Earlier this year, an interesting brouhaha erupted over Amy Chua’s parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In her book, Chua hands out sage parenting gems such as threatening to burn your children’s toys if they don’t play a piano sonata perfectly and calling a child “garbage” when they’re disrespectful.
After an excerpt from her book was published in the Wall Street Journal in January entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”, the howls of indignation were quick to follow. How dare she! Bad mother! Where are child protection services when you need them?!?
As is usual when a book is controversial , the outrage was perpetrated by many whom, I suspect, hadn’t read Chua’s book. If they had, they may have found a wry, self-deprecating rumination rather than the self-righteous account of borderline child abuse the book was made out to be.
Chua’s basic thrust is that Western parenting methods coddle and insulate children from the harsh realities of life and don’t enable the children to realize their full potential. The harsher (by Western standards) methods of the “Chinese Mother” demand only excellence from their children because the parents realize that their children are capable of excellence and thus empower them to be successful, and thus happy, throughout their lives. While she calls this the “Chinese” way, Chua does point out that anyone can be a “Chinese” parent. Read the WSJ excerpt from Chua’s book and you’ll get the gist.
Chua is very sincere in the belief that her method is better than the limp-wristed, “hey, it’s ok if you fail as long as you try” style which she sees as being prevalent among Western parents. There is no doubt, in her mind, that she did the right thing in raising her children in the “Chinese” way. She also fully understands the sacrifices, both to herself and to her children, that her method demands.
However, far from coming across as self-righteous and superior, Chua’s memoir is saturated with a self-deprecating awareness that her methods are extreme, often ridiculously so. This leads to a surprisingly funny book, one of the funniest I’ve read in a while.
What’s always clear is that Chua is doing what she thinks is best for her daughters, difficult as it may be, and it is for this reason that the proverbial lynch mob needs to stop and take a breath. Any rational minded person couldn’t possibly read this book and come to the conclusion that Chua is a bad mother. Quite the opposite – she raised two incredibly successful daughters who have nothing but respect and admiration for their mother, even if they bridled in their youth at her extreme parenting. Her methods, while unorthodox, enabled her daughter’s success and happiness. While certainly not the only way to do so, it worked for her and her family, and that’s something that any parent could appreciate.