Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I recently finished reading a book that is nothing if not memorable. The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother offers a unique viewpoint into the differences, both good and bad, between Asian and Western parenting styles.

Written by a Yale professor, the narrative reads like a very persuasive thesis. Author Amy Chua seems confident in her decision to raise her two daughters with a militant, fanatical mothering philosophy. In fact – she seems to pride herself on it. No sleepovers, no team sports, no vacations from schoolwork, and music “lessons” that last more than six hours at a stretch are all par for the course.

If the proof is in the pudding, Chua seems to be onto something. Both of her children were early-on deemed child prodigies by the classical music community – one played violin and one played piano. Her daughters’ grades never slipped beneath the “A” status she demanded, they were multilingual, well-read, and cultured.

One of the most interesting points she used to craft her argument was highlighting a key difference in the philosophy that underlies Asian parenting. According to Chua, Easterners have a high degree of confidence that their children are capable of succeeding at any task, if only they apply themselves fully. Western parents, she maintains, are too concerned with their child’s feelings and self-esteem to drive them to succeed.

The result of Chua driving her girls hard to achieve is that she seems to be missing out on the emotional closeness that many Western women value in their mother-daughter relationships. Her eldest child continued to aim to please, but the youngest rebels intensely as she enters the throes of her teenage years.

In the writer’s notes at the end of the book, Chua admits that she began writing her narrative after her youngest child told her how much she hated her for her stern ways. I was left wondering if the book was simply a mother’s justification for doing the wrong things, for the right reasons.

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