Thursday, May 03, 2012

Tiger Mothers 

Today, while planting annuals, up to my elbows in dirt (which I find a very cathartic activity), I finished reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother via audio book, read by the author. I enjoy when books are read by the author because I think they take on their truest intonation.

In the past several months I have found myself casually mentioning the phrase "tiger mother" and even describing some people as being such. In fact, some people may think I am a tiger mother of sorts. I know my husband probably thinks I am a tiger mother. Since I have been using this phrase I figured I had better read the book so I know what I am talking about.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is about the clash of Chinese and Western cultures, particularly as it manifests itself in parenting styles. It is one of the more interesting books that I have ever read. I found myself completely absorbed in what the author was saying.

I think that somewhere, way back in my family line, I must have some Chinese blood in me. Although what the author described was completely obsessive and totally nuts at times, at the end of the book, I respected her. She wanted what was best for her children. She cared deeply about their future and wanted to equip them with tools to make them accomplished, successful, and confident. Who can fault her for that?

One thing that impressed me was the humility and authenticity of the author. She didn't gloss over things and she was brutally honest, even when the scenarios she described were utterly unflattering to herself. I think it takes a lot of steel nerves and courage to write about yourself like that.

The author was an insane lady at times, trying desperately to instill Chinese values in her children, forcing them to practice their instruments for hours even when on vacation. She constantly fought against the encroachment of Western values into their lives, although, ironically, she married a Westerner and she chose to live in a Western society.

She often had painful shouting matches with her second-born daughter, while forcing her to practice her violin. She noted that strict Western parents might make their kids practice for 30 minutes or an hour at the most but, to the Chinese, the first hour is the easy part.

While I think that the author was rather extreme and I can't imagine having the same arguments with my kids, and hope it would never come to me threatening to burn their stuffed animals if they didn't practice violin--a real example cited in the book--I think there are good points that the author, Amy Chua, highlights. While I want my children to have beautiful memories of their childhood and lots of unstructured time, and can't imagine forcing them to practice an instrument for several hours every day while on vacation, I could clearly see that Chua simply wanted her children to excel and to reach their potential. You can't completely fault her for that. In fact, I think that those traits are highly admirable, when proper balance is given consideration.

Chua points out that Western parents lavish their children with compliments for accomplishing the most mediocre tasks. Western parents encourage their children to pursue their passions. But where does that lead? Often it leads to 10-hours a day on Facebook.

Chinese parents want to give their children skills to be successful and help them learn to be disciplined and excel at their work so that they can feel accomplished for legitimate reasons.

At the end of the book, the author describes a breaking-point for her, which I won't spoil in this review. Also, at the end, both of her daughters, including the rebellious second-born, mentioned that they were grateful their mother had forced them to practice their instruments and spend two-hours each day learning Mandarin and drilling their other subjects. They were confident and accomplished young adults that any parent would be proud of.

Interestingly, the Chinese have a much higher level of respect for their parents and feel a duty to take care of them when they are old. Westerners, by contrast, often resent and criticize their parents.

Maybe the Chinese have some wisdom here. Even more so, maybe there is truth to be discovered in balancing the wisdom of both cultures.

This book gave me a lot to think about.

1 comment:

Monica said...

I need to read this book, too. I think homeschool moms all have a bit of tiger in them. We see it as part of our mission to instill knowledge, opportunity and practical skills upon our kids at every waking minute. Our identities and purpose as moms become closely tied to our children's successes and abilities. I think this does and can get in the way of relationships and crowds out the importance of discipleship in the home if the child perceives that my love for them is tied to what they accomplish, not who they are. This is not an easy balance, by any means, especially since each one has their own personality and needs for relationship.