I just started reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.It’s the controversial book on parenting the Chinese way, and I kind of like it. Actually, I really like it and I find it educational. And a little nostalgic. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a Tiger Mother (not one quite as fierce as Amy Chua, though fiercer in other ways) and maybe because I’ve lost her I appreciate her more than I did before she was gone, but I see the positive aspects of this type of parenting.
There are studies that have shown that being outstanding at something has more to do with years of practice and training than with any innate ability, and Chua’s parenting method takes advantage of this to drill sargeant her daughters into what they are: amazing students and amazing musicians.
My parenting method is as Western as it gets. According to Chua, “Western” parenting comes in a variety of forms, and she uses the term “Chinese parenting” to not only mean Chinese mothers (and not all Chinese mothers), but also some Korean, Indian, and other mothers using this parenting method.
The parenting involves strictly regimenting the child’s life, allowing her only limited social time. It includes harsh criticism when the parent’s high expectations are not met, hours and hours devoted to studying and practicing, and an expectation she will excel at everything and if she doesn’t it’s because she didn’t try hard enough and not because she can’t. The possibility that she can’t excel at everything doesn’t exist: a tiger mother believes her child fully capable of achieving what she expects of her. The desired outcome is a child who grows into a successful adult who believes she is capable of anything she puts her mind and focus into. Now, who wouldn’t want a child that grows into that kind of self confident, high achieving adult?
I think we focus on the belittling and the harsh words and forced hours of work, and get caught up in how abusive and cruel those things seem to be. But we see it from a very Western perspective that teaches us that we are all individuals and should be respected to make our own choices. But children don’t make good choices. They’d eat candy and sit in front of the TV all day if you let them.
I haven’t finished the book yet, but so far, I think it may be limited in scope. Chua’s girls are good girls so the outcome of her parenting — whatever we think of it — is positive. But what about those kids who have been parented like this and don’t succeed? I wonder if they exist and if there are any studies about them.
I don’t think I could parent quite like this, but I could definitely benefit from some of the lessons from this book. Because kids do make poor choices and a parent’s role is to prepare them for adult life.
I always say that I was such a rebellious teen because my parents were so strict. And that may be true, but I also grew up into a strong and independent person who believes she can do anything she wants to. But success requires hard work. “Chinese” mothers really just want their kids to live the American dream, just better than everyone else.