Part 3: Review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Do you want your children to like you?

Chua indicates that it is irrelevant whether her children like her (and she is not counting on it). What matters to her is what skills she equips them with.

Chua recounts a “harrowing” violin practice session when her daughter said, “Stop hovering over me…you remind me of Lord Voldemort” (pg 66). She writes, “Unlike Western parents, reminding my child of Lord Voldemort didn’t bother me. I just tried to stay focused” (pg 66).

Chua may not care if her girls like her, but what about my own future children?

Yes, I definitely want my children to like me. This may simply be a cultural difference, but I think most of my peers would probably say the same thing. We want our future children to like us. I am not saying children should never be forced to complete a difficult task. I am not saying that if your child compares you to Lord Voldemort that it means they will never like you.

Halfway through her book, Chua admits that she doesn’t feel sure about how her children will perceive her years from now. “I don’t know how my daughters will look back on all this twenty years from now. Will they tell their own children, ‘My mother was a controlling fanatic who even in India made us practice before we could see Bombay and New Delhi.’? (pg 91)”

Chua admits in her book that that she knew her children might not like her or want to be around her later. Are you willing to give that up? Let us consider again the first question I asked: do the ends justify the means? Your ‘means’ of parenting directly influence whether you children like you, regardless of the ‘ends’ you aimed to achieve.

Wrapping It Up

It’s been a long three posts and I haven’t even started to pick this book apart. However much you might disagree with Chua’s parenting philosophy, I would encourage you to read it. Best said by reviewer Maureen Corrigan, “In her new memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, Chua recounts her adventures in Chinese parenting, and — nuts though she may be — she’s also mesmerizing. Chua’s voice is that of a jovial, erudite serial killer — think Hannibal Lecter — who’s explaining how he’s going to fillet his next victim, as though it’s the most self-evidently normal behavior.”

As I read this book, I felt a little bit like Chua was slapping me in the face for the fun of it. I felt an intense dislike for the mother she was painting herself to be. And yet–I don’t think she wrote this book to be ‘liked’.

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Part 2: Review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Okay, I lied. I’m only answering the first question in this post. Part 3 to follow this.

Do the ends justify the means?

Let me start with part of Maureen Corrigan’s review:

 “When Chua married her husband, fellow Yale law professor and novelist Jed Rubenfeld, they agreed that their children would be raised Jewish and reared “the Chinese way,” in which punishingly hard work — enforced by parents — yields excellence; excellence, in turn, yields satisfaction in what Chua calls a “virtuous circle.” The success of this strategy is hard to dispute. Older daughter Sophia is a piano prodigy who played Carnegie Hall when she was 14 or so. The second, more rebellious daughter, Lulu, is a gifted violinist.”

I don’t believe that Chua is suggesting that everyone should parent the way she does. I do think she is pointing to her “results,” and telling you how she got there. Back to our original question: Do the ends justify the means? Chua would say that hers do. All of her harsh parenting is worth it if her children get a good education, become the best in their field, surpass their peers at everything.

This question pertains entirely to values. This is a religious value for me. If there is no God and this life is all there is, then yes, the ends justify the means. Having material success is INCREDIBLY important if this [the life we’re living right now] is it.

Because I do believe in eternity with God, I don’t see Chua’s “ends” as being incredibly important. Frankly, God doesn’t give a rip if my future children surpass their peers at everything, get an awesome job, or practice piano 6 hours a day. Now, it would be NICE if my children did well in school, and if they do become incredibly talented in a given field, that’s great.

My conclusions:

1)      My “ending goal” is different than Chua’s

2)      If you achieve “academic perfection” in your children, but you basically screamed at them their entire life to get there, I don’t think you’ve really achieved anything.

3)      Chua is also saying that the “ends” she accomplished are particular to her style of parenting. I disagree. Other incredibly dedicated and talented children are the result of “Western parenting.”

Coming soon…Part 3.

Part 1: Review of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”

The first thing I thought when I finished Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is: this woman is brilliant. My second thought (not quite so flattering): this woman is wrong. That is about as far as I got for a couple days as I mentally processed Chua’s book, which felt like an unapologetic punch in the face to Western parents. Chua’s smart, she’s articulate, and she knows people—which means I have to take her seriously. I also have to give her credit for some very astute observations.

Her story is a memoir, telling the story of her, her husband (although he plays a behind-the-scenes part in the story), and her two daughters. Her goal: prize winning musical opportunities. Chua starts her girls in music lessons early. In gory detail, she describes the process of forcing 3-6 hrs of music practice a day out of her girls. Early in the book, Chua’s daughter Lulu is struggling through a difficult musical piece. Chua says, “The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts” (pg 62).

On the cover of her book she writes, “This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

I would rewrite the end of that to say, “But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, the glory I still taste through my children, and how my thirteen-year-old humiliated me in a crowded restaurant.”

A lot of things could be said about this book. We could debate Chinese parenting versus Western parenting. We could debate Chinese values versus Western values. We could argue that Chua’s children (particularly her oldest, Sophia) were predisposed to being precocious, musical geniuses and that it was that, rather than Chua’s parenting style, that led to her children’s success.

Chua writes that she had a “fleeting taste of glory,” but based on her interviews and the tone of her book, I would say she continues to taste glory. Her oldest daughter, Sophia, has been accepted to an Ivy League School, and her youngest, Lulu, plays competitive tennis. Although Chua found that her methods didn’t work the same for both daughters, I get a strong impression that Chua would have zero hesitation in parenting the same way again.

The two questions I came away with from this book were:

1)      Do the ends justify the means?

2)      Do I want my children to like me?

To be answered in Part 2.

Tear Down My Walls?? What?!

“I have built a city here
Half with pride and half with fear
Just wanted a safer place to hide
I don’t want to be safe tonight”

-“Hurricane” by Jimmy Needham

Every time this song plays on Pandora Radio, it catches my ear and I stop whatever I’m doing to listen. I love this song, and yet it bothers me because I do want to be safe. I try to control my life because I’m afraid of what might happen if I’m exposed. I build my walls high, just like the song says. I believe people clutch control (or at least the idea of it) so strongly because of fear. We think, “If I can control this, then I can keep this bad thing from happening.” I’m terrified of being physically or emotionally exposed. To some degree, that is true of all of us.

If you’ve been in the church for very long at all, I’m sure you’ve heard things like, “Let God strip away everything that’s distracting you” or “As you get older, God will break away the things that don’t matter to get to the main thing.”

Strip away??? Tear down my walls? I don’t know about you, but that very concept is TERRIFYING to me. Mentally, it’s akin to standing in a hurricane, buck naked, with no shelter and no protection. Stripped down to my soul.

Here’s part of the chorus from “Hurricane”:

“I need You like a hurricane
Thunder crashing, wind and rain
To tear my walls down
I’m only Yours now”

I can tell you first hand that the pruning that God does as He molds His children is painful. But my mental picture is wrong—when we’re talking about God. I believe the reason for our terror is rooted in the fact that people let us down. You are not safe with humanity.

When I’m standing in the hurricane, stripped down to nothing but my trembling, sinful soul, I will not be let down by God.

The final verse of Jimmy Needham’s song:

“And it’s Your eye in the storm
Watching over me
And it’s Your eye in the storm
Wanting only good for me
And if You are the war
Let me be the casualty
‘Til I’m Yours alone”

Trying to Sleep

My brain never wants to sleep. My body wants to sleep. My eyelids are closing. But my brain is doing a little dance trying to distract me with a last minute stab at budgeting and last night, a trip down memory lane. When I’m trying to quiet my brain down and get to sleep, I forgo the old sheep counting trick and instead picture myself in a restful place.

I imagine that I’m 7 years old again–outside for the day lying on a carpet of lush, green grass. As I gaze up at a perfectly clear blue sky, I find animals in the clouds. It doesn’t get any more restful than that. Except last night.

Imagining myself as a child reminded me of my Great Aunt Donavie and Uncle R.B. My very first memory of her is driving down to Oregon for a visit. At the time, I was really into making those little nylon potholders. When we arrived, we found her in the bedroom finishing up her makeup. I was intensely curious since my mom never wore makeup. My Uncle R.B. had immediately “legend” status because he had a hook on one arm. He had lost his arm many years earlier in a logging accident.

I haven’t seen my Great Aunt Donavie in many years (and Uncle R.B. since has passed away), but here are a few things I enjoy remembering about her.

  1. How much she loved her little dog, Abear. He was definitely her “baby” and when we arrived at her house, Donavie would inevitably be stealthily feeding him a special treat. I will never forget walking into her kitchen and seeing the dog standing in the cake pan.
  2. The sweet way she made me feel individually special. There are adults who you doubt if they were ever children themselves. Then there are adults who have that special lilt in their voice and way of making a child feel how treasured they are. Donavie was definitely the latter. She made loading the dishwasher fun!
  3. One way Donavie made me feel special is my whispering little secrets to me. Sneaking a little extra ice cream in our bowls (“Don’t tell your dad.”). Making gravy from a powdered mix (“Shh, hide that. Don’t tell.”).
  4. The stories she would tell about being a teenager and handsome Uncle R.B. coming around to woo her.

I don’t have any great moral lesson to pull out of this segment of memories, but I did come across this quote.

“God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.” ~J.M. Barrie, Courage, 1922

The perfume makes me smile.