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.