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One of the Web's Oldest Personal Mental Health Sites [Est. 1998]

Finally, a Review of that Tiger Mother book

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I have put this off as long as I can bear, but it’s finally time to spill my review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.

Chua admits her own fanaticism and insanity continually in her book. She seems to have a mental image of how her daughters should grow and then mold them to image with her precise ways.

I realize she said she was trying to write like David Sedaris and Dave Eggers. I’ve read both Sedaris (not the book she mentions; I read Me Talk Pretty One Day) and Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and the real irony here is that she means to poke fun at her own parenting method but then she continually buffers her claim-to-crazy with all the achievements and praises her daughters received *because* of her parenting method.

I think she got very lucky in the children department.

This book speaks more to her children’s innate psychological response toward her mothering, than any merits however ironic of her “mothering method”.

Her older daughter listened to and did everything she said with tremendous grace. If I had a kid like that, I can get comparable results without resorting to verbal abuse.

Her younger daughter on the other hand had the wiles and the will to beat Chua at her own game. But not many kids have that personality or the luxury to have death-threat-screaming matches with their moms.

Many kids whose parents dole out physical, verbal, and psychological abuse in the name of toughening them up and securing their futures, do not end up cuddling together in bed talking like the best of friends. Are we talking about Chinese mothers? Wait — Chinese mothers HUG? and say “I LOVE YOU” to their kids? — Again, are we talking about Chinese mothers?

[I am, of course, playing up the stereotype, but since the basis for Chua’s book is irony and stereotype, I guess we’re going there.]

I found interesting how she didn’t make the cut the first time around for Yale faculty, where her husband held tenure, then later she describes how she was Tiger-parented and her husband had parents who valued him as a free-willed individual.

She wrote a section that I found eerily similar to my own experience about fumbling around not knowing what the hell to do other than “what was expected”, like she had little sense of self until much later into adulthood when she ultimately stumbled into the right legal niche.

Her husband on the other hand, seemed to know what he loved (law) and achieved some amazing feats like getting published in a prestigious law review without being faculty. His parents also did typical “western” stuff like caring about art & culture, and traveling without their kids, and having their own social life apart from what should benefit their kids’ academics. Oh, and the husband got into the elite drama program at Julliard and got expelled for speaking his mind, so he figured he’d pursue law and got into Harvard law school.

Frankly, I want HIS parents to write a parenting book! (Unfortunately, mother-in-law passed away)

It took me less than 24 hours to finish reading this book.

How I feel when I closed the book: UGH and YUCK.

She makes Chinese parents sound like totalitarian, completely self-unaware, utterly self-centered, and self-righteous my-way-or-highway-I-abuse-you-for-your-own-good Schmucks by equating her approach with “Chinese parents” approach. That really pisses me off.

At one point when Chua is having scream-fests with her younger daughter she says to her daughter “You’ve been given every opportunity, every privilege!” Most children will do well receiving every opportunity and every privilege, only not all parents have the means to make this happen, including many Asian parents. Ugh.

Then second to last page of the book: “And Alexander Hamilton said, ‘Don’t be a whiner.’ That’s a totally Chinese way of thinking.” (page 228 — the book ends on page 229) Really? I see this thinking as, “the way persistent tenacious people think, regardless of culture or nationality.” Yuck.

Chua makes valiant effort in self-deprecation, which should make her character more likeable because I am supposed to be laughing “at” her. I kept chanting “this is satire this is satire” during the more disturbing parts with her second daughter —

— But there is a bigger part of me that realizes that throughout it all, she continues to uphold a facade, that Chinese 面子, that in the final analysis, even if she concedes about being “right”, she is still justified.

Because of this, instead of laughing, I have this uneasy smile in anticipating the next tense moment that she creates, knowing I’m supposed to laugh but finding it not funny at all.

While she claimed she never thought Chinese mothers are superior and that Wall Street Journal made her out to say as much, the tone of her book came across to me as indeed her belief: a sort of, my parenting method is over the top and I joke about acting insane, but look what my daughters achieved because of me.

Update: In the interest of fair-balance, this is a podcast on parenting, leading with Amy Chua whose statements are quite sane and fair.

Written by Jane Chin

July 12th, 2013 at 2:42 pm