Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy ChuaThis 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.🙂

Rating: 4/5

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

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

30 Responses to Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

  1. Ah, the controversial Tiger Mom book. Personally, I don’t agree with her old-fashioned Chinese method: offspring is not supposed to put their own happiness first, but their parents’ and larger family’s (or clan rather). I’m very grateful for the way my parents raised me. At least, me and my sister were able to make our own choices.

    • Leeswammes says:

      You were very lucky not to be raised like that, Chinoiseries! I can understand (but do not like) how you would use this method in China if that was the norm. You’d be seen as a low-life family if you didn’t try to reach the highest levels. But in the US? Chua wasn’t even part of a Chinese community, so it wasn’t as if she needed to keep the family name high. I’m not sure what her reasons were, other than that she thought the Western parents were too lenient with their children.

      Were your parent brought up the Chinese way?

  2. Uniflame says:

    I really liked reading this book. I didn’t like Amy as a mother and I know it wouldn’t have worked on me. (now I wonder hoe Chinese people would raise an autistic kid, oh dear). But I liked reading it because it was so interesting to see a total other side of how some Chinese mothers raise their children. When I have proper internet again, remind me to link to your review in my own🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Uniflame, I agree, I also didn’t like the author as a mother at all, although she does sometimes reflect on herself and makes fun of her own ideas.

      How this would work on an autistic child – well, the clear rules would help, but otherwise: probably no.

      I’ll add your review link too. I forgot that you read it already.

  3. Tes says:

    I haven’t read this book but I can pretty much related to the story. I grew up in very traditional Asian family where my parent strove very hard for my success ( but it sounded like not as hard as the mother in this story though). We have to listen to our parents and respect their opinion. We couldn’t talk back or even explain our reasons. Oh and sleep over was never really ever occur in our mind. I can very well understand the traditional Chinese parenting method, I probably wouldn’t opt this or my kid but I do appreciate those who get high in their lives with their parent push.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tes. I can imagine the parenting style where you grew up is closer to the Chinese style, but not half as strict!

      Yes, it’s good if parents try to get the best out of their kids, but I can tell you, this was really way over the top. I wonder what the child protection agency would say about this!🙂

  4. Amy Chua’s parenting is all about success. It is the be-all and end-all in life for her and she seems to equate it with happiness. Raising you child to be a good and caring person does not seem to enter into the equation. I am very glad that my darling parents raised me in a completely different way, but it is interesting to read all the discussions she has stirred up with her book.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Anna, yes, it’s very interesting to read about (and to read the book, too). Of course, the parenting style that Chua adopted was very extreme (and that’s why it made a popular book) so it’s no wonder that there has been so much debate about it. As is the case with most topics, somewhere in the middle would be ideal: a bit more Chinese method and less Western wouldn’t harm our (Western) kids at all.

      Actually, I’ve become a little stricter with my kids after reading the book. E.g., my son had a maths problem that he couldn’t get right. Only after trying 3 times he got it right. So I made him do it a fourth time to make sure that he knew what he was doing. That’s à la Chua!

  5. I enjoyed the book too, though I thought Chua was a bit harsh with her kids and her younger daughter let her know it. Interesting she changed her mind somewhat about her methods after the experiences with the youngest.

  6. I haven’t read this book but can tell you that in the US (not sure of the global impact) my son’s generation is suffering a bit. They were raised to believe that even if they lose their still winners, receiving trophies for participating. While this sounds fine at the surface, these kids are not prepared for the reality of the working world. You have to work hard to succeed once you leave schooling. Some kids don’t understand work ethic since they haven’t even had to help around the home. Just one example, crazy right?

    There’s a balance between not parenting and the traditional chinese approach.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Totally agree with you, Mari.

      Here in the Netherlands, we’re also quite good at praising children for something that is not really very good.

      Something interesting: We have a “movement” that started maybe 10-20 years ago called the “sixes culture”. In the Netherlands your grades run from 1 to 10 (10 is best). 6 is “satisfactory” and with sixes you can pass exams (not with fives), so lots of young people study in order to get sixes and no more. In fact, an average of 5.5 is enough as this is rounded to a 6. Why aim for an 8 or 9 when 6 is sufficient? It’s called the sixes culture: don’t try harder than you have to.

      Too bad it’s like that. I don’t praise my children when they get a 6 – it depends on the subject, though. For English (a foreign language in the Netherlands, but my kids’ first language) we expect them to get at least an 8. And we don’t give them any money for their report cards as we just expect them to try their best, always (we try not to do external incentives – as I say in my post).

  7. Niranjana says:

    Interesting, and I bet your comments will be pretty interesting too! Re: Asian (Chinese, Indian, korean etc.) parenting , I’d say that the duty of parent is primarily seen as equipping the child to be successful in a harsh world. I think it’s a product of a system where the welfare state has failed the people, where public infrastructure is pitiful–there is a huge (and nasty) gap between the standard of living of someone who is successful and one who isn’t. So I’m not sure that “Chinese parenting is not about making children happy” –rather, I’d say that the assumption is that success leads to happiness, and there’s some justification for that in an Asian setting.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Niranjana, thanks for your explanation, that makes good sense. About happiness – I meant that the idea is not that the children have a happy childhood, that does not seem to be relevant. But of course, success can lead to happiness.

  8. amymckie says:

    I don’t really get the huge backlash on the book likely in part because my own upbringing was strict. Very early bedtimes, lots of homework, piano lessons and swim team, no TV, little computer time, etc. I dunno, I turned out alright so whatever works? Not that I liked it at the time but see nothing wrong with strict parenting now – especially with all the junk on TV!!!

    • Leeswammes says:

      It looks like you had a very structured childhood, Amy. But I wonder if you spent 2 hours a day playing piano, with your mother sitting with you at the piano and shouting at you when you went wrong? Making you stay up way beyond bedtime until you got it right? Letting you do 20 sheets of maths questions every day for a week (20 sheets per day!) if you didn’t get an A for your test?

      Western-strict is fine! But Chua-strict takes it much too far, I think.

  9. JannyAn says:

    The Chinese way of parenting, don’t know that much about it. But it reminds me of a nurse when I was in a hospital in the USA. She was chinese and told me she had to study what her brothers thougt was best for her. She herself wanted to become MD but her brothers thought it best to study economics. So she did. Then she married. Her husband had a shop and he wanted her to work in the shop. So much for studying economics. Only when her husband died she finally could decide for herself. She wanted to become a nurse. So she did. At the age of 60 (good for her she lived in the USA because that would be really impossible in the Netherlands). I can’t read about the chinese way of parenting without thinking about this nurse. Because not giving your daughter the opportunity to make her own choices is parenting to. She was no exception. Maybe that’s why I won’t put the book on my reading list. By the way, I don’t have any children, raising two cats is all that I’ve got to take care of🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      That’s so sad, Janny, how this woman had to wait until she was 60 before she could make her own life choices!

      I think the book is more interesting when you have children, but of course, anyone was raised in some way or another by their parents so everyone can get something out of the book. Unless your cats can play the piano I think this book is not relevant to how you raised them.🙂

  10. Suzanne says:

    Nice review, Judith. I am not a parent but I am interested in reading this anyways.

  11. Kristen M. says:

    Yours is the first review that mentioned that one of her daughters totally quit something when she was old enough. I think this is the problem with the parenting style. It could pay off and you could be a concert pianist or you could have wasted most of your childhood doing something that you didn’t want to do after all and you actually end up behind on something that you might want to try on your own. It just seems like there are big risks to raising your kids this way and I’m not sure they outweigh all of the problems I see with it.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Good point, Kristen! I think it’s better to let children choose their own interests because they will be more motivated. Although Chua’s kids just didn’t have a choice, they had to perform well, whether they liked it or not.

  12. JoV says:

    “I agree that we’re not strict enough but I refuse to do anything that would undermine my children’s self-esteem.”

    Well said Judith. I read this review a little late but I read this book in September, bought the book and didn’t get around reviewing it. I have two young boys and I worry if I’m not strict enough with them. I also think the eldest by genetic seems to be more responsible. I’m the eldest and I know.🙂 Some principles are good but she took it a bit too far.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Exactly, Jo. I also think we’re not strict enough but there is something to be learned from the book as well.

      A pity you didn’t review it, that would have been interesting.

  13. Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) says:

    Interesting that you reference Outliers – it’s a book that’s been sitting on my reading shelf for a long time and one that I’ve never quite got round to reading. Might have to bump it up the list now it’s fresh in my mind again.

    As for Tiger Mother, well it’s difficult for me to comment on parenting techniques, not having had that responsibility yet in my life. But I’ve always been raised to think that I happiness is the most important thing, and achievement always comes secondary to that (in my opinion, still the healthiest attitude). Still, Chua’s approach does have its merits. I just don’t think children can self-motivate at that age – not when you’re working towards long-term goals – they are just too focused on the short-term. So in that respect, a little push is the only way to get help them achieve in their young lives. Ah, too much to think about – who’d be a parent?🙂

    My review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Matthew, and your link.

      I think Chua makes the opposite argument: first achieve, then you’ll be happy. But I think you need a bit of both. Of course, as you say, children don’t self-motivate very well, so they need some encouragement even if that doesn’t make them happy to start with. But there is a limit, and for me, Chua goes way too far in her ambitions for her children.

      • Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) says:

        No worries Lee – I always enjoy your reviews! It’s nice to read one I have and opinion on🙂

        Yes, it’s a pretty decent argument, except that even once her children have achieved Chua seems to be moving on to the next thing, I’m not sure exactly when they are supposed to stop and enjoy it. Sometime between graduation and becoming Tiger Mom’s themselves perhaps? Ah well, her methods have certainly produced talented offspring so you can’t argue with that.

      • Leeswammes says:

        That’s a good point, Matthew! It seems that Chua needs a “project” to work on (that involves her children). I guess when she has grandchildren the whole process can start again – or cause a big rift in the family.

        Yes, the methods work but at what cost? Maybe my sons could be very good musicians. Or horse jumping champions. So what? They’re fine as they are and I’m happy with the way they are (as long as they put some effort in their school work and achieve at their level).

  14. Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) says:

    I think you’re right, you could see it with the tennis at the end of the book (a passage which I really didn’t get at all, was it supposed to be funny? I can’t believe Chua can have included that at face value).

    This is true, far better to be happy in life. And of course, if everyone pushed their children like Chua, (a) the world would be a ludicrously talented place and I’d feel very inferior, and (b) everyone would be seriously depressed – we can’t all win after all.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Good point, Matthew. If we all “excelled” then no-one would – or it would still be the same few who’d win everything.

      I think with the tennis, Chua was probably making fun of herself – she saw how ridiculous she was. Possibly!

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