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

"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 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.


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.
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