"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

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Summary: A memoir of a Chinese mother raising her decidedly American kids.

Read the whole book. Don't just read the excerpts you find online; read the whole book. I found this a funny, touching and encouraging memoir, not an insulting treatise on Western parenting.

Amy Chua is ambitious and driven. So naturally, that applies to her parenting as well. Her first daughter Sophia is a natural at the Suzuki piano lessons she takes and soon becomes a young gifted prodigy. Amy decides that it's not enough for both girls to be good at piano and chooses an instrument for her younger daughter Lulu - the violin.

It's not until she struggles with getting Lulu to practice that the disadvantages of the Tiger Mother or Chinese method of parenting become apparent. With Sophia, Amy could nag, browbeat, threaten and cajole. With Lulu, none of the threats worked. Amy finds herself more and more frustrated even as Lulu becomes an incredibly talented violinist accepted to study with world famous musicians and tutors. The insults fly and the ultimatums become greater and greater.

Amy's a tough cookie, but Lulu is even tougher. Amy rejects the poorly-drawn handwritten birthday cards scribbled for her at the last minute because she's seen their previous work and know that her kids can do much better. It doesn't show the love and respect that Amy deserves when she gets a scrap of paper with no thought put into it. So when Amy is explaining why she has rejected her kids' cards, you get it. She expects the best and knows what her kids are capable of. One day Lulu decides to cut her own hair, as an act of defiance against her mother. I wish that Amy would have let her daughter go around with a self-inflicted raggedy haircut, to let her live with the consequences, but since I couldn't even do that when my own daughter cut her hair, I immediately laughed and understood.

This is ultimately a memoir about love, as Amy's love for her children drive her to push them to be not just good but excellent. She believes in them so strongly that she pushes them until they do actually succeed. That's really what a Tiger Mother does - she believes her children are capable of great things and will help them reach goals that lesser parents would let their kids fall short of. I need to assume the best of my children and not coddle them, and this book brought me more into balance. Some mothers I know never allow their kids to suffer a moment of discomfort, pain or stress. Amy Chua is often the source of stress for her children, but they are leading far richer and deeper lives than my children ever will.

 Once a week, while my own kids were being taken care of by paid teachers, I'd sneak off to the bookstore and read this on my Nook in a Barnes & Noble and laugh out loud about Amy and her parenting tactics. I loved this book, and wish I were more of a Tiger Mother.

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