Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a quick read.
It’s extremely quick if you don’t make it beyond the third chapter.
I nearly didn’t when she stuck her three year-old in the snow.
Because she wouldn’t do her piano practice.
Amy Chua is a Chinese American Yale professor with two daughters and a Jewish American husband.
Plus a dog or two who get treated better than any human.
I had read blogs when she wrote a piece publicizing Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in the Wall Street Journal and they were all about her parenting methods, her driven-ness, even her mental health.
It got boring.
I’m pretty secure in my parenting.
I didn’t need to waste my precious life energy being enraged or self-righteous about somebody else’s.
But the fact that her daughters were musical, prodigies even, piqued my interest.
I played the piano as a child.
It wasn’t my choice and my teacher, Mrs. Junehen, with her wild, frizzy red hair was a little mad in my opinion.
She once bought herself a large emerald and diamond ring.
And kept apologizing throughout the lesson for dazzling me with it.
She would tell me ‘you need a bomb inside you, you do,’ and berated me for my weak fingers.
She would make me do scales and arpeggios and then pieces by Bach or Beethoven as I sneaked peeks at the clock under the guise of scratching my head.
I would bike to her house every Monday afternoon and console myself by buying a chocolate bar from the newsagents on the way back.
And she too, had fluffy white dogs like Chua’s that she would coo over, encouraging me to do the same when I couldn’t have cared less.
So I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
I wanted to approach it with an open mind.
I’ve travelled a little in China and learned first hand that the culture operates quite differently to the one I am used to. I believe it is respectful and prudent to take the view ‘when in Rome…’
I wanted to do the same with this book.
Very quickly however, I realized that to take a neutral stance with regards to Amy Chua’s treatment of her children was like accepting female circumcision or the burkha.
There comes a point when other cultural methods are so egregious, they have to be condemned.
We’re not talking here about the difference between queuing and elbowing your way onto a subway train.
This book is a memoir not a parenting manual.
Part of me is amazed that Amy Chua should want to parade her story on the world stage knowing that she would be vilified.
She talks in her book about how she referred to one of her daughters as ‘garbage’ at a dinner party and was immediately ostracized.
She knew what she was doing.
Another part of me questions the point of this book.
I read it all the way through, although I nearly gave up two thirds of the way.
There is a lot of repetition in relating the abuse, the yelling, the harshness, the upset plans and frankly it just got tedious.
After the fifth time, I got it, OK?
Is Amy Chua a narcissist, so self-absorbed that she thinks everyone is interested in the story of her daughters?
Because the story itself wasn’t that interesting.
Without the furore over her methods, I wouldn’t have read it.
I didn’t come away thinking she had anything to teach me with the exception of reinforcing my ideas about encouraging a child to pursue their own interests, self-motivate, evolve to an self-knowing adult who doesn’t spend large chunks of their young adult life thrashing to find their place in the world as Chua did, an irony completely lost on her.
She wasn’t likely to change many people’s minds with her discourse and some parents who could do with being more structured and disciplined with their children are likely to feel justified in their actions.
And that helps no-one.
After a while I just stopped caring. Amy Chua was a nutter, her husband was crazy to marry her, the grandparents stood by and there was nothing I could do.
But the overwhelming feeling I got was of exhaustion.
As she detailed what she put herself through – the planning, the intimidation, the arguments, the workload – I just found myself drooping.
Who wants to live like that? If that was mothering, I would have stayed childless.
The relentlessness of her anger was repelling.
My child may not be a child prodigy or famous or look after me in my old age (although Chua’s American daughters may very likely reject all her ideas once they get the chance and the prevalent culture is allowed into their world) and that’s perfectly OK with me.
I simply don’t have that level of anger in me.
My mother hymnsheet is quite different.
Tigers spend a lot of their time relaxing, gently nurturing and playing.
They are not stuck in ferocity constantly.
Yet Amy Chua seemed to be.
Chua would argue that is what is wrong with American culture that we are permissive and indulgent.
And I would argue back that her attitudes are suited to a developing country and that there is room for a balance between accomplishment and acceptance.
Parenting doesn’t have to be about rolling over and playing doormat to little dictators whose egos are oversized.
But it also doesn’t have to be about practices that border on human right infringements.
I suspect, though, that Amy Chua is smiling all the way to Carnegie Hall. Her bank balance has been fortified and her ego has been fed.
The softening of her approach towards the end felt like an afterthought and was insipid compared to her earlier cantations.
It didn’t feel a mom coming-of-age story at all.
Many people are talking about her. This is one of my longest posts.
Maybe that was the main point.
What do you think about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother? Is there a place for Chua’s parenting methods? Why do you think she published the book? Are Asian mothers truly like this or is Amy Chua an aberration?
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