Monday, January 17, 2011

Failing to access my inner Tiger Mother

I'm posting on Daddy Dialectic today, where I contribute when I want to act all serious and stuff.  This is kind of a comment on the Amy Chua essay and book that caused such an uproar, but don't worry, I'm not going to talk about how she's an abusive parent or anything.

Here's how it starts...


By the time you read this, the outrage caused by Amy Chua's Wall Street Journal essayentitled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," will have mostly died down.  A lot of people will read her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (#4 on Amazon's bestseller list at the time of this writing); but those who don't will remember her only as the crazy bitch who calls her straight-A, musically prodigious daughters "garbage," and violates a dozen articles of the Geneva Convention while overseeing their piano practice--all in the name of helping them achieve their potential.

And sadly, many who read the WSJ essay, or even just scan a few of the bazillion blog rants and Twitter freakouts it inspired, may have forever etched in their minds the stereotype of the hardcore Asian Mama who shuns affection always, and breaths the fire of shame when her kid gets an A-minus, despite Chua's subsequent backpedalling regarding her overstated claims and bombastic tone in the essay.

I'll probably never read the book (unless somebody wants me to review it, or gives me a copy when I'm caught up on all the other stuff I want to read or...who am I kidding?--I'll never read it), but I'll take her at her word that the voice of her essay represented her earlier, more confident attitude about her draconian parenting style, before her younger daughter's rebellion caused her to lighten up a bit.  She also explains in the essay and elsewhere that she uses the phrase "Chinese Parent" as shorthand for the tough-as-nails mentality any number of immigrants adopt as they strive to prove their mettle in their new country.  



  1. Odd this,I post on here to tell you I'm posting over there....

  2. Sounds like the story "The Joy Luck Club".

  3. btw, I posted over on the other site...
    @Michelle: Have u read "clay walls"? it is similar to Joy Luck and happens to be written by my mom's cousin..

  4. The effectiveness of different parenting styles is largely context-based. For example, what works best in a dangerous, poor neighborhood hardly resembles what works best in an affluent, safe environment to raise the most successful and healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally) adult. Also, variations in the temperaments of individual children and parents determines how well certain techniques will work and how much good or harm will come from them.

    I always want to know more about context before making a judgment about the "right" kind of parenting. I think it's foolish to suggest that any one way of raising children is always the best. If that's what Chua was doing, then I'm automatically skeptical. But although her parenting methods sound completely inappropriate to my family and culture, I'd give her the benefit of the doubt that they may work better for another family.

    And, of course, I don't think that laissez-faire parenting and draconian parenting are the only two options!

  5. I heard Amy on the "Today" show defending herself and her parents. She described her parents living through 2 winters in Boston without heat. Ouch!

    I guess one wasn't enough.

    In regard to your writing: I generally agree, and would add that parenting style alone does not determine the final person/adult.

    I believe that people are largely predetermined (how much, who can say. My wild guess is 50%) from the moment they are created. [Some examples would be: male vs female mindset, intelligence, personality, etc.]

    Also I liked "Genie of the Shell's" response.

  6. I liked your post, I thought it was very well written. I often think about how my parents raised me (far to overindulgent), and how I would have come out so much better had they been stricter and how I'm certainly not going to be a total push over with my girls. Which I'll get around to implementing right after I go fetch my daughter a refill on her chocolate milk and see if she needs a new doll to play with while watching the movie she wanted.

  7. I read and responded to your well-reasoned article. And, just call me Koala Father

  8. @jacks--Well, that's the same thing I do!

    @Michelle--I always told my wife that I read Amy Tan books so that I would be able to understand my mother-in-law. But the Chua stories don't usually end up with the "Tiger Mom" being entirely heroic.

    @KBF--Thanks for commenting. I haven't read that book, but I'll put it on my list.

    @Genie--Thanks for the comment. I responded on the other site.

    @David--I used to think that most of how a person turned out had to do with their environment, but I too am starting to think it's more like 50/50, at least.

    @Marty--I often feel like my parents weren't strict enough with me. But I was kind of a hard case in some regards. And anyway, I think I turned out okay. I wish I would have worked harder in my math classes though!

    @Homemaker Man--Thanks. I'm pretty sure that Koala's are incredibly vicious and treacherous. They just move in slow motion so don't really pose a threat to anyone.

  9. Am I obligated to post a comment here and there. Jeez... ;)

  10. hmm very nice parenting details to

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. B.D.,

    Thanks for your excellent post. I got my own twin girls to bed then lost two hours sleep rewriting my own take on Amy Chua...and then rewrote it again. (

    Her idea that "Chinese parents assume strength rather than frailty" is compelling, but on the other hand in the US it's not commonly accepted that the "parent knows better" because culturally we are all so intent on learning the hard way (perhaps rightly, if we revere innovation).

    A hard-core Chinese parent would not write a memoir about such culturally obvious parenting techniques, unless of course a contrast was her point. Traditionally when the Chinese won honor, “the credit went to his parents.” In this context Amy Chua is a narcissist, but that doesn't make her wrong.

    No doubt Amy Chua’s own parents were brutally critical...Result: her brilliant academic and legal career, tenure at Yale, and surely great honor to her own “Tiger Mother.” The approach is not invalid, as Chua's own experience attests, except (we tell ourselves) to the extent it compromises her children’s mental health. How does Amy feel towards her parents? Towards her occasional failures (if any)? The answers would be telling I'm sure.

    But while success is not learnt by rote, it does reinforce itself. Her kid did learn that passage on the piano and was ebullient about it. As a parent in the West, the line between brute discipline and the fulfillment of potential is hard to draw.

    Your thoughts?


    Dr Eliot


Don't hold back.


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