Title: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Author: Amy Chua
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5
In this memoir, author Amy Chua recounts raising her two daughters the “Chinese” way – choosing their hobbies, refusing to let them have playdates or sleepovers. She discusses her battle with her younger daughter, her unsuccessful attempts at trying to make her cooperate, and ultimately, her humbling “at the hands of a thirteen-year-old.”
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is definitely a controversial book. After Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal (taken from the first chapter of the book), people went into an uproar about it. Having read the article, and recognizing immediately that the Indian philosophy on child rearing is similar to that of the Chinese, I began to defend Chua. I was raised in a strict household (though not compared to how Chua raised her daughters), without many of the freedoms enjoyed by my peers – for example, I wasn’t allowed to date until college, and even then, it was a pretty dicey situation. Therefore, I understood this philosophy of parenting, both the good and the bad (and the frustrating), and wanted to defend the way I’d been brought up. Then I realized I’d been getting into deep and serious discussions without full knowledge of Chua’s philosophy or the point of the book, and decided I needed to read it to rectify that situation.
I was surprised to find Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was very funny, which I didn’t expect. Chua’s sense of humor is very tongue-in-cheek, though it’s subtle; if you’re reading it with an agenda, determined to prove that she is a child abuser, you probably won’t pick up on it. For example, lines like the following had me laughing out loud.
“I wanted her to be well-rounded and have hobbies and activities. Not just any activities like ‘crafts,’ which can lead nowhere – or even worse, playing the drums, which leads to drugs.”
The fact is, I firmly believe Chua was trying to be funny with this book. Not the whole thing, definitely, but I see her sense of humor. Many may fervently disagree with me, but I found a good portion of this book truly amusing.
I also think Chua made some excellent points about pushing your children to do things, rather than allowing them to do whatever “fulfills” them, even if that is spending 6 hours on Facebook. I was pushed into activities I didn’t want to do – by nature, I’m a homebody and would rather spend my time with my nose stuck in a book. While I think the pushing went on a little too long in my case, today I’m glad I have those skills. I’m glad my mom pushed me into doing things I didn’t necessarily want to do. Does Chua go too far? Definitely. There is no question about that. But I think a lot of the lessons she tries to teach are good ones, but the fact that she’s so mean at times overshadows that.
For example, a lot of hay has been made over the fact that Chua rejected the homemade card her daughter made her for Chua’s birthday. But if you read the book (which I don’t think a lot of the detractors have actually bothered to do), a different view comes to light. Basically, the card was clearly made in about 20 seconds, and she decides not to accept it. She makes the point that she works hard on her children’s birthday parties, to make the occasion special, and she would appreciate it if they put some thought and effort into making her a birthday card. While it’s mean, and it probably would have been better (and more tactfully) handled by her husband, the point is valid.
Towards the end of the book, though, I think Chua confuses the Chinese parenting model and sheer stubbornness. She attributes her actions to the fact that she’s trying to be a Chinese mother, but I’m not sure I buy that. It’s good for your children to have hobbies and it’s great for them to excel in what they do. But when a child is old enough to make the choice as to whether or not they want to become a concert pianist or a world-class violinist, and they express that choice, I think taking their feelings into account is necessary. Chua denies that she pushed her younger daughter into applying for a Julliard program for herself, but I don’t see that. This is where she lost me. You can’t really say that “the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud” and then claim that you’re making your daughter play the violin, even though everything she says and does tells you that she doesn’t want to, because it’s good for her.
I believe in compromise, and from the very beginning of the book, Chua makes it clear that is where she is going to end up. I don’t believe that a child’s job is to make their parents happy, but being raised in a culture where that is the case, I can understand this book. With Chinese mothers, it’s all about pushing your kids to excel, no matter the cost. Even if they hate you now, they’ll thank you later. But what Chua doesn’t take into account (though she admits this at the end of the book) is that it doesn’t always work. I wish my upbringing had been more lenient, and it’s difficult for me to remember how unhappy I was at times. That being said, I don’t resent my upbringing, but if I’d had Chua’s daughters’ experience, I may have gone off to college and never looked back. It’s all about compromise, and while Chua is still her controlling, compulsive self at the end of the book, she recognizes her mistakes (at least to a certain extent).
This is an absurdly long review, and yet I have so much more I can say about this book. So I will leave you with this: if you’re going to discuss it, judge it (and specifically, judge Chua), then read it first. Though Chua is absolutely horrible at times, she does make some good points. I think that her meanness often overshadows what she’s trying to say. That being said, I don’t think this book is for everyone. If you’re a mother and very set in your parenting ways, then this book will probably just make you angry. If you’re coming at it from a more academic point of view and are interested in what Chua has to say, though, I definitely recommend it. If nothing else, it will make you think.