Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - oh the controversy

I found this book quite interesting and it has kicked up a ton of controversy and comments from the masses (here's just one article from the Washington Post, google her and there are countless more). It focuses on the Chinese model of child rearing which she applied with an iron will to her own two high achieving daughters.

It's written by brilliant Yale Law School professor Amy Chua who is Chinese American. She's been called everything from monster to child abuser to genius. Whatever the case, there seems to be a method to her madness. What I like best is that she learned from herself and her daughters and freely admits to where she went wrong and what she'd change if she did it again.

Here are a few things she would not let her daughters do in order to study, practice their musical instruments and focus on becoming an above average student and adult:

- have a playdate
- be in a school play
- complain about not being in a school play
- watch TV or play computer games
- choose their own extracurricular activities
- get any grade less than an A
- not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin
- not play the piano or violin.

Yikes! However, everything changed when her younger daughter rebelled at the age of 13 and Chua had to reconsider her choices. The book is a fascinating look at child rearing and frankly, makes me feel better about being a bit of an education fanatic. I sit with Claire to write her name, go over her alphabet and numbers every day. We spell things when we're out (signs, etc.). I worried it might be overkill - not at all! I'm a lightweight compared to Chua and apparently, quite a few other mothers. Granted their children are high achievers but are the socially able?

I think a balance between study and play is essential for children to be well balanced and prepared for the adult world. I don't think either of my children would fare well if they couldn't play and decompress with some Mickey Mouse or Peppa Pig.

What do you think of her parenting style? She's extremely successful, her children are both going to be extremely successful so it does work. But at what price? I think I'll stick to my own model of child rearing - it worked for my mother and my two sisters and brother all turned out just fine. Good enough for me!!


  1. I haven't read the book yet, but addressed the assertion raised in the WSJ article, that Tiger Mothers are better than western mothers. Most damning facts about the dark side of that style of mothering:

    One blogger, however, aimed mercilessly. As she noted, sometimes the parenting style pays off, but:
    But sometimes you lose this gamble, and when you lose, you lose big. Because you've gone all-in. Left the kid no room to make friends, no identity outside of your ambitions, no tools or skills with which to make his or her own decisions in life without you -- and no margin of error.
    That author tried to jump off a bridge a few years back. Asian Week had an article on the rising suicide rates among Asian-Americans last year. Apparently, the suicide trend affects women more.

    Links at full post at:

  2. Sadly, the academic landscape is littered with 'hothoused' children who can't cope without their tutor standing 2 feet behind them and child 'geniuses' who's every minute is planned out to the tiniest degree and who then fail to cope socially. I live opposite a private residential language school where many of their students are Chinese. The parents pretty much abandon them there for two years. Visits home are rare, visits by the parents even rarer. They might well achieve more than my children but I doubt that they will be as well balanced or happy. Must life just be about achievement?

  3. I think you should stick to what you're doing. You have to have balance. Of course children should be encouraged to achieve their full potential but they shouldn't be pushed or restricted. It's not easy getting the right balance but it's well worth the effort

  4. You know what, you can be successful and yes I agree it is important, but knowing how short life can be, I would rather have happy well balanced children.

  5. The blog is very good!

  6. Recall some article about Califronia euro parents taking their kids out of certain asian heavy schools: reason, kids lower class standing. Son-of-friend says quite a few neighborhood asian kids get bussed after school to more school.

    Agree with high expectations/making sure kids do the work, parents in charge and not "BFFs" but this just looks like bullying.

  7. I agree. Torn between horror and delight, I was. I need to get a Chinese Nanny, I'm thinking!

  8. Sounds like a very interesting book! I definitely think that parents nowadays are far too lax in their parenting and that kids need more restrictions, but I don't think I'd go that far.

    I see that you are interested in Great Britain! Have you checked out my blog yet?

    I post photographs of glorious vistas of the countryside and interesting tidbits of Great Britain for the pleasure of Britophiles everywhere!

  9. I listened to her the other day on the radio and, if I'm honest, she sounded a little scary!

    She threatened to take her daughter's dolls house to the charity shop if she didn't master a piano piece. It seemed a little harsh to me.

  10. Eeek! I'm way too bohemian for all that. And my daughter it top in her year in Physics and regularly the top 3 in her year for Biology, Chemistry and Maths. I figure something I'm doing is working.

    In contract, she has a friend who has a tutor for every academic subject at school, who is almost always top in the year, and who has to take several days off each month for a serious acid reflux problem. WTF?!

  11. I'd actually really like to read the book, as I've now read a few articles saying that the original WSJ story gives a skewed impression of what she's really saying.

    I had a friend at school whose parents were like this. They used to make her get up at 4am to practice her musical instruments. She was never allowed to do anything socially with her friends, and if she got less than brilliant academic results she was in the doghouse. Did she do better than everyone else? No. She was incredibly screwed up. Meanwhile her younger sister completely rebelled and dropped out. I think it's a very dangerous strategy.

  12. Whatever child-rearing "methods" you use, even just going with the flow, you still look back and wish you had done some things differently. The urge to nurture and protect never goes away. And maybe we could do with a period of strictness now.

  13. Loving I'm so Fancy's suggestion of a Chinese nanny..... mind you, I'd have to fire Gina Ford.... shame!

  14. There's another book out, on the other side. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, apparently a satire send up of Tiger Moms and similar styles. And does this whole kerfuffle remind you of that Foghorn Leghorn cartoon, the one where he has his bandages to keep him warm? My son was watching it the other day and all I could think of was this Tiger Mother stuff.


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