Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – a Review

You probably heard about this book when it came out last year and made a big splash.  People all over the country were talking about it and ripping the author, Amy Chua, to shreds.  I’d been meaning to read the book, and finally did yesterday (yes, all in one day) after being reminded of it on the Today Show earlier this week.

Here’s the deal: I LOVED the book!  It is a witty, funny, and enlightening read.  I highly recommend it.  As Ms. Chua noted on the Today Show (sorry I couldn’t find the clip), most of the people who criticized her parenting style and book, probably hadn’t read it.  The criticisms were mostly that her “Chinese style of mothering” was too harsh and dictatorial.  Ms. Chua freely admits that she has extremely high expectations of her two daughters and reprimands them, berates them, and puts them down when they don’t meet her expectations.  She notes, however, that this is out of love, a strong desire to see them succeed, a belief that they have the ability to excel in all areas, and an expectation that when they leave her home for the “real world” they will thrive on their own.

I’m not sure I would call this autobiography/memoir a parenting book, in that it doesn’t include step-by-step instructions on how to raise children in the “Chinese” method.  But that’s OK with me, because as I have written before, I am no fan of parenting books in general.  Here’s why I prefer Ms. Chua’s book to some of the other, perhaps more popular, parenting books on the shelves:

She’s humble and admits mistakes.  Being a parent means failing – a lot.  We say the wrong things to our kids, our partners, and other parents all the time.  However, very few parenting books recognize this.  Ms. Chua is quite forthcoming in her failures and resulting guilt.  It’s refreshing to hear someone be so honest.

One size doesn’t fit all.  One of the main points of the book is that the parenting style that works for her older daughter doesn’t work for the younger one, no matter how much she tried.  Yet another point that is missing in many parenting books.  Kids are different for pete’s sake.  Of course a discipline/motivation technique that worked with one kid might not work with the next.

Kids might be stronger than we give them credit for.  Ms. Chua asserts that “Western” parents sometimes assume that kids are fragile and their egos will be wounded if not given constant praise, even if that praise isn’t really earned.  She notes that “Chinese” parents assume their kids are strong, competent, and can withstand criticism of all kinds – in fact it will likely make them stronger.  I think this is an interesting idea.  Is it true that some of us with “Western” parenting styles coddle our kids too much?

Regardless of whether you agree with Ms. Chua’s tough, take-no-prisoners parenting style this book is a worthwhile read.  Not only is it super entertaining, it will also broaden your idea of what it means to be a parent in different cultures.  There are lots of ways to raise happy, healthy, and successful kids – and her way might just be one you want to consider.

Update: Amy Chua was kind enough to forward me a more recent piece of her’s which appeared in the Wall Street Journal in December 2011.  Take a look at how Tiger parenting works for the college kid (it sounds like a breeze!).  Thanks, Ms. Chua for forwarding this along!

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