February 28, 2012

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

If you're not familiar with the title of this book, I'm sure the story will ring a few bells.  It was talked about, gawked at and criticized all over the news upon it's release in early 2011.

In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua describes the differences between Chinese parenting and "Western" parenting.  And controversial, it definitely is.

Amy is a first generation American who was raised by strict Chinese parents.  She explains how she was brought up to respect her parents, work hard and succeed no matter what.  She married a Jewish American man and together they had two daughters, Sophie and Lulu.  Amy decided that she was going to raise her daughters in the traditional "Chinese" sense, as she was raised.

Although Amy is a Harvard law grad, professor at Yale, published author and distinguished professional, she focused a large portion of her energy and time on her daughter's musical pursuits.  She was determined that each of her daughters would play a musical instrument and excel at it.  But excelling at something takes hours upon hours of tortuous practice, tears and yelling matches.

This book is mostly about music.

Amy makes broad generalizations about "Western" culture and parenting that is often annoying.  Of course, she admits that she's not saying ALL "Western parents" are like this... but still.  The same holds true for her ideas of "Chinese parents"... well, their way is apparently perfect.

As a parent, I took some of what she said as good advice.  For example, she said (and I'm paraphrasing here), that children want to be good at things, but they don't want to work to be good at it.  But they don't realize that in order to be good, it takes hard work, which is not always fun.  This is why parents should override their wishes and do what is best for them.  As a music teacher, I agree.

She also said that she doesn't believe in bribery (although she does go back on that later).  She says that if anything, children should be paying the parents... not the other way around!  Funny to think of it that way... and I agree!

She says that the reason Asian children are always the best in their classes is because it's expected of them.  The parents believe that their child can be the very best and expect nothing less.  When an Asian child brings home an A-, the parents drill over and over and over again until the child has mastered whatever subject began to slip.  It's not that they're born with better brain genes, although some may, but more that their diligent work ethic allows no room for error.

She says that while Asian children are busy mastering an instrument, or drilling math problems for hours on end, Western parents have their kids in pointless activities such as little league or going to play dates and sleepovers.  Asian parents never allow their children to partake in such frivolous and meaningless activities.

One thing that struck me and caused me to think... she said that while Western parents are more concerned with giving their children memorable childhoods that are endearing, fond and magical, Asian parents see childhood as training grounds for adulthood.

Amy's two children are very different from one another.  Sophie is obedient and submissive... the ideal Chinese daughter.  Lulu is headstrong, stubborn and tough... the Chinese mother's nightmare!  Sophie was placed in piano and excelled immediately.  She went on to win many prestigious competitions and had invitations to play at Carnegie Hall and at a museum event abroad.  She and Amy had a bond... a friendship that was easy. Lulu, on the other hand, was forced to play violin.  While she enjoyed the violin, she hated the way her mother made her practice.  It seemed like Amy was shoving that violin bow down Lulu's poor throat!
Did I like the book?  Kind of.  Honestly, while listening to Amy's ideas was interesting, sometimes (ahem, most of the time) she came off as incredibly arrogant and she got under my skin.  She also writes like a professor, not a writer... she uses the same descriptive words throughout, "...by contrast, Western parents..."  And, I don't think she even realizes that she was definitely the villan in her own book!

3 Stars
I listened to the audio version of this book
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1 comment:

  1. I just checked this one out from the library and I'm planning to start it any day now. It's fascinating to me because when I was growing up my best friend's mother was Korean and they have pretty much the same child reading ethic as the Chinese. I remember staying at her house and my friend would be up at 6am practicing the violin before school, and her brother and sister would be on the violin/piano as well. What you mentioned about Asian parents seeing childhood as the training grounds for adulthood is very accurate. I can see the good in that, but I personally think "tiger mothers" can take that too far and push their children away.


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