Second, the author is pretty tough on herself — at least as tough as she is on her children. And while Chua follows much of the Chinese parenting philosophies and points out the fallacies of current Western parenting practices, she concludes, and I agree, that each side could do with learning a few things from the other.

Third, the book gives some perspective on the realities involved in raising high achieving children. I’m never going to force my kids to practice a musical instrument for three hours a day or drive two hours to take them to lessons, but I appreciate the fact that Chua details how much hard work (and money and effort and sacrifice) is involved in her children’s success.

It turns out Chua’s experience as a parent is similar to my own, even if our philosophies and reactions are quite different.

There’s a few key points that I picked up from the book that I wanted to mention. The first is Chua’s statement that Chinese parents typically believe their children start from a position of strength while Western parents typically believe their children start from a position of weakness.

This struck home, because I feel like the emphasis on building children’s self-esteem in Western society is based on this very mindset. And if there’s one child development philosophy that I think is overblown in Western society, it’s our relentless protection of our kids’ so-called fragile self-esteem. It manifests itself in so many ways, especially our overprotection of our children from life’s uglier moments. And I believe it’s one of the more destructive theories in modern parenting.

The second was an event overhyped in the media — when Chua rejects her daughter’s homemade birthday card. I laughed out loud at her description of this day, where her family basically forgets her birthday and makes a last-minute (and somewhat pathetic) effort to pretend they didn’t. While Chua was chastied in the press for rejecting her daughter’s offering, I actually think she was right on in calling her daughter out for faking thoughtfulness. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve swooned over my fair share of toddler scribbles, but as my children grow and are capable of more, I think expecting more of them is okay. And forgetting Mom’s birthday and then making a half-assed effort to pretend you didn’t is simply not okay. So I say good for Chua for standing her ground on that one.

The overall conclusion of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is that different parenting techniques don’t work for every child (another fact I’ve experienced firsthand and agree with wholeheartedly). And while that sounds basic on some level, I think Western parents in general would be well served to give some serious thought to that concept.

Kudos to Chua for her bravery in sharing her story. Whether you agree with her methods or not, her honesty about her own journey as a parent is refreshing.

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