Death threats are not usually something you’d expect to receive as an author, but this was Amy Chua‘s reality after the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from her book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’. It is possibly the most controversial book relating to modern parenting. When it was published in 2011, heated discussion arose all around the world, from The Guardian in the UK and the New York Times in the US. The book has also been fodder for heated debate on many tv talk shows. Although it is often clear, from what people have commented, they haven’t read her book.
The media, and in turn the general public, have jumped on her more controversial anecdotes and views, which are easy to find because there are so many in her book. The unfortunate thing is, that in doing this, they have missed many of her valid points. But I wonder if secretly Amy Chua minds, as I’m sure the media frenzy surrounding the controversy has done wonders for publiscising her book. In an interview, she comments on how mortified she was that the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from her book with the title Why Chinese Mother’s are Superior. Amy goes on to highlight that on the original cover of her book she wrote, This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising their kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen year old. With the opening line from the Wall Street Journal excerpt reading A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it; it’s no wonder her book has generated so much discussion.
Amy herself explains, on Good Morning America, that the book is not a ‘how to’ guide but her own journey and transformation as a mother and acknowledges that so many people get to so many places in so many different ways and stresses that his is her journey as a parent. This seems to have gotten lost in the media hype.
One of Amy’s observations is that Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away. This forms the basis for many of her anecdotes.
However, it isn’t her hopes for her children that is under fire, but her methods. Amy Chua seems most under fire for her intense criticism of her children, which she sees as having faith in their ability to succeed and giving them the necessary motivation to achieve this success. She views her criticism as sending a clear message to her children that she believes they can achieve more. Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. Amy Chua questions, through her own reflection on her journey as a parent, on how best to instil strong self-esteem in her children. She also makes a distinction between effort and achievement and acknowledges that if her children make their best effort, that is good enough for her… Although, when you read some of her anecdotes, you are left wondering if she determines their level of effort from their achievement. But it must be noted that she works with her children to achieve this success, rather than just expecting them to achieve success without help. Amy comments in an interview, that she wants to instil in her children the value of not giving up and how she hopes they would then apply that to something they love. Her daughter, in an interview to dispel some of the myths in the media hype surrounding her mother’s book, also commented on how her mother isn’t so concerned with what they do, so much as that they strive for success in whatever they choose.
When you actually read her book, rather than the media hype, underneath her ‘extreme’ methods she does leave us with some valid points to consider – the idea that parents know best, that parents should be making decisions for their children, that some of your decisions as parents will be unpopular with your children and they won’t like you but that should be ok… When asked on Good Morning America to sum up her advice to new parents, Amy Chua responded with 1. Self question (yourself and your decisions as a parent), 2. Listen to your child, 3. Don’t assume your child is weak – in essence she expects her children to strive for excellence and believes they can achieve it – if you (as their parent) assume they can’t take anything, what kind of signal are you sending them?
I enjoyed reading this book. I could see some of my parents (not Chinese), and many of my friend’s parents, in this book. I vividly remember buying a box of chocolates, that I knew my mother liked, for mother’s day one year when I was in the early years of high school. This was in addition to making the expected hand made card (never store bought ones for my mum). I thought I’d done the right thing. I hadn’t just bought her any chocolates, I’d bought her chocolates that I knew she liked. However my father saw it very differently. After my mum had left the room I got a verbal tirade, criticising me for buying chocolates that you could find in the local grocery store. He reminded me of how my mother did so much for me and that in order to show how grateful I was and how special she was to me, I should go to more effort – if I was going to buy her chocolates, I should at least go to the trouble of buying her hand-made chocolates. I was devastated. I think the fact I can vividly remember this scolding today speaks volumes. But as difficult as it was to hear, he had a point. In that scolding, my self-confidence was not my father’s concern. He wasn’t at all worried about how terrible he made me feel. In fact that could’ve been his aim! Nor did he seem to care that I collapsed into tears for ages afterwards. He wanted to make a point and to change my behaviour. He succeeded. I definitely put more thought into the gifts I choose now. I’m not sure I would approach to situation with the same angry tirade, but I do agree with Amy Chua and my father, in that the level of expectation should be set high. We should have faith that our children, with the appropriate support, can achieve. My father criticised my effort. He knew that with more thought, I could’ve given my mother a gift that was more reflective of all that she has done for me.
But I particularly like this book for the last few chapters, when Amy Chua realises that her daughters are different and that they need different parenting approaches, that she needs to listen to her children more, and her final realisations – that there were some flaws in her approach to how she raised her children and that she should’ve questioned herself more. This has been the emphasis that the marketing approach has taken in China. That perhaps the strict, domineering approach could benefit from some give and take. This journey’s end, the reflection on her journey, is what makes the book worth the read.
If you think you might like to read this book, you can find it here (Please note this is an affiliate link. By purchasing the book through this link you enable me to buy more books for my own children – and do I love to buy books!)