Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherby Amy Chua is probably the most entertaining book I’ve read this year. I give this book a A+. It’s a very fast and easy read (I read it in one sitting). Perhaps it’s because I can empathize with both Chua and her older daughter. There were certainly a huge amount of criticism for her book when you took quotes out of context:
“… I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have ‘The Little White Donkey’ perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, ‘I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?’ I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”
The fact is, anyone who reads the book will realize the book is a self-deprecating memoir. Much of the time, Chua is making fun of herself and I’m laughing along with her. Many of the Chinese mother traits and habits she addressed were spot on:
- The immigrant mentality: My parents, like Chua’s, came here as immigrants. It was hammered into my head from a young age that my parents came to the US so I could have a better future. Aka, I better not let them down after their years of hard work. For the better part of my childhood, my parents and I lived in a tiny apartment, surviving off of their $1,000/month income. I loved the smell of stale Chinese food because around 10pm every night, my mom would come home after waitressing at a local Chinese restaurant and give me a kiss goodnight. Caught on her outfit would be a hint of hot-and-sour soup. My mom had a master’s degree in systems engineering, but when she came to the US, she had to start over. From the age of 6, my parents constantly reminded me that they placed the stepping stones and now I had to make use of it to get to pot of gold.
- The “you owe me” mentality: I completely agree with Chua’s statement about how Chinese parents feel like their kids owe them everything. It was absolutely expected from me from a young age that I would work hard so that I could one day provide for my parents. My parents laughed at the thought of allowances when I suggested it to them because my friends from school received them from their parents for doing chores. “We make you food, put a roof over your head, and provide you with clothing. You should be paying us!”
- The daily comparisons: Almost every day, my mom would show me an article from a Chinese newspaper talking about an 10-year old piano prodigy. “She’s already playing Beethoven Concertos! Why aren’t you playing that yet?” Like Chua notes, Chinese mothers don’t say this to make their child feel incompetent. Rather, they say this because they believe their kids can be the best. Of course, as a 10 year old, I was furious and sometimes would even cry when my parents compared me to someone who seemed more talented. I look back and I’m actually thankful my parents would tell me about kids my age that were doing incredible things. It expanded my idea of what was possible. I learned to play a Beethoven Concerto two years later at 12.
While I can relate to her daughters in how we were brought up, I also see myself in Chua. I have a 10 year old sister and I treat her like a “tiger mother.” When I visit home in Colorado, my first words are, “Jamie, did you practice piano today? You only practiced 30 minutes?! If you want to get anywhere in piano, you need to practice at least 1 hour. How do you think you’ll pay for college? You need scholarships and if you can’t even get a music scholarship after learning piano all your life, how can you get any other scholarship? Do you know how lucky you are to be playing on the piano you have right now? I learned on an old broken piano and you have a beautiful, new piano. Go practice piano right now.” Yes, in a Chinese family, drilling college plans into a 10 year old is not a moment too soon.
Anyway, Battle Hymn is a delightful read. Even if you don’t believe in the methodology of Chinese parenting, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra ideas on hand for disciplining your kid.