January 24, 2011

I'm Definitely NOT a Tiger Mother

When I read the review for the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in Entertainment Weekly, I didn't believe it. Surely the reviewer left out some key details.  No mother would admit to calling her child garbage or rejecting homemade birthday cards and then write a book about it. I immediately put myself on the waiting list at my local library. I just finished the book the other day. It turns out, the reviewer did not leave out any key details. Those incidents happened.
For those not familiar with the book, Amy Chua is a first-generation Chinese-American. She decided to raise her daughters the "Chinese way." To put it simply: she wanted to be stricter and more structured than "Westerners." 
Some of her ideals aren't so bad. Her children could not get any grade less than an A. As extreme as it sounds, I don't think it's bad to have high standards for your children. However, having struggled with certain subjects in high school, I can also tell you sometimes expectations have to be amended. She pushed them in school, in music, but I understood her theory of not letting her children give up based on their own insecurities. (In other words, sometimes you need your parents to push you in order to succeed).
Other rules left me baffled. Her daughters could never have play date. Why? With school, music lessons and practice (sometimes three hours a day of practicing their instruments), they simply didn't have any free time. They couldn't be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play or choose their own extra curricular activities.
As for the garbage incident? It happened and it's brutal. Chua says during her own childhood she was disrespectful to her mother. Her father called her "garbage." As a  mother Chua employed this same tactic with one of her daughters. She told this story at a party and one of the other guests was so upset for her daughter that she left in tears. 
It's Chua's youngest daughter, Lulu, who receives the brunt of any negativity associated with her child rearing tactics. While the oldest, Sophia, seems to be a "model daughter" who blossoms under the "Chinese way," Lulu is quick to push her mother's buttons. She questions. She argues. She wins from time to time. Sophia recently wrote a piece in defense of her mother for the New York Times. That's all well and good, but I would much rather hear what Lulu thinks of all of this. 
It's easy to simply write Chua off as a "bad mother." I will give her credit for putting it out there for the world to judge. Still, I wonder if she realized not a lot of us would be on her side. Even toward the end of the book, as she is "humbled" by a 13-year-old, she still seems to think everything she did was right and will have no ill affect on her children. I know that my daughters are not going to look back on my parenting skills and always sing my praises. What child does? I just hope that with the tactics I've employed, I won't have the need to write a book about the wrongs I've committed!


reanbean said...

This book was recently a topic on a yahoo group that I belong too. People were outraged, but never really went into detail about what the book was about.

From what you've written, I'm positive that I'm not (and won't be) a tiger mother either. I will set high expectations for my kids, but they will be reasonable. And I will always be loving and forgiving when they fall short. Above all, I want my children to know that they are loved each and every day just for being who they are. They will not be spoiled, and they will be expected to behave well. But they will have some freedom to choose activities and just play and be kids.

The Planet Pink said...

I too have been all over this and have written a couple of posts about it. I think ultimately Chua disproved herself. She claimed that the Chinese way was superior, but then later through her younger daughter discovered that it's only superior IF that's the sort of parent the child needs. All children are wired differently, even within the same family. It is short-sighted to think that one form of parenting is going to work for all kids.

MaryAnne said...

I have a lot of friends who were raised this way, and, while I haven't read the book, it's not a parenting style I ever hope to emulate. It's one thing to be the model child with a "Tiger Mother", but when you can't, for whatever reason - be it temperament or ability or both - it makes for a pretty brutal relationship. And, even for the model child, where is the warmth and nurturing that I see as central to motherhood?

Stephanie Barr said...

I agree there isn't one way of raising a child. The problem, in my opinion, with this method is it isn't really about the child at all, but about control. Sure, I can browbeat my kids to "excel" but then what will they do when they grow up? Live next door and ask my opinion about everything? Be unable to decide or pursue anything on their own? Not even know what they want for themselves?

No thanks. In my opinion, a measure of independence is essential for any child to grow into a fully functioning adult. Not all independence and certainly not complete indulgence, but some measure of individuality.

The tearing down of a child's psyche, including calling them garbage or frequent rejection strikes me as self-serving, classic brainwashing/mind control. I won't do it.

Having high expectations is great. Better to encourage your child to expect it from his or herself, however, than only working to please an outside audience.

Plus, hey, you only get to be a kid once. Perhaps a little happiness isn't uncalled for.

At least, that's how I see it.

Lauren said...

One of my daughters was upset at the NO I gave her the other day after answering her question. She asked why I said No. I told her, as we all filed into the house, "because I am a tiger mother"! Though she could not possibly understand why I said that, I thought to myself, right, I could never be that kind of a mother and am thankful my children will never have to suffer what hers have surely suffer through.

Sadia said...

The reactions to this book have been a fascinating cultural phenomenon, not least for how America sees itself. I grew up in an "Eastern" country (Bangladesh), where parents are FAR more permissive with young children than the average American parent. Tantrums are smiled upon, rude manners and hitting accepted, until a child reaches school. They are then expected to be perfect mini-adults and obey their parents completely. Eventually (for the most part) parents will select their child's mate, and the cycle continues.

It's been interesting to see how Chua puts things in terms of East and West. It's not that simple.

Holly Ann said...

I just read the excerpt from her book that was published in the WallStreet Journal. I had much the same reaction as most of the other commenters here. Furthermore, I was one of those kids whose parents never responded to an A- with anything but, "If you could get an A-, why couldn't you get an A?" That was not very effective. It never ever motivated me to try to get that A. In fact, it often had the opposite effect.
The other point Ms. Chua made that really got under my skin was that apparently Chinese mothers can "get away with" calling their children things like stupid and fat. I'd like to know what she means by "get away with" it. As for me, I know that calling me stupid and and fat will never make me want to become smarter and thinner. It may, however, make me want to deceive you into eating food with many more calories than you think are actually in said food. ;)
I will never be a "Tiger Mom." I will have high, but realistic expectations. I will put love above all else with my children. And I'm sure I'll make lots of parenting mistakes. But calling my child "garbage" will never be one of them.

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