Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
December 3, 2011 30 Comments
This book about raising children has had a lot of hype, not only on the blogs, but especially in newspapers and magazines. It seemed everyone was very critical of Amy Chua, the author, and I couldn’t wait to read it and make my own judgement.
In the Netherlands, we choose the Word of the Year every year – this is a new word that did not exist beforehand and that we think was the most important new word that year. One of the words that we can vote for this year is tijgermoeder. That’s how popular the book (or the discussion about the book) is in the Netherlands.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: What it is about
Amy Chua is an American of Chinese origin. Her parents were much stricter in raising her than the average American parent is. She call this Chinese parenting: the idea is that children should never come second, but always come first in tests at school or otherwise. If they don’t get straight A’s, you as a parent tell them they’re stupid and lazy and that they should work harder. You sit them down and make them work, work, work, until they get it right.
Since Chua does not approve of the American way of bringing up children, where there is a lot of emphasis on self-esteem and not enough on achievement, she goes for the Chinese way. Her husband, American with no Chinese background, is happy to go along with her, and she embarks on a tough regime.
Her two daughters cannot watch tv or play computer games. Since there is no point to sleep overs, they are not allowed either (the effect of sleepovers is that the kids get back home very tired and can’t do their homework/music practice very well for the rest of that day) and not getting As at school is unheard of.
The children are to learn a musical instrument, chosen by their mother, and have to practice two hours a day or so. For starters. Once they get better at it and are entered in competitions, practice time is upped. Even on foreign holidays, time is planned for practice (and piano’s to practice on are looked for in every town).
Amy Chua describes her struggles and her triumphs in getting her daughters to be very good musicians.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: What I thought
This was a very interesting book, but being a Western Mum myself, I missed the point. What exactly is the point of working your children this hard? I didn’t see it. It’s great to see what people can achieve if they really try but I knew that already from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Only there it’s assumed that the person doing the hard work actually wants to do it.
Chua’s daugters generally did what she asked from them, although they realised that other households are different from theirs. When the youngest became a teenager, she protested against the relentless violin practice and dropped out.
Amy Chua claims that she used Chinese parenting for her children, not for her own satisfaction, but I noticed how often she said how good she felt when her daughters had performed well in a competition or what a great feeling it was to see them perform on stage, etc. She didn’t mention too often what the children thought of it, but then, I guess that was beside the point? Chinese parenting is not about making children happy, happiness has nothing to do with it.
Anyway, I found the book interesting to read and it was good to see Chua’s reflections on Western parenting. I agree that we’re not strict enough but I refuse to do anything that would undermine my children’s self-esteem.
I believe in the idea that children need to gain an internal incentive (drive) for doing something (i.e., they want to excel in something because of their own interests and satisfaction) and not an external incentive (the parents with their punishments). This for the simple reason that if you take an external incentive away, they won’t try hard anymore, because there is no longer a reason.
This approach works better on my older child than the younger. It was interesting to read that for Amy Chua it was similar: her approach was more successful with the oldest daughter.
I got this book: won it in a giveaway by Kath of [Insert Suitable Snappy Title Here]
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 244
First published: 2011
Genre: memoir, parenting, non-fiction
Extras: Review by Uniflame