Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

**This post originally appeared on The Chicago Moms.

Let me preface this by stating this fact: I am not a tiger mom. Under Chinese astrology, I happen to be an ox. Whereas tigers are impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, selfish and aggressive, stalking their prey with their stealthy ways, the ox manages to be calm while at the same time rigid, and, last but not least, demanding, a quality indeed shared by tigers. I’m calm with my kids, though I’m also, at times, demanding. And like the tiger, I have high expectations. This allows me to understand Tigers. But I’d rather steadily plow the fields than stalk my prey. That is: I’m trying my darnedest to raise smart, successful, polite children – I have high expectations - but you won’t find me forcing them to spend five hours a day practicing the violin.

Yes, I just finished reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a book I’d been meaning to read ever since my interest was sparked by this controversial article. In the book, author Amy Chua explores the imposition of her Chinese-tiger (read: rather strict) style of parenting on her two daughters. She is quick-tempered with her kids, at times even downright aggressive. But as she states underneath the title on the main cover, where she admits, “This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones…”, by the end of the story (spoiler alert!) she arrives at the realization that while there are some aspects of this parenting style that work, they couldn’t stand up to her daughters’ growing strength and determination (both traits, interestingly, that Ms. Chua fostered via her “Chinese” parenting style). Her daughters, thanks in part to their mom, turn out to be strong, successful young women.

There were several uproars over the Wall Street Journal article, accusations that Ms. Chua verbally abused her children, that her type of parenting style would lead to personality disorders and worse. What wasn’t apparent in the article is the fact that Ms. Chua backed up all of her severity with love, dedication and support. She was never outright abusive. She urged her daughters toward excellence – and whatever could be wrong with that? There were (very) few bad mommy episodes when Ms. Chua simply lost it – calling one daughter a “terrible daughter”, for example. And a moment in which she gave back a birthday card for lack of effort – but reading the surrounding story, I tend to side with Ms. Chua. Her daughter’s response, especially regarding the infamous birthday card incident, bolsters my belief that Ms. Chua is not the mean mom the media has presented her to be, but rather, a mom that loves her daughters dearly and would do anything for them.

Here’s my disclaimer: I’m a teacher. In a high school. You would not believe how many listless, unmotivated children I encounter on a daily basis. Yes, there are many reasons for this, but I can’t help to point, at least in part, to the parents. Call it Western Parenting, call it Lazy Parenting, whatever you want: it’s easy being the mom that takes the kids to McDonald’s and buys a toy for a treat instead of taking the kids to the library. It’s easy being the mom that plunks the kids down in front of the tv. It’s easy being the mom that accepts a C grade as a decent effort. It’s not fun – and sometimes it’s downright hard – being the mean mom that forces the kids to sit down at a table and study, the tireless mom that urges the kids to turn off the tv and video games and actively engages them in a creative activity, the un-fun mom that waits for the kids to clean their bedrooms and help fold clothes, the unfair mom that doesn’t let the kids indulge in fast food and forces them to eat their fruits and veggies, the lame-o mom that tries her best to engage a surly teen.

I actually admire Ms. Chua for her perseverance, for leading her daughters on a musical journey that involved nonstop hard work (for everyone involved, in fact, perhaps most of all, for mom). Why is a mom like Chua, who raised two very successful daughters, considered nuts and a monster by so many? If only more parents held such high hopes and expectations for their children.

If you were intrigued or even irked, irritated or angered by the WSJ article, take a moment to read the whole story from Ms. Chua herself, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

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