I just finished reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I know I’m behind the parenting book trend, since this book was making headlines over a year ago, but when I saw it on the shelf at the library, I figured it was time to catch up. I’d already heard about the controversy surrounding this book, and even read a response to media criticism written by Chua’s oldest daughter Sophia in which she defends her mother’s Chinese parenting style, but I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be this intense.
My thoughts were on a roller coaster as I read. On one page, I’d be thinking, “Yeah, I agree with that,” then on the next page, “This woman is completely nuts!” The biggest problem, I think, is that there’s not much to like about Chua as a person. She seems to dominate the family completely and ignore her husband’s very different take on parenting, which makes me wonder why he doesn’t stand up for himself and demand a say. After all, they’re his daughters, too. Chua uses raw strength, manipulation, yelling, and bribery to get her way with her kids — and I don’t like that.
What I do like, however, are certain aspects of her Chinese parenting philosophy, such as not letting kids give up on a musical instrument. I’m the product of a mother who insisted I practice violin six days a week for twelve years. There was plenty of kicking and screaming all the way, but she was unyielding and, admittedly, it worked. Now I play well and have a skill that will always be there. To take violin to the extremes that Chua does with her youngest daughter, though, is ridiculous. I get the impression that success — and the way it looks to the outer world — is all Chua cares about and the inner happiness of her children doesn’t come into the equation at all. She says this is a common mentality for Chinese families and my husband says it’s the same within his Croatian-Canadian community, where the children’s duty to uphold family honour as defined by the parents has nothing to do whatsoever with what the child wants to do with his or her life.
There were some scenes in the book that had me chuckling to myself because they reminded me so much of the fights I had with my mom. When Chua demands that her daughter play violin at her own bat mitzvah, I remembered all the times my mom made me and my sister play our instruments at parties and get-togethers — even when my own friends were over — because she wanted us to “share” our music. This continued to happen, even after I was married with kids, until once she slyly told my uncle David to ask me to play because she knew I’d flip out if she asked me directly, and I couldn’t say no to him without being rude. After playing graciously, there was a magnificent blow-up in private where I demanded her to stop doing that anymore.
While I believe in challenging my kids and pushing them to do things that are uncomfortable yet rewarding, it’s important to temper that with respect for them as individuals (think Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Chua actually scoffs at). It’s not up to a parent to decide a child’s path in life, and if that’s pure Western philosophy, so be it. I’ll embrace that. I don’t want to destroy my kids’ creativity, which probably happens when childhood is structured to the point of not having any free time to play and imagine. But I’ll also be putting them in music lessons soon and there will be expectations placed on them to achieve and not waste my money on lessons without progressing.
Has anyone else read this book? What are your thoughts on it?