Friday, March 9, 2012
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
This is the saga of an intensely strict mother who believes she has all the answers, only to have her extremism backfire on her. Though narrated in a balanced, perceptive, humble manner, Chua is characterized throughout the events of the novel as being part mother and part army drill sergeant; a fiercely ambitious woman with noble motives and merciless methods, which involve no play dates, sleepovers or school plays, no television or video games, no choice in extracurricular activities, and long hours of music practice. Though she characterizes her older daughter Sophia as naturally studious, diligent, and positively responsive to her disciplinary procedures, readers can’t help but cheer when the Tiger Mother gets her comeuppance in the form of her younger daughter Lulu’s rebellion, which climactically triggers a revelation and reevaluation of the methods she had always sworn by.
While Western parents may view the traditionalist Chinese parent as needlessly harsh, high-handed and self-serving, the other side’s perspective is that the Western model is spineless and overindulgent. Pre-rebellion Chua boasts of her high ambitions for her children, as well as her unwavering faith in them that drives her to push them beyond their limits, all while locking horns with her feisty daughters. Yet the perspective she eventually gains leads her to recognize the flaws in the Chinese method, and the worthwhile qualities in the Western model.
I know of few books currently on the market that are more insightful and thought-provoking, or any that elicit such levels of introspection. Whether they agree or disagree with the Tiger Mother’s methods, readers will surely find themselves questioning their own upbringings and ways of life, and their manner of raising their own children. What does it mean to be a good parent? Are we really doing all we can for our kids? Is there a price for having one’s child reach their full potential? Where do we draw the line between helping our children succeed and letting them choose their own path?
For an intimate anthropological study of parents and children and the trials of child-rearing, look no further than Amy Chua’s cleverly written chronicle of her conversion from staunchly traditional Chinese parent to democratic advocate of a hybrid between the Chinese and Western models—or, as she calls it, the best of both worlds—and all the awkward laughs, tough love, and mother-daughter shout-fests in between.