When I put down Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother, I thought Amy Chua was crazy.
Exploring the differences between Asian and Western parenting styles, Chua candidly tells how she placed her children under traumatic levels of pressure, forcing them through hours of homework and music practice. Her daughter Lulu (aged 13 at the time) had to break a glass and scream abuse (ironically in Moscow, the city of discipline and authority) in order to pry open her mother’s tightly-closed eyes and force her to face the situation at hand.
She called her children “garbage”, rejected their birthday cards and even tried to use this extreme parenting on her dogs.
As those feelings dissipated, however, I couldn’t help but think that Amy Chua was immensely brave.
Chua fearlessly exposed the insecurities that plague all parents. She voiced opinions that many have thought, but few have dared to voice. She openly forced parents to ask themselves: are we doing this right?
At points, the book seemed to be an attack on “Western” parents, openly displayed by the disgusted tone that Chua took when discussing their children. In fact, Chua’s first response to Lulu’s outburst was one of cold detachment and disgust that Lulu had acted ‘American’: “There is nothing more typical, more predictable, common and low than an American teenager who won’t try things. You’re boring, Lulu — boring,” Chua sneered.
Chua also delves into the idea that Western parents are seemingly more “lenient”, afraid to discipline their children and preoccupied with their “self-esteem”. In contrast, Chua believes Chinese parents assume “strength over fragility”, and hence feel freer to call their children “fat, lazy and self-indulgent”.
Interested to know whether Chua’s ideals and morals were held by the majority of Asian parents, I asked two students from Asian backgrounds for their insights on this issue.
One teenager who did not want to be named, the daughter of Filipino immigrant parents, found similarities between Amy Chua’s parenting style and that of her own mother. “I have to clean or my Mum threatens to kick me out of the house,” she says.
As a child, her mother created a list of words and questions for her to practice on a weekly basis; if she were to get one wrong, her Mum got angry and yelled at her. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I was trying and she yelled at me. And I cried, so I guess I felt sad.”
On the other hand, Samhitha, whose family moved from India to Australia when she was eight, disagreed: “my parents let me do whatever I want, as long as I keep my life balanced… [They] encourage me to do extra activities like music and sport.
“My parents just saying, ‘You’re the one who will not learn,’ is enough to make me realise and finish my work,” says Samhitha.
Is Chua right? Are Western parents too lenient, allowing their children to grow up with no discipline? Are they actually destroying their self-esteem by building them with false self-confidence, which comes falling down when they enter the “real world”? Are the Chinese doing it the right way?
The answer is not that easy.
Chua may have brought up two daughters who performed outstandingly in academics and music, but she left them unprepared in areas of creative thinking and problem-solving, both which play a large role in the careers of the future. Chua may have bestowed them with an A+ average and honour, but she left them empty-handed in many milestones that are key to shaping one’s life to come.
If we take Chua’s word for it, the perfect child would be a meeting of the East and the West — the meeting of stringent policies and discipline, and the freedom of choice.