books, parenting

The Tiger Mom

It is easy to dislike the tiger mom – both the book and the author.

Immediately after I watched Amy Chua’s interview in CNN for her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, I raised the extreme parenting method which she seemed to have confidently used in raising her daughters to my husband. Days after, I got a surprise. Hubby bought the book for me – hardbound -through Amazon.

I am just one of the many who made Amy Chua and her family richer by immediately buying the overly-criticized and sensationalized book. I came to think that it was meant to be this way – sensational – for it to shoot up to the bestseller list.

Amy Chua made sure she was going to be provocative. The first page of the first chapter of her book listed the things her daughters were not allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or the violin

Moms all over are surely going to react on the list and make immediate judgment as to how a tyrant this mom could be. Yes, without reading the book, it was easy to hate the tiger mom.

I am glad I read it.

I was annoyed with her “Chinese ways” superiority. Of course, the book is about her being a “Chinese mother” and how she is bringing up her daughters under her Chinese mothering ways. Although she is using the term “Chinese mother” loosely, the frequent reference to its superiority can still get into your nerves. Which brings me to another dimension of Chinese immigrants in the US. They so love to go to the US and yet they ironically depise its Western ways. But hey, they want to immerse themselves in the culture and be successful in the environment they look down upon.

And with her over-emphasis on achievements, especially academic achievement, you would expect her to talk about her daughters scholastic achievements. But the reader is actually just given snippets of these. The book focuses more on her battle with her daughters piano and violin lessons.

I also think her publication of the book – especially because it focuses on the Chinese mother’s successful parenting ways – is premature given her personal circumstances. Her daughters are just 15 and 18 years old. They still have a long way to go to be judged as successful especially if success will be defined through their Chinese mother’s eyes. This book has put another pressure on their shoulder. They should be successful or else… the world is watching because their mother has just made the world their stage.

Having said these three things, I actually enjoyed reading Amy Chua. I also came to admire her. She didn’t just demand from her daughters. She demanded more from herself. She didn’t just let her daughters study piano and violin. She was actually there during their lessons and she herself studied the technical aspects of these instruments so she knows when her children are being excellent or mediocre. She was their number one and harshest critic because she knows. The more that she squeezed excellence from her daughters, she squeezed more energy from herself to be there to bring out the best performance from each of her daughters. And this makes her very easy to dislike because not all moms have the energy and the passion to do this. This actually makes her a Super Mom if she didn’t come out too strong in her book. And being a Super Mom is every mom’s dream and this makes her an easy target to hate.

With her overemphasis on Chinese parenting – which is now viewed as extreme parenting – her humour is easy to overlook. But sans negative prejudgment, she is funny. And before you realize it, she is actually making fun of herself because of her honesty. She knew she was being petty with her obsession for their dog “Coco” to be exceptional and she actually had the temerity to question her husband if he has dreams for “Coco”. That made me laugh. And there were more instances in her storytelling when i catch myself laughing at her.

She has no qualms about putting herself in a bad light. She tells her readers about her strict scheduling with regards to the violin and piano practices of her daughters. Even family vacation, a supposedly relaxed time, were tension-filled because she had to adhere to her self-imposed schedule. Wherever they are, the practices should never be missed and she was easiest to hate when she talked about their family vacation with her parents in Greece when they failed to go to the Palace of Knossos because she insisted on Lulu’s violin practice.

While she feels superior over her parenting ways, there was no pretense on her part. She tells her story as it is and she lets the reader see how bad she can be. The caviar episode in Russia – where she tried to force Lulu to try caviar and when Lulu refused she called her an uncultured savage – was too much and this is where she heard straight from her daughter, Lulu, how she hates her life and her mom. This episode made her realize she couldn’t get everything she wants from her daughter, no matter how hard she tries. She actually loosened up and allowed her daughter some free space.

Her dedication to be a good “Chinese mother” is, for me, something to emulate. But how she did it is something I don’t have the energy to do and don’t have the heart to let my sons endure. Really, if she didn’t allow herself to be so provocative with her list and her stories, she is a Super Mom. If I could have half of her dedication, I would be too.

What do I say about the book as a mom? The “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is worth the money and the read. Just do so with an open-mind.

I hope you enjoy reading, too. It would be good to hear about your thoughts as well.

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