Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, has received a lot of press since its release early this year, much of which I have been reading. As I listened to comments by callers over the BBC World Service or readers of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, many sounded like a thinly-veiled rants to a psychotherapist. The book seems to have hit a nerve amongst both parents and children, and naturally so, given the impact of one’s childhood and the raising of one’s children.
While I have always been interested in cross-cultural issues (in this case, the comparison of “Chinese” vs. “Western” parenting styles), I wasn’t too keen on buying this book because, frankly, I didn’t think it would be that interesting. However, I made the decision to purchase the book when I read reviews on Amazon by people who had actually read the book, many of whom saying that the media had only portrayed the more controversial portions of the book, and that the book itself was a great read and well written.
I ordered the book a couple of weeks ago, started it two days ago and just finished it 30 minutes ago. My verdict? The book was…just okay. If I had been an Amazon reviewer, I would have given it three stars. It was an easy read, but then again, so are Shopoholic books. It was well-written, but often with a technical feel – no beautiful prose here. However, I give her points for her ascerbic wit, which made me wonder as to how much of the book should be taken literally, as opposed to her aiming to entertain her readers.
As for Chua’s story about raising her children, the book confirmed my earlier instincts in that I did not find much of it to be that shocking or especially interesting. Early in the book, Chua confidently states that the “Chinese mother” is different from the “overscheduling soccer mom”. But are they really that different from each other and other “types” of parents? By substituting the object (schoolwork/piano/violin vs. sports vs. being good), what you end up with is something much more universal (and not uncommon): parents with a narrow view of what success is (for themselves and their children), trial-and-error parenting (afterall, who in this world has gotten it perfect all the way through), children who fit into stereotypes (“rebel”, “eldest”, etc…) and at the same time be completely unique human beings.
In spite of my ennui to her life story, the book’s value for me was in the conversation that has resulted (see above links to your friendly neighbourhood media outlet), not about Chua’s parenting per se, but family relationships in my own life. Throughout the book, I reflected on how my parents raised me, the role my grandparents played and how, Insha’Allah, I might one day raise my own. Being a second generation Korean-Canadian myself (Chua’s generation, albeit with no kids), I recognized Chua, Sophie and Lulu and poor Harvard Wong (a guy with aspiring parents who makes a cameo in the book) in many people in my life (including myself). Ultimately, I see as much value in Chua’s parenting principles (many) as I see in Jed’s, her husband (also, many) – and I think that is the point in this discourse: to each parent their own, let each one draw upon their own unique life experience in deciding what is best for their children.