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I am a new parent. My interests are secularism, learning, parenting, religion, career planning, and adult education.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lessons from a Tiger Mom

A Review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chau

A few months ago the blogosphere was ablaze with criticism of Amy Chau's parenting style, which she calls being a Chinese mother. While I agree with many of the arguments that Amy is harsh, demanding, strict, and controlling; upon reading her book, I quite was taken aback by how fiercely she loves her daughters and how much she believes in their talents and abilities.

Now don't get me wrong, I totally disagree with her reasoning that shaming a child when they displease you will motivate children to improve. In fact, she justifies shouting stinging insults because

The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home).
Amy points out the difference between a "Western" parent and a "Chinese" parent in this example

If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless," or "a disgrace." ...If a Chinese child gets a B ... there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Now, I disagree with shaming a child, but I do believe Amy has a point here. Children are strong enough to hear the truth, I just think it can be done respectfully. If I think my child is capable of doing better, there is nothing wrong with telling her and then working with her to show her what she can really do. The part about this I really admire is the belief and willingness of a parent to devote time and energy to helping the child improve. It is not all about the child and the child's effort - the parent jumps in and makes sure the child has the resources, and more importantly, the practice to improve.

Don't get me wrong, there are many cringe-worthy moments in this book. Some of the language and tactics Amy uses to get her girls to practice their instruments, do well in school, and make the best birthday cards are way too harsh for my personality style; and I do think that that kind of speech can harm a child (and it passes on bad habits to children who often grow up and imitate their parents). I'm sure however, that we can take some lessons from a Tiger mom, who really was the most stirring example of a hard working, involved parent that believes in her kids that I've ever seen in my life. Plus, Amy is an awesome storyteller and her book is a good read - even if you will cringe at her parenting style - and you probably will.


  1. You can't expect someone to feel better about themselves by making them feel worse. I think it is a true statement no matter what age you are. I try to live by that. But that is just ME.


  2. i may be harsh to say this, but i couldn't get past the opening pages. i found her to be far too nasty. i also can't help wondering what she would have done had her child been born without the intelligence and talent of her duaghters. children can handle the truth, and the truth it they are wonderful no matter what mark they get on a test. value is not based on a grade.

    okay. off the soapbox now ...

  3. Spoiler Alert!!!!
    You are not harsh - Amy is! But after you get past the first few pages you see that she has other qualities. She also shares how she has a sister with downs syndrome and her own mother adapted her "chinese mothering" to her abilities and talents, but still pushed her to do her best within her abilities - it was kind of an interesting story. Also, I don't want to ruin the end for people, but Amy learns to moderate a bit to suit the personality style of her youngest daughter, so as to not completely ruin the relationships and admits that "chinese parenting" may not always be best - so there I go ruining the end of the book :o)


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