I was initially drawn to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother because of an inside joke that I have long shared with my sister. For years, we have joked about our “strict Asian upbringing,” referring to our mother’s high academic expectations. Perfect grades were not an option, they were a requirement. At the time, my mother’s methods seemed questionable, at best. However, years later, I can finally appreciate her motives, and I do feel that I owe my impressive educational achievements to her efforts. I essentially feel the same way about Amy Chua’s book, a nonfiction account of raising her American daughters through Chinese parenting. Had I read this book in middle school or high school, I would have assuredly perceived this woman as some sort of medieval tyrant. Now, though, I can appreciate what she was trying to do, even if her tactics often lean towards the extreme.
Chua carefully outlines the differences between a Western upbringing and a Chinese one, the main difference being that Chinese parents perceives childhood as a time to instill a good work ethic, whereas Western parents focus on individuality and childhood experiences. For instance, Chua insists that each of her daughters play an instrument, the violin and the piano, and that they practice up to six hours a day, every day, including on weekends and while on family vacations. This book stirred up a bit of controversy at the time of its release in relation to Chua’s techniques for achieving obedience. She often berates and insults her girls when their efforts do not match her expectations. I agree that Chua tends to be a bit harsh, but I admire her honesty and openness; she does not sugarcoat her actions or make excuses for her decisions, she merely explains that she knows of one way to raise successful children, and that that is what she was trying to do.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a fascinating discussion of child-rearing in two very different cultures, and it successfully identifies the benefits and flaws of each parenting style. While Chinese parenting does create hard-working and dedicated individuals, it can generate a backlash and resentment from children of certain personalities. Moreover, the Western method is intended to make all children believe they are special, but in reality, everyone is not special (sorry, but it’s true). Kids can’t just have things handed to them, they need to be willing to work, and this sometimes gets thrown by the wayside in the Western “everybody gets a trophy” attitude. Chua comes to accept that what works for one daughter does not for the other, and she adjusts her expectations to accommodate. This is not an easy decision for her, and the journey is long and arduous. Nevertheless, in the end, she does what she feels is best for her daughter, and it seems that that is what parenting should be about.