Wednesday, March 23, 2011

what I learned from "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

The only problem I see with electronic books is that you can't do this to them:
I love to mark up books. Especially those that make me think. I tear-and-turn-over each part that really speaks to me, (or makes me mad as some of these fold-overs do in this case).
I knew "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" would be a book I'd want to make my own.
And I was right.

For anyone who may not know the background on this book, I thought this was a good overview (from www.theconglomerate.org):

"A few weeks ago, one Wall Street Journal excerpt [the one I talked about back here] sparked a nationwide parenting discussion and inserted the term "Tiger Mother" into the common vocabulary. Law professor Amy Chua's new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, became an instant NYT bestseller, and news stories about her, her family, or the national debate would grace the covers of magazines from Time to People."

I was so intrigued by that article that I snatched the opportunity to choose it as my book my pick, which resulted in a great almost three-hour discussion last night (I'm so mad I didn't take a picture of those great ladies I get to share book club with).

As I suspected from the excerpt I read in the Wall Street Journal, parts of it made me irritated. Amy Chua is very quick to generalize "Chinese" and "Western" parenting, and is quite proficient in ripping "Western parenting" up and down. BUT as much as that part kind of made me mad, I ironically kinda liked it. You have to generalize to make your point, and boy howdy did she ever make some points.

The book pretty much kept me spellbound. The author is tough as nails, and in raising her children she was exactly what she calls herself: A Tiger Mother. She chose what she wanted her daughters to excel at (gave them no input whatsoever...one did piano, the other violin) and then she force-fed it to them...sometimes six or seven hours a day and late into the night with no breaks. They were expected to be the best at everything they did, (although "what they did" was pretty much limited to strictly music and school...oh and some serious travel which made me drool). They were screamed at for not doing extra credit at school, scoffed at if they ever sprouted their own idea, berated and hit with a pencil for not keeping fingers perfect, and shamed for wanting to do anything different from what was demanded.

One daughter does what she is supposed to, excels, and is grateful to her mother. The second daughter rebels, engages in continual screaming matches with her mother, and in the end finally humbles her mother and gets freedom to choose what she wants to work on (which turns out to be tennis rather than violin....which it should be noted that she is able to do well with because she is determined and has an out-of-this-world work ethic thanks to her mother).

Some quotes I thought were particularly thought provoking:

"What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up."


I think she's spot-on here....if you remember that she's certainly generalizing. Children need to be pushed. I just think she pushed a little [a LOT] over-the-top.

Here's another interesting one:

"I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital.
[check] In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. [check, check, click here for an example from me] Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

Things I disagreed with:

I don't believe in empty threats which Amy Chua seems to do over and over and over again in this book. I don't believe in telling your child you will burn all their stuffed animals or not let them have Christmas for four years unless you are clearly prepared to follow through (which there was no indication that she was...she backed down quite often). This only confuses kids.

I believe social things are essential and extremely important, as well as finding a balance in life. I believe children should be well-rounded. There is no indication that these kids had any sort of social outlet, nor did the parents. That makes me sad for them.

"Chinese parenting does not address happiness." Isn't happiness what life is all about??

Things I learned and want to change from reading this book:

I want to be a more involved parent. Sure, that's been my goal since day-one and it's tough when you have five children and what seems like a bazillion other things on your plate (and even though she only has two children, she has a demanding job, so I have nothing to stand on there). But I have renewed energy to really, really try. It is so important. "It's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating, and spying on their kids." That part really spoke to me, especially when I can't seem to practice with my children for twenty minutes, let alone five hours. She was definitely in the trenches, which I really admire. I know there's a balance to be found there, but I'm motivated to try a little harder.

I want to expect more from my children. As much as it horrified me at first, I really liked the "birthday card story" (she does not accept a no-effort birthday card her daughter gives her and goes into a tirade about how she would never give such an uncaring gift...blah blah blah). It made me think that we really should expect the best from our children.

(On a side note, each time I would give my kids a little review of what I was reading their jaws dropped in horror hoping I wouldn't get too many ideas from this "crazy lady.")

One friend at book club summed it up best (things we can do better after reading this book...things we learned either in conjunction OR in spite of this method of parenting):

--Set goals with our kids...let kids take "ownership" in what they do (this is opposite from in the book). Discuss their goals with them and help nudge them toward good things (I think that although I do not want to be a tyrant and dictator with my children, I do have the power to advise and push them toward things that will help them the most. That takes time and effort to know each child individually but it's SO important.)

--Let kids know what your expectations are. When I take time out before going into a store or social occasion or even a school year to explain what I expect from my children it makes a huge difference and they know they better step it up.

--BE CONSISTENT.

There you go. I could go on and on and on, and you can take it or leave it, but that's what I learned from the Tiger Mother.

37 comments:

Lori Thompson said...

sounds great! I reserved my copy from the library and can't wait to read it! Thanks Shawni!!

Cheryl said...

intriguing! i am going to buy it and host it for our book club!

Vera said...

Yes. Ditto. Exactly.

Sylvie said...

I tried, but I had to put it down! I was getting so angry! I'm a big believer in the 'this is how my momma's momma did it before her' school of child-rearing. My children play outside until it's dark, they eat chocolate if they want to, and they have 1 activity a season. Whether or not they excel at said activity is up to them. All 4 of them are on the honor roll, they're respectful to my husband, me and their siblings.
Every parent needs to do what they think is best. If my kids are happy, I've done my best.

Rochelleht said...

Fascinating! I've read a lot about this woman, but not her actual book. I am putting it on my list.

Now for an intro: Hi! I came over to your blog when Danae blogged about our Mormon.org videos. I've lurked here a couple of times after that and just looked at the Time out for Women schedule. Saw that you are speaking at the one in Oklahoma City. That's a crazy month, but I may just have to drive up and hear your thoughts on "Tiger Mothers". ;-)

Susan R said...

I saw a snippet about this book in a magazine and it really intrigued me. I was more intrigued at the harshness of this mother and was sure I would be wishing her ill before the book was over.
I have not read the book yet, but your comments have sparked my interest even more. It's on my Amazon list now. I just bought Jane Eyre, Sarah's Key and the new George Bush autobiography. That should hold be over this summer. I have a couple of rereads tucked in there too (Mother's Book of Secrets) is on the reread list. My daughter pulled off all my sticky notes from various chapters of things I wanted to adopt, try and quote. I hate when that happens. I need to just buy two copies of each book. One I will keep nice and one I will mark up with pen and dog ear pages of. I like your style.

Danelle said...

My hub is listening to it during his commute. I need a hard copy for myself. Thanks for the recap. I agree that she makes a lot of interesting points, and after reading a couple articles about the book, I too have experienced resolve in pushing my kids a little harder (you can memorize your addition facts if you work harder, son).

Jamie said...

I am going to reserve this book at the library. I think we can all learn a thing or 2 from each others ideas.

Amy @ Ink'd said...

I haven't read the book yet, but I've loved thinking through the snippets I've heard. I love that Chinese parenting assumes strength & fortitude. I think she is dead on there. If we pair that with what we know of our children, that they are sons & daughters of God, then why wouldn't we assume strength & fortitude? Oddly enough I am really good at assuming strength with my son, but not my daughter. I have to physically force myself to walk away & let her try things & hope for the best. Granted she is a bit accident prone & my son is not, but I still want her to have confidence in her abilities & that requires me to get out of her way.

e said...

I read a copy on my ipad and have lots and lots of highlights and bookmarks too! (though a highlighted ipad isn't nearly as fun to photograph).

So much of the book made me crazy & some of it I thought she wrote to be incendiary and sell books. There were many good nuggets in there too that made me examine my parenting. We can always learn from each other as moms.

Much like you, I was most struck with the amount of TIME the author spent with her girls. I took this away as a positive and have been making sit down time with each of my kids (learning to read, practicing piano, figuring out long division, whatever it is) more of a priority. Sure, I've been a bit more demanding on them. But they like the 1:1!

SydneyMin said...

Shawni - you are one intense reader! I love the ripped pages. I think there is a middle ground on this whole parenting issue, and luckily we can work with Heavenly Father to find the right balance for each kid at each time of their life. I think having the goals you have set from reading this can only raise the bar for your whole family! and I was laughing at the image of your childrens' horror as you read this book. :)

Traci said...

This book is going on my list! Thanks for sharing.

Sereia said...

I was fascinated with this book and spent a lot of time analyzing my own parenting. I think there are a lot of different ways to parent well. The thing that bothered me most in the book was not that the author was strict and had high expectations. It was how she would resort to name-calling, demeaning comments, threats, etc.

Momza said...

Having just been invited to read your parent's newest book and reviewing it, I can tell you honestly, I have not even been tempted to read this other book. I'm not a Tiger Mother.
I'm more of a Mother hen...a gatherer, perhaps. I've loved your folks' books of wisdom since I was mom of many young ones and would recommend them to anyone who wants to know the secrets of being a better parent to happy children. Looks to me, they knew what they were doing.

Sarah said...

I haven't read it yet but it sounds so interesting...I just browsed through another book called The Learning Gap...about what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese education...very interesting and some points are the same. I learned so much...we are so culturally brain washed I think...at least this book gave me completely new insights, really good ones, that make me want to change the way I approach so many things.

Heather said...

Hey Shawni,
I love it when people write posts about books that they enjoy and think others will find meaningful. Today I wrote about a book that I really love called Same Kind of Different As Me. I think you would enjoy it (and it's great for book clubs), so check it out!
– Heather
paralyzedwithjoy.blogspot.com

Romie said...

I'm still waiting to read this but after you're review I just had a thought: Chinese parenting/government and American parenting/government...dictatorship vs. freedom to choose. Interesting and can't wait to get my hands on it!

Jenny Hatch said...

I have not read the book, so perhaps mr thoughts are not pertinent to the discussion, but this is what I wrote about it last month...

http://bloggingmothersmagazine.com/2011/01/19/amy-chua-chinese-tiger-mother-creating-socialistic-robots/

Jenny Hatch

Holly Weig said...

I think the Tiger Mother is in a direct violation of responsible and loving parenting. I do not at all respect or admire any lessons from a woman who is so destined to control every aspect of her children's lives and demand a level of perfection that is not only inconsiderate but degrading. I'm not saying abandon all authority and let kids be kids and do as they please. But treat your children as peers and offer them respect and understanding and you will gain miles more than you will with threats and punishments.

Becky said...

Sounds like a very interesting read and such great discussion from it. My kids are now in the 20s so has me reflecting and trying not to beat self up for what did/didn't do. Hopefully did the best I could.

Jennifer said...

I still haven't read the book, but what I hear about it is somewhat surprising in many ways. I served my mission in Taiwan and yes I found there was a lot more the Chinese expected of their children in ways, but I also found that the children seemed very spoiled and disrespectful to their parents as well. This could be a difference between Taiwan and China though? I will have to read it. Thanks for your input.

Rachel said...

Ooh, loved your review! Thanks for giving me even more to think about, Shawni! You absolutely can't walk away from this book unchanged.
Can I add my two cents? (I posted these comments on another blog as well.) I devoured this book, filled the entire time with admiration and horror. Ultimately, I loved it. What many people don't realize is that Chua's book is a mother's coming-of-age memoir. She's very tonuge-in-cheek & it would be a mistake to overlook her dry, self-deprecating humor. If you do, you fail to notice that she isn't 100% secure in her parenting methods!

As for her methods? Well, they shocked AND inspired me! I could use more "tiger" spirit. I also love the idea of the Chinese virtuous circle ("What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it"). Having said that, nothing would induce me to treat my children the way she does. My relationship with them is much too valuable. However, like you said, I DO want to expect more of them, hold them to higher standards.

One of my favorite, spot-on excerpts from the book is when Chua discusses her relationship with her two dogs, which is the polar opposite of her relationship with her two daughters. Could she just maybe be poking fun at the rest of us . . . ?

"My dogs can't do anything--and what a relief. I don't make any demands of them, and I don't try to shape them or their future. For the most part, I trust them to make the right choices for themselves. I always look forward to seeing them, and I love just watching them sleep. What a great relationship."

The Prudent Homemaker said...

YOUR travel makes ME drool! Wow! It seems like you're always going somewhere. You take your children to amazing places all the time.

Shell in your Pocket said...

My kids attend a school with a high population of Asian children. Honestly, this book hits it right on and I can't think of ONE student that is not excellent in all they do at our school. They work hard and their parents expect nothing less.

It is just expected...
I think many times we sell our kids short!

Great overview...

sandy toe

Karen said...

Thank you for the book review. I appreciate it because, like others, it was hard to read and anger inducing! I agree with your thoughts on it. As brutal as the author can be, I had to (reluctantly) admit some truths she pointed out in my OWN parenting style . Thanks again, and also, I enjoy your blog! :)

Jenny Hatch said...

As a confirmed Cuddler, who used Attachment Parenting, followed by a gentle preschool/homeschool based on Waldorf Philosophy when my babes were little, I was incredulous that Amy Chua proudly and loudly shared her book/mothering style, confident of its superiority over American Style parenting.

If the goal is for your child to live/work some day in the Socialistically Brainwashed confederation of the Elites who currently run Higher Ed, the Media, and have strategic positions in American Politics and Hollywood, then sure, Amy’s Tiger Mother style of parenting may be your Cup of Tea.  Little Chuas bullied by Mother to get perfect grades will most certainly obtain admissions to those “enlightened” circles of noblesse.

But if you are an American, concerned about Constitutional Principles of Freedom, Sovereignty, the Pursuit of Happiness, and children having time to pray, ponder, and even reject the Socialism being spoon fed in the classroom, then perhaps perfect attendance at school and perfect grades coupled with hours and hours of time on the piano bench/no socializing is not so high on the priority list.

At least for me it’s not.

Jenny Hatch

Editor in Chief


More Here from David Brooks:

Amy Chua Is a Wimp

“Sometime early last week, a large slice of educated America decided that Amy Chua is a menace to society. Chua, as you probably know, is the Yale professor who has written a bracing critique of what she considers the weak, cuddling American parenting style.”

Karianne said...

This is so interesting. Although I haven't read the book, I did read the article that you linked to. I Had similar mixed feelings to you. On one hand, I don't believe in harsh or degrading parenting. It just isn't the way God would have us treat His children. On the other hand, I know too many teenagers who have been allowed to run their own lives and are not living up to their potential. Bright kids are lazy in their schoolwork, talented kids are too distracted by video games and cell phones to become really accomplished, and financially blessed kids are too selfish to give to those without. Not that all kids are that way, but I want something more for my children. I think, if nothing else, the Tiger Mother prompts us to look at what we are doing and ask ourselves if the approach we are taking is really getting the results we want. She could probably learn a thing or two from you, Shawni, as your readers do. Thanks for posting this. It gets me thinking. I am excited to hear you and your mother speak in OK in May!

Kathryn said...

Good post. But I don't agree that happiness is what life is all about. I think that God wants to make us holy over anything else. Sure, he wants us to have great joy, peace, and love in our lives. But he puts us into situations that make us holy for a reason- to make us more like His Son, Jesus Christ. He places us into discomfort so that we can become holy not happy. Our lives are not about our happiness they are about serving God and others. The amazing thing is that in obeying the Lord and accepting and surrendering to his will, we find joy rather than fleeting happiness because in Him we find real life, real love, the real God. May God abundantly bless you and your family and may you continue to be salt and light to those around you.

Love Being A Nonny said...

You have made me want to read it. Can't wait.

Ashley said...

I listened to Amy Chua on NPR. I was so excited for her book - I am often demanding with my girls and very often feel guilty about my expectations. I wanted to read this book - not to justify myself - but to hear about another parents experiences. After the media attack I thought she was maybe too over the top. While that may still be the case, I was grateful for your comments and will place Tiger Mom back in my shopping cart!

Eyrealm said...

Such a great treatise on this book. As much as we violently disagree many of her tactics, she also makes some sense. Such a good thought provoker!

Part of this is the bred-in Chinese aversion to praising children. Remind me to tell you about a mom and dad we had breakfast with in Hong Kong several years ago when I see you.

Can't wait to read the whole thing!

Kathy said...

Shawni,

Please be careful!! I work in a profession of teenage and young adult problems and most.... believe it or not the parents that have raised their children with an iron fist that have the teenagers and young adults that hate their parents, their siblings, and never want anything to do with religion again. When we meet with the parents most confess, I know I am guilty I thought I would make a perfect person out of my child.

Just telling you, because I think you love your children and I wouldn't want to see you lose them when they get chance to be on their own.

Gentleness goes much further than harshness in our world.

Maybe this comment is not one you would like to hear but I see too much sadness from parents on a daily basis that wish they had their time back.

SupaFlowaPowa said...

Bah, I still do not want to read it cuz I lived with Tiger Mom, only she turned Kitten Mom as I grew - kinda adapted to my brother and I growing up which was smart. Chinese parents don't hug their kids. They do when you're young, and then they don't - and hugging is not normal in my family, it has only resurfaced lately and is still awkward. Chinese parents also do not give their kids the right opportunities to succeed in a social atmosphere. And lastly, Chinese parents tell you you're fat even when you're not, because they want you to be stick skinny like the Asians who don't even work out, they don't value a healthy lifestyle, only when you're getting too fat off of the American food and cheese you eat. As a result, my brother and I have both developed serious eating disorders that have gotten better over time, we are now healthy, work out, and even got my mom to work out - but that doesn't stop her from telling us we look fat anytime, in front of anyone, regardless of the environment, situation, etc. You just learn to love your Chinese mother because she did teach you good things and she meant well, in her weird Chinese way... which is kinda what I think Amy's daughters are getting at - but ultimately, I still believe Amy has scarred 'em in more ways than one and only time will tell how badly. Muhahahaha.

Krista said...

Very interesting debriefing of this book. It made me grateful for the late President Hinckley's counsel to guard our children's self esteem like we would their life. I heard that while I was a youth and it has rung in my ears ever since.

e said...

Another comment from me (there is quite the discussion here, I love it)!

The iron fist idea reminds me of another book I picked up after reading Amy Chua's. It's called Nurture Shock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman. There are a few chapters that you may find interesting-- the Inverse Power of Praise and The Science of Teen Rebellion. I'm not through the whole thing, but the book is thought provoking and eye opening. Lots of science and studies cited. I think you'd like it!

Gwen said...

This woman is abusive and has very much maltreated her children. While the time she spent with them is admirable when looked at in isolation, I believe she is accountable for the verbal and emotional abuse she has inflicted on her children. The success her daughters have found in music and academics no way justifies her treatment of them.

destry said...

I've debated a lot about reading this book, but you pushed me over the edge and I am going to buy it today. (I only wish I had a bookclub like you to debate it with friends, that sounds genius!)

On a side, but related note, I have very strict grandparents. They are very conscientious about manners and etiquette. They were constantly correcting my posture and speech. And once I wrote my grandpa and email, and he sent it back to me - corrected for grammar! But honestly, I wouldn't have changed a thing, & I love their dedication to me!

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