By Amy Chua
Published by Bloomsbury
Published in 2011
I purchased this book myself to see what the fuss was about and was not paid for this review.
Dichotomies are a dangerous thing. Us versus them, East vs West - it's not a story that ends well for anyone. Not to mention that most of the time it's patently untrue. One thing I've learned in life so far is that no matter which two cultures you're comparing, you're just as likely to find similarities as you are differences. Which is not to eschew cultural difference and try and make everyone the same which is equally as dangerous but it's a plea for middle ground - not a concept that I think Amy Chua is overly familiar with.
She started writing this book as a comparison of Chinese parenting to Western parenting and although she says in the first few pages that you don't have to be Chinese to be a Chinese mother and many mothers of Chinese heritage aren't Chinese Mothers at all, the label remains. You can couch all you like but if you call a spade a spade, that's the name that is going to stick. Personally, I would rather call this style of parenting "Extreme" rather than "Chinese." And if she thinks that Western parenting is all about choice, freedom and liberty I would like to firmly tell her that no, trust me, that really isn't always the case. But that's another story.
That said, Amy Chua is not a cultural anthropologist and this was not designed to be a parenting guide. It's a memoir, pure and simple. It's one mother's story of how she raised her kids which turned out to work brilliantly for one daughter but was a terrible idea for the other. And she knows it. She started writing this book the day after her thirteen year old daughter screamed abuse and smashed glasses in the middle of a restaurant in Russia so the whole way through the point she was driving at was 'boy did I learn a lesson.' I'll bet she did. For all her claims of being a Chinese mother, her second daughter Lulu seemed vastly disrespectful to her mother. Maybe it's just me, maybe its because I don't have kids yet and I have no idea but I'd never have given my mother the cheek Lulu gave hers and if my daughter gave me that sort of cheek I'd be devastated. Check in with me in a decade or so and I might think differently.
|(L-R): Lulu, Amy and Spohia|
Erin Patrice O'Brien for The Wall Street Journal
What's good about the way she does things? Well, quite a lot actually. If someone with a better temperament had taken the approach she had, it probably would have been a far easier read. You see, the things that she's proposing by and large aren't terrible. For example, she said that you should instill in your kids that you think they can do more. Expect the best. Push them to succeed. Teach them the value of hard work. Get alongside them and practice with them. The point that Amy missed as her kids were growing up? When to step back. The ability to see when she's being more of a hinderance than a help. But just because she was a little over the top doesn't mean that these points are invalid. I think it's a great thing to assume strength in your child rather than assume fragility. It's good to spend time with them helping them to achieve goals. It's good to teach them that raw talent is one thing but without hard work it's not going to get you very far.
Life is tough and the job of parents is to prepare their kids for it the best they can. Amy Chua was doing the best she could and when she (finally) realised her method of mothering Lulu wasn't working she did adapt. Somewhat. But one method does not work for all kids and even within one family I often see parents adapting their styles to the personalities of their children. It's one heck of a job and to all of the parents out there who do it, putting your heart and soul into your kids, giving them the best of yourself every single day I am in awe. When I think of the future generation, I don't wring my hands and wail because I look around at my friends who are parents and see what a fabulous job they are all doing and I know we're going to have some great leaders in the future. They're going to get there by different roads but when they do they'll be incredible.
A lot of things have been written about this book in the media, starting with this article. As is usually the way with media hype, a lot of it is just that: hype. Amy Chua is not a menace to society. She hasn't abused her children. Maybe she hasn't done it the way a lot of folks would have but she did her best and she told us her story of how it happened. If you want to know the real deal - read the book. It's a very entertaining and pretty fast read of how one mother came to realise that her method of mothering needed to be adapted and changed before she lost her daughter altogether. I'm really glad she learned that lesson because a mother driving away her daughter for the sake of stupid pride is one of life's greatest tragedies.
Now we wait for the memoirs of Lulu. That'll be an interesting book.
Other reviews of Tiger Mother:
Wallace at Unputdownables
Catherine at Shu Flies
Kim at Parenting Book by Book
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