Book review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011)

My dad sent me this book "for entertainment purposes only." It's an easy read, and offers insight into the motivations behind adherents of the so-called "Chinese-style" parenting, which prioritizes high academic achievement and unquestioning obedience of authority. This is in contrast to the "Western style," which aims to inculcate independence and high self-esteem.

Author Amy Chua is quick to point out that her sweeping generalizations also include parents of other ethnic groups, and, caveat outlined, proceeds to describe her personal journey of raising her kids Chinese-style virtually alone against the monolith of Western-style influences. It's a tongue-in-cheek novel, which a lot of people missed, judging from the shrieks of horror that resounded online after its publication.

Chua's style is strict and partly based upon her fear of generational decline. Since her daughters are third-generation, she thinks they're at risk for being spoiled and decadent, with no appreciation for the hard work that allowed their parents and immigrant grandparents to be so successful. Chua focuses on her use of classical music to drill home her expectations of excellence in her offspring. She hounds Sophie (piano) and Lulu (violin) to practice their instruments until they win competitions and/or world-famous teachers take notice and offer to train them. She's so hardcore that she learns music theory and writes up detailed notes for each practice session; drives her kids for hours to their teachers; and makes them practice while on family vacations. Tiger Mom admits that it's miserable for everyone, especially the headstrong Lulu, who eventually forces her unyielding mother to bend.

Chua's fanatical style of raising her two girls comes as no surprise--back in Manila, I had a classmate whose Taiwanese immigrant mom rubbed red-hot chilis in her teeth as punishment when she didn't get top marks. This same classmate also got up early to help her parents make various delicious foodstuffs that her mom and dad then sold in our canteen. So to recap: as a young teen she contributed to the family's livelihood and was also expected to be at the top of the class. Yikes.

Chua doesn't resort to physical punishments--histrionic yelling and verbal abuse are her weapons of choice. She once gave back birthday cards that her kids made for her because they weren't up to her standards. She called them "garbage," used the ol' "You bring shame upon the family!" line, et cetera. In her mind, this is all to motivate them to do better, and demonstrates her confidence in them to boot.

Well...different folks, different strokes, I guess. The main themes amidst all the stress and striving include the different manifestations of maternal love, contrasting ideas of children (their own persons versus extensions of the parents), the price of achievement, the immigrant experience, and academics sure make for interesting parents.

TL; DR: Tiger Moms be crazy, YMMV.

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