This is a guest post by Mrs Snow.
I recently read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I know—I’m a bit late to the party. For those who don’t know, Amy Chua is a Yale law professor who wrote a book about the merits of Chinese parenting. She received quite a bit of criticism for being too strict, too narcissistic and too mean in raising her two daughters. Many took issue with Chua’s extreme parenting; for example, calling her eldest daughter “garbage” for being disobedient or threatening to burn all her toys when the girl was unable to play a piano piece perfectly.
When the book came out a couple years ago, I was in my last semester of law school and prepping for two bar exams so reading for pleasure was low on my list of priorities. I am Chinese though so when all my friends asked me if I had read the book, or whether my mother was like the author, I always said “My mother was the original tiger mother. I lived the book. I don’t need to read the book.”
I went about my business and never really gave the book any more thought.
Cut to 2013 and I am now the mother to a beautiful 6 month old baby girl. A few weeks ago, my mother decided to go to the library and check out Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. One Sunday evening on Skype, she raved about the book. She asked “Have you read this book, the Battle Hymen of the Tiger Mother?” After my father, my brother, my husband and I had a hysterical laughing fit, my father gently told my mother why we were laughing to which she replied, “Why didn’t you tell me I was pronouncing it wrong a week ago?”
Unfortunate misreading of the title aside, my mother thought I should use the book in parenting my daughter. If I took Amy Chua’s advice, I could mold my little girl into a piano prodigy and ensure she went to Harvard. I told her I would think about reading the book when I had a little more time. The next week, I found an Amazon box on my doorstep with the book inside, courtesy of my tiger mother.
So one weekend while the baby took her naps, my husband and I climbed into bed with our dog. While he read football blogs on his phone, I read the book and frequently read passages out loud to get his opinion. It was a lovely experience and opened up a great dialogue about how we want our daughter to be raised. I was raised according to Chua’s “Chinese” way and my husband was raised according to the “Western” way.
One example of the difference between “Chinese” parenting and “Western” parenting can be found in the dreaded piano lesson. Funny enough, Chua made this same comparison between her and her husband in the book. When my husband was a child, his mother hired a piano teacher for him and his two siblings. My husband sat down at the piano at his first lesson and apparently really stunk up the place. He claims that his piano teacher stated to his mother, “Your son has no musical talent. I really don’t think he should continue the piano.” Given my experience with his family, I’m almost certain this is an exaggeration but nevertheless, after a few lessons, my husband was allowed to quit the piano since he didn’t enjoy it and hated practicing. He regrets nothing to this day and the grand piano in his parents’ house is generally only played by me when we go to visit his family during Christmas.
Piano lessons in my house were a different story. My piano teacher, Mrs. Bennett always wore flowered shirts and pastel pants in addition to a constant crabby mood. I hated the piano but I was forced to drill scales and practice and re-practice every song until it was perfect. When I cried and asked my mom why I had to learn the piano when she didn’t know how to play herself, she said “Because I want better for you. Now less talking, more playing.”
My brother and I hated the piano so much sometimes we would hide before a lesson and hope that my mother would give up on that day’s class and send Mrs. Bennett home. It never worked. My brother and I were too chicken to really disobey my mother so we would always hide someplace near the piano room. Then when my mother inevitably found us, we could be like “I’ve been waiting for you, where have you been?”
She was never amused and we paid with extra practice. As a child, it seemed like torture to be forced to play an instrument I despised, but as an adult, on the occasions when I’m able to sit at my parents’ piano and play the theme song to Casablanca, I have no regrets either.
In addition to the piano, I played the trumpet, swam competitively, did tae kwon do, and dabbled in ballet, diving, painting and for a couple months, abacus lessons. Yes, that’s right—abacus lessons. That was time well spent mom. Whether I hated or loved the activity, I had no say in the matter and I had to continue with my lessons. Because my life was so jam packed with classes and school, I was not permitted to watch TV, play video games, attend sleepovers or talk on the phone longer than 20 minutes. And while there were many days when my mother and I butted heads, in fairness to her, (and I can say this now because I’m older, wiser and don’t have to live with her anymore) I learned so much about discipline, focus and hard work — values I hope to pass on to my little girl.
My husband on the other hand, had an Italian mother and a German/English father, who encouraged him to play sports but not terribly competitively. They encouraged him in school but never put as much pressure on him, as my parents did on me. He was encouraged to be inquisitive and curious and to enjoy his childhood with bike rides, sleepovers, playing pool with his dad and video games—come what may. To this day, my husband has a wonderful thirst for knowledge and a balanced approach to life — values I hope he will pass on to our daughter.
My husband and I have been aware of our differences in upbringing, but Chua’s book provided examples and anecdotes that were thought-provoking (sometimes funny and sometimes extreme) and that really got us talking about how to raise a child. There is no universally right way to parent; even in Chua’s book she admits she had to tailor her approach to each daughter and pull back on her strict parenting style (something that many of her critics fail to mention).
So will I be a tiger mother like Chua or my mother? Probably not to their extremes, (even my mother thought Chua went a bit overboard at times) but there are some philosophies they espouse that I hope to incorporate into my parenting style. So while I may have lived the book to some extent, reading it enlightened me with new understanding of my own tiger mother and perhaps some new perspective for my tiger cub.