Amy Chua: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (review)

battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-motherSo yeah. I’ve read this.
As everyone else, I’ve heard about the crazy Chinese mother who wouldn’t allow her daughters to play, watch TV or go to sleepovers but who made them study all the time and when they weren’t studying, they practiced on their instruments. I had no interest in reading a book by her because that were definitely not how I wanted to raise my daughters.
But then I listen to an interview with her and thought, that she didn’t sound so crazy after all and she claimed that the reason for all that controversy, was because of one newspaper writing a headline that made everyone believe the book was something other than it really was. So I started gaining an interest in the book.
And then I found it on sale and well, the rest is history. Of course I bought it.
So what did I think about it. Well, overall, it was a bit too light and shallow for me. I had expected it to be a parenting book but it read more as a memoir. This is the story of a Chinese mother, an American father and their two children and how these children were brought up and how Chinese parents are demanding so much more of their children than Western parents and how these children succeed in life because of this.
Mind you, she is aware that being a Chinese parent doesn’t necessarily mean that you are born in China or even have Chinese blood in your veins. It’s a way of parenting and it’s the same with Western parents. A Chinese parent demands a lot of their children. They are asked to study a lot each day, they are expected to be ahead of their peers and they have to play an instrument or something similar: ‘/…/ the Chinese mother believes that (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach: (6) the only activities your childrne should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.’ (p. 5).
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these goals. Per se. Well, maybe a bit wrong with about six of them. But what’s really wrong is the way, the Chinese mother – or this Chinese mother at least – tries to achieve these goals. She sees no problem with screaming at her children, calling them names, comparing them to each other and shaming them. Some of the stories she tells, are so out there that it is shocking for a normal, Western mother to read them. Especially with her younger child. Her older child thrived on this regime while the younger yelled back.
One of the questions I kept asking myself was, if the goal justifies the means. It seems to me that she was mistreated by her parents and that she continued the circle of abuse by mistreating her children, or at least her younger daughter. Am I too weak because I don’t demand more of my children and think – know – that they learn things by watching TV? Could my kids achieve more if I pressed them more? Probably – but at what cost?
Her children does achieve a lot but really, I think the price is too high. She doesn’t mind if they hate her. I think that’s wrong of a mother. And I think that you can demand things of your children without demanding them in a way that makes them hate you because you are so harsh.
She does write parts of it in a way that does read a bit sarcastic/tongue in cheek – like she doesn’t completely mean what she writes. Like this: ‘Chinese parents are too busy coming down hard on their kids to raise a pet.’ (p. 66). And then they get a dog … And then she try to raise the poor dog Chinese too.
Maybe battling so much with her younger daughter taught her, what most other parents know – your style of parenting depends on the child. You can’t raise all children the same way. You have to be flexible to achieve the most. Her younger daughter’s rebellion has made her cave in some ways but the tough battles they fought with each others, could have been avoided if she had just treated her in another way.
I am not saying that she is a bad mother. I think she did what she thought was the best for her children, she wanted them to have good lives and did what she thought was necessary to achieve that. But I am saying that her way is not the best way for all – or even many – children and that achievements, even grand ones, can be bought at too high a price. And that maybe she should listen  when even her own parents tell her that she is too tough.
I did enjoy reading the book. It was a light read, an interesting glimpse into a style of parenting very different from my own where validation of the child as well as praise, fun and hanging out as a family are cornerstones.

First line: A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.

  • Title: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
  • Author: Amy Chua
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages:  237 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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6 thoughts on “Amy Chua: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (review)

  1. I think you’re so right about not being able to raise all kids the same way, which is why books like this – either on this end of the spectrum or the complete opposite – always seem a little strange to me. Still, it can be interesting to see the ways people choose to parent their children.

  2. Good point about the memoir vs. parenting book! I was surprised that I could understand some of the points Amy Chua was trying to make about her parenting philosophy, although I cringed at the methods she used to get her daughters to put this philosophy into action. I thought about this book a lot when my son refused to take swimming lessons and wouldn’t practice for his keyboard classes. Should I push or let it go? I chose to let it go … for now at least.

    • She was definitely presented in the medias as being worse than she is in her own words. Still, you can push your kids without using abuse and I think she didn’t get that. I want my kids to be happy – and that doesn’t necessarily entails being the best…

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