Tiger Moms

I read Amy Chua’s book BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER and loved it as much as a Chinese mother loves torturing her children. I kid. I loved it way more than that!

If you have kids, read this book. And if you have parents, read this book.

You’ll remember the hoopla recently about this book because it was mistakenly reported that Ms Chua wrote a book saying Chinese mothers were better than the rest of us. In reality though, this is what she says:

“All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do 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.”

We should all be such Chinese parents.

I loved so many things about it, but the most fabulous just might be the serendipitous Wall Street Journal article title that caused so much buzz. As a writer, I’m truly jealous. Someday I hope to write something that gets banned in the schools or where I’m misquoted enough to sell a gazillion books.

In the meantime, though, I guess I’ll just tell you why I liked it.

First, it’s laugh out loud funny.

The passages about her using her Chinese mothering skillz on their dog had me in stitches. “I had heard of dogs who can count and do the Heimlich maneuver.” Finally she realized, “Although it is true that some dogs are on bomb squads or drug-sniffing teams, it is perfectly fine for most dogs not to have a profession or even any special skills.”

Second, she said a lot of stuff I truly believe.

“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. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”

As a mother who argued with my son’s stupid kindergarten teacher about this very issue, I can relate. Self esteem comes from achievement. You can’t give it to kids; they must earn it. When we set the bar so low and we give everyone a participation ribbon, it dumbs down everyone.

Third, she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

“Do one small thing for me, Lulu,” I’d say reasonably. “One small thing: Play the line again, but this time keep your vibrato perfectly even. And make sure you shift smoothly from first position to third. And remember to use your whole bow, because it’s fortissimo, with a little more bow speed at the end. Also, don’t forget to keep your right thumb bent and your left pinkie curved. Go ahead ”” play.”

Fourth, she’s insightful.

“Children can be horribly cruel. ‘Never make fun of foreign accents,’ I’ve exhorted them on many occasions. ‘Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.’ “

Fifth, she’s very self-aware.

“The truth is I’m not good at enjoying life. It’s not one of my strengths. I keep a lot of to-do lists and hate massages and Caribbean vacations. Florence [her MIL] saw childhood as something fleeting to be enjoyed. I saw childhood as a training period, a time to build character and invest for the future.”

Sixth, she made me think.

“When I look around at all the Western families that fall apart …. I have a hard time believing that Western parenting does a better job with happiness. It’s amazing how many older Western parents I’ve met who’ve said, shaking their heads sadly, ‘As a parent you just can’t win. No matter what you do, your kids will grow up resenting you.’ By contrast, I can’t tell you how many Asian kids I’ve met who, while acknowledging how oppressively strict and brutally demanding their parents were, happily describe themselves as devoted to their parents and unbelievably grateful to them …. I’m really not sure why this is. Maybe it’s brainwashing. Or maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome.”

Seventh, she related conversations I’ve had with my own kids.

“This time, however, Sophia exploded back. ‘Mommy! I’ll clean it up, okay? You’re acting like I just robbed a bank. Do you know what a good daughter I am? Everyone else I know parties all the time, and they drink and do drugs. And do you know what I do? Every day I run straight home from school.’ “

Okay, I could go on, but I’ll stop now, because you probably understand that I really enjoyed this book. She made me laugh and she broke my heart, just like a good book is supposed to do.

Have you read it? What did you think? Will you read it now? What were your parents like? What kind of parent were/are you?

18 thoughts on “Tiger Moms”

  1. We’re an Asian family and my mom was definitely a Tiger Mom. When I was in elementary school (in the US), she would force me to do math and grammar drills for at least one hour every day after school. This was all aside from the homework and studying I already had to do for school. I really, really resented it back then. She would force me to read certain books too (like The Secret Garden). But I look back now and feel grateful. I got straight As and was always at the top of my class and I don’t think that would have been possible without my Tiger Mom. And school made me happy. I’m a nerd, after all. And I get good jobs now because I went to good schools and got good grades. So yeah, THANK YOU TO MY TIGER MOM!

    P.S. If my mom hadn’t forced me to read The Secret Garden all those years ago, I don’t think I would be the book lover or kidlit advocate that I am today.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Tarie. It’s interesting to wonder how our lives would be different under a different set of circumstances. What if my parents expected more of me? Or less? What if I had fewer siblings? What if my parents had different parents? What if my teachers had Tiger Moms? Fascinating game to play.

    1. Ohmygawdohmygawdohmygawd … Amy Chua! *hopping from foot to foot in a very undignified starstruck manner* Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and say nice things. (Don’t you just adore Google alerts!) But now I’ve gotta get back to practicing my piano and violin. Why, yes, yes I do play them at the same time. How else would one play a duet?

  2. While checking my email, I saw the headline “Tiger Mom Daughter Speaks Out”. I’d never heard of Amy Chua, never heard of nor read her book. So I read the news story and learned more.

    I am not asian, but my mother was “strict” as well. She always held me accountable, expected me to respect my elders (whether they deserved it or not)and wanted me to have a better education than she had. Did I resent her and her rules/restrictions? Heck yeah! But I would not be the responsible, strong person I am today without her teachings. “Thank you mom”.

    So I say “Power to you Tiger Mom”!

  3. My mom was a “Tiger Mom” and I’m much the better for it. I’ve got a stronger vocabulary than other people my age, But more importantly, she taught me how to think through a problem. When someones doing something you think is the wrong way to do it, keep asking them questions until you see why they’re doing it that way, or till they back themselves into a corner and realize how dumb they’re being.

    1. Adam … your mother is clearly an incredibly intelligent, logical woman and I’m sure you don’t appreciate her nearly enough.

  4. Hello,

    I am a Norwegian and I am just about to finish Amy Chua’s book – and I love it.

    Unfortunately my parents was not even close to beeing “Tiger parents”; They setteled with everyhing I did as “You did your best”. NO – I did not do my best, I did whatever I wanted to do and at the age until 18-20 most people do whatever they can get away with. I did.

    What did this do to me? I was lazy, I played more than I studied and I never did any special extracurricular activities. What did my parents do? They later told me that “You wanted to play instead of doing homework”. WHAT?? Of course – I WAS A CHILD and a Teenager.

    When accepted to a University (studied management until ) I finally understood that I had to work harder, but the fact that I had a waek academic record, I had to struggle real hard to get my masters degree. I was in several fields among the top 2% (which was pretty good for someone that “just wanted to play”). So I also finally learned that I was not “stupid”.

    So what did my parents do to me when rising me as a “western child”?

    1) They lowered my self esteem (“you did you best – you just can’t do better”).
    2) They gave me a very weak basis-education – this gave me lot of trouble when I wanted to study at the university (it was not their “fault” that was accepted!).
    3) They lowered my chances of success in my work life.
    4) They reduced my chances for high earnings.
    5) They reduced my chances of getting the wife I wanted (see #1). By luck I got the best wife ever.

    I am NEVER going to be “Western-father” – I want to be a “Tiger-father”.


    1. Eric … thanks so much for your comment. It’s an interesting viewpoint of the downside of ‘hands-off parenting.’ It seems, however, that you’ve figured it out and have made your journey into something you can be proud of. Good luck with everything … I’m sure you’ll be a great father, Tiger or otherwise!

  5. Thank you for your blog appreciation of Amy Chua! My husband and I are expecting our first child this coming March. We both read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother over the weekend. It is one of the few books regarding parenting in America that didn’t make our stomachs turn! We are also moving to New York City next year and will be working/studying full time. Have you heard of any child care facilities or groups in the area that combine the essentials of the French creche, with the strict, disciplined work ethic of Amy Chua’s book? We intend to work very intently to establish a disciplined, confident daughter with high standards for achievement within our home, but we realize this might be an uphill battle once we step outside into the current laissez-faire parenting climate!

    1. I’m so glad you liked TIGER MOM as much as I did. And congratulations on your soon-to-be new addition! It’s a very exciting time, isn’t it? I don’t know anything about NYC or the French creche, however, but I hope you find the perfect fit for you and your daughter.

  6. I have just finished reading “Tiger Mother”. Deeply enjoyed the book. I have a 3-year-old daughter and am determined to apply main principles and ideas of Amy Chua to raising my girl. Though I used to think that study and music lessons shoudn’t be stressful for kids and initially intended not to push even in worst scenarious, through out the book I realized such tolerance may turn out to be indifference and reduce my girl’s chances for the better future. I have signed her up for the drawing class already and am looking forward to coming years and new fabulous horizons:)

  7. I was searching for a book on good parenting, when I ran across TBHOTTM. (Late to the game, I know) I absolutely LOVED this book. My son is only 9 months old. I’m a first time mom. My husband warned me to get some disciplinary skills under my belt now so that when “N” is walking and talking, which is soon, I’ll be able to really teach him and not coddle him so much, like I do our terrier. I’m not sure how much of a Tiger Mom I can be, I had no such upbringing, but I believe Amy’s philosophy has merit and I’ve picked up some certainties: He won’t just up and quit something too soon and he’ll have the knowledge that he is absolutely capable of anything, with some hard work and focus. Now, what book shall I read next?!

    1. You should probably read something about how to sleep when your household is in chaos. I have nieces and nephews all whining about how sleep-deprived they are because of their youngsters. Ha! My husband and I did a lot right (and puhLENTY) wrong with our three kids, and yet they survived it all and are productive members of society. But one thing I wish I could get a redo on is wishing they’d get to the next stage faster, rather than just enjoying (or at least analyzing) the one they were in. Lots of it was excitement: hurry up and walk/talk/play. And some of it was out of frustration: feed yourself already … still with the diapers?? … quit biting your friends. But I wish I could have been more present and in-the-moment. Good luck to you!

    2. I’d recommend Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. While different from Chua’s perspective, I found certain commonalities (so much so that I’d describe my parenting style as a mashup of French and Asian-American parenting). Most importantly, like Chua’s parenting style, it’s not the anything-goes American style that is wreaking so much havoc in our culture.

  8. Just came across to Amy Chua’s article on WSJ. Amazing stuff and your article is awesome, too! Being a successful Indian myself (laid-back parents but social pressure to perform and be responsible) and surrounded by extreme viewpoints from “westernized husband”, family, friends, coworkers on this issue, it has been hard for me to find my balance as a loving parent. I started out being a tiger mom and gave in to the Western way some years later for sake of choices, creativity etc. for my child. I started piano lessons for my child at age of 4, made sure she was into GT classes, summer camp etc. Then, I had given ‘freedom’ to my 12 year old, but got a shock when I saw BBCD grades, since she had not cared to finish or turn in her homework one week before the school ended. The ‘tiger-mom’ in me woke up and made sure all those grade turned into AAAA.
    Since then, I have been trying to think/read/connect/figure out as much as I can, to find out “how to” motivate children to reach their potential and not be lazy or give up on themselves…
    The article on WSJ has brought me an epiphany. I am so looking forward to reading the book and applying the way of parenting I know with the new reasons.
    Thank you!

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