Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. What Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reveals is that the Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions and providing a nurturing environment. The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicles Chua's iron-willed decision to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, her way-the Chinese way-and the remarkable results her choice inspires.
Here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• 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 violin
The truth is Lulu and Sophia would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practicing their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) and perfecting their Mandarin.
Of course no one is perfect, including Chua herself. Witness this scene:
"According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:
1. Oh my God, you're just getting worse and worse.
2. I'm going to count to three, then I want musicality.
3. If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!"
But Chua demands as much of herself as she does of her daughters. And in her sacrifices-the exacting attention spent studying her daughters' performances, the office hours lost shuttling the girls to lessons-the depth of her love for her children becomes clear. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an eye-opening exploration of the differences in Eastern and Western parenting- and the lessons parents and children everywhere teach one another.
This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. It's also about Mozart and Mendelssohn, the piano and the violin, and how we made it to Carnegie Hall.
This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.
But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how
I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.
The Tiger, the living symbol of strength and power, generally inspires fear and respect.
The Chinese Mother
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never 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 violin.
I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I recently met a super-successful white guy from South Dakota (you've seen him on television), and after comparing notes we decided that his working-class father had definitely been a Chinese mother. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish, and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise.
I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that Westerners are far more diverse in their parenting styles than the Chinese. Some Western parents are strict; others are lax. There are same-sex parents, Orthodox Jewish parents, single parents, ex-hippie parents, investment banker parents, and military parents. None of these "Western" parents necessarily see eye to eye, so when I use the term "Western parents," of course I'm not referring to all Western parentsjust as "Chinese mother" doesn't refer to all Chinese mothers.
All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments thirty minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.
Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately ten times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.
This brings me to my final point. Some might think that the American sports parent is an analog to the Chinese mother. This is so wrong. Unlike your typical Western over-scheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes that (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.
"This is one outrageous book, partly thanks to Amy Chua's writing style - Chua is pugnacious and blunt, with an unerring nose for the absurd ...The cultural divide Chua so brilliantly captures is one we stand to witness more and more in our globalized age, after all; and what with Asia and Asian achievement looming ever larger in the American imagination, the issues inherent in Battle Hymn are as important as they are entertaining... I was riveted by this book"
-Gish Jen, The Boston Globe
"Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother did more than speak to me. It screamed, shouted and lectured me. It made me simultaneously laugh with empathy and cringe with embarrassment and exasperation... Charming... Self-effacing... Guffaw-inducing"
-Terry Hong, San Francisco Chronicle
"Readers will alternately gasp at and empathize with Chua's struggles and aspirations, all the while enjoying her writing, which, like her kid-rearing philosophy, is brisk, lively and no-holds-barred. This memoir raises intriguing, sometimes uncomfortable questions about love, pride, ambition, achievement and self-worth that will resonate among success-obsessed parents... Engagingly and provocatively chronicled. Readers of all stripes will respond to [Battle Hymn of the] Tiger Mother.
-Elizabeth Chang, The Washington Post
"[Chua's] writing is smart and lively"
"Chua's mindset and methods-bolstered by faith in Chinese family tradition-pose a useful challenge for an era haunted by a helicoptering ethos as hard to shake as it is to like. Here is an alternative to the queasy hypocrisy of typical hyperparents, buffeted by shifting expertise that leaves them anxious about overpressuring even as they push. Chua breaks through all that. She is a crusader invigorated by practicing what she preaches: the arduous work she believes necessary to do anything well, child-rearing included... But precisely because Chua slaves away as hard as her girls do, one thing her program is not is guilt-inducing. In the end, her ordeal with Lulu teaches Chua humility and proves her daughter's very healthy autonomy-and inspires next to no regrets."