Crouching Tiger Mom, Hidden Agenda?

I just finished reading “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua and I have to admit I have conflicting feelings about it. 

My own kids are grown and most likely irreparably damaged at this point, so I didn’t read the book to get any great insights into parenting techniques. 

I’m just joking about the damage part—my son has a Ph.D in neuroanatomy and is a successful magazine editor and publisher and my daughter is a furniture designer who’s had her home featured in national magazines and on television, so I guess I didn’t screw them up too badly. 

(I also didn’t have anything to do with their career choices, so all the praise for their successes should go to them.)  

I try to keep my nose out of their business when it comes to raising their children.  I figure they have every right to louse their kids up as much as I did.  Dr. Phil (sorry about bringing him into this) says that parents do the best they can “with what they knew when they knew it.” 

In other words, we don’t always have access to the right information all the time as parents and often we learn more in hindsight when it’s too late to apply that knowledge.

Amy Chua’s book chronicles the early upbringing of her now teenage daughters.  She mercilessly makes them practice the piano and violin and will not accept any grade below an A in anything except gym and drama.  She puts forth the not unheard of premise that Asian (in her case, Chinese) parents create better outcomes with their children overall than Western parents do–particularly American ones.  This is not something new, but the look into her family life with all its pressures (and triumphs) is pretty eye-opening. 

The author has undergone quite a bit of backlash over her book, which she calls a memoir and not a “how-to” book.  I agree with her on that.  Not everyone comes from a family that has the monetary resources she does (she’s a Yale law professor and lecturer and her husband is also a Yale law professor and fiction writer).  She spends oodles of money on lessons and anything that will help her children be the absolute best in everything they undertake—whether they like it or not.

This is where the backlash comes in.  It’s one thing to encourage your kids to do their best and keep on trying at something like piano or violin when they want to chuck it in, but it’s entirely another thing to make them practice for six hours at a time until they get a certain piece “correct” while leaving teeth marks in the wood of the piano over middle “C.” 

She berates the kids unrelentingly, telling them that she’s only doing it because she loves them and wants them to succeed.

At one point the youngest daughter rebels and refuses to do anything her mother wants her to do—including play the violin, which she has become extremely good at and actually loves.  She feels that her mother just wants her children to be the best so that she (the mother) will look good. 

Granted, the kids are amazingly talented and very poised for their ages, but one wonders if it was all worth the price they had to pay by not having a more “normal” American childhood.  We’ll have to wait and see because at the publishing of the book the oldest was just sixteen and the youngest about thirteen or fourteen. 

I think back to my own upbringing and wish that my mother had been more encouraging to me.  She usually went with the assumption that I wasn’t capable enough to do something, whatever it was, for a variety of reasons—I was too young or just didn’t measure up to the task at hand somehow. 

Now, looking back, I think she essentially wanted to keep me dependent on her because that was her “job”—being a mom.

When I was grown and already had two kids of my own, I finally got a chance to go to college and ended up getting accepted into the dental hygiene program at our local community college.  I went up against 250 other applicants for a slot in a class that would be limited to just 24 students.  I got in on the first try.

My mother, upon hearing that I was accepted, said to me “If it gets too hard for you, you just quit.”  I guess it was her way of giving permission to fail, but that wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to hear at that moment—more like “Congratulations, that’s really great!” 

Now that I’ve thought about it, I’m pretty sure I was a threat to the way she had lived her life as a stay-at-home mother.  She initially didn’t even want me to apply to the school because she said that at the end of the two year program “You’ll be thirty years old!” 

I came back with, “At the end of two years I’ll be thirty anyway, so I might as well be thirty with a degree in dental hygiene.”

Parenting can be really complicated. 

It’s too bad we can’t know what we didn’t know when we didn’t know it.

Where’s Dr. Phil when we need him?

18 thoughts on “Crouching Tiger Mom, Hidden Agenda?

    • I agree, Renee. What was troubling about Chua’s approach was that the kids didn’t feel those things. Their mother thought that American parents spent too much time building up kids’ self-esteem to the detriment of the skills they would need in life.

      Parenting is a tightrope, for sure, and we’re often walking it blindfolded through a ring of fire…


  1. when i was pregnant, i read all of those magazines in the doctors office, with nice, soft-focus pictures of mothers breast-feeding contented infants, and it all seemed so easy. HA! i tried to use a hybrid approach with mine – supportive, but realistic, and we DEFINITELY encouraged down-time. that’s when kids can get creative. results? they seem pretty balanced…

    as for your Mom? she must trained at the same “Mom School” mine did. i’ll keep repeating – “they did the best they could with what they knew”…


    • LOL! I fell for those pictures too, Daisyfae! It’s nature’s way of continuing the species, I think.

      My favorite “Roseanne” episode is the one where Jackie is explaining birth control methods to Becky and Becky says “Doesn’t that kind of spoil the moment?” Roseanne says “Not as much as a screamin’ kid in a loaded diaper.”


  2. Gee, my mom was a member of that graduating class, too. Maybe the depression sucked all the encouragement out of them.

    Before I go off googling “neuroanatomy,” let me tell you–in case your mother hasn’t–that you are a TREASURE!!! I love your spirit, your humor and cleverness, your smarts, and your heart! (I’m sure your dental hygienist skills were top-of-the-line, too.) Maybe your mother gave you all that without realizing it… or maybe you found that pony in that roomful of poop all by yourself.

    Once again, your ATC is outstanding.


    • Thank you, my dear! You are too kind. *Blush* And I think you might be right about that generation.

      I did get that movie “Mother” with Albert Brooks and Debbie Reynolds, by the way. Loved it! Turns out she was a frustrated writer who had to give it up when she married and had kids, so that was why she took out her anger on her writer son. (And that twenty pound block of frozen cheese that she cuts with an electric carving knife–too funny for words!)


      • And the “protective ice” fuzz in the ice cream carton!

        No scorpions in my laundry room, but the bees have been hitting against our windows with a “THUNK” all day. You don’t think we’re about to have an insect plague, do you? I know this is the year of the cicadas…!


      • Yeah, the protective ice coating was a hoot. And all the “off brands” of food she bought to save a few pennies—too true. Today at the grocery store my mother was saying that during the Depression her mother would have loved to be able shop like she does now. I’m sure those memories don’t fade easily, even when times get better.


  3. I have always heard that each generation tries a little harder than the last to be a better parent. I hope that is true. My mom was also a student at the same “Mom School”, and although there are certain days I would love to be able to go back and have a “do-over” with my own children, I can only hope that the fact that I always let them know I loved them helped make a difference.


  4. Just read the book myself and reviewed it. I was aghast at her parenting methods. I’m not a parent myself but a child and adolescent psychologist and I see so many kids with parents following the ‘Chinese parenting’ strategy with mental health problems in adolescence. At the same time, kids with too lenient parents also have problems. I think there has to be a middle road…one where you do encourage your child withtout letting them give up if things get a little bit hard but at the same time, knowing where to stop. I grew up thinking my parents were strict but now I know there’s a whole new level of crazy! 😛 My parents stressed academics but I was stilled allowed to go out and kick a soccer ball with my friends and ride my bike and well, be a kid! It’s the balance that’s important.


    • Right! Childhood is over pretty quickly nowadays. I read where a woman in New York is suing her daughter’s pre-school because she doesn’t think they were rigorous enough and now her daughter’s chances of getting into an Ivy League college are ruined. Wow.

      Thanks for the comment, Psych Babbler! Y’all come back again.


  5. “She feels that her mother just wants her children to be the best so that she (the mother) will look good.”

    Aa-n-n-d, she’s right. These folks have got shoulds about their shoulds. That’s not to say that the opposite is the way to go, either, but extreme measures bring extreme results and you can’t always control which extreme they’ll go to.

    P.S. Congratulations to your kids for their success. They did it without having an insanely obsessive-compulsive, psychologically abusive mother…which means that they get to own their own success.


    • Thanks, Nance! That’s a great way to put it–“owning” their own success.

      When my daughter heard about this book, she asked me if I remembered the girl who lived across the street from us when she was little. The mother was a lot like the Tiger Mother, putting a huge emphasis on piano lessons and for the daughter to be “perfect” in every way. She became very good at it but ultimately ended up living back at home with her parents, giving piano lessons herself, but now with a daughter of her own.


  6. I haven’t read the book and don’t intend to do so but I have heard Amy Chua interviewed. While I don’t agree with much she has to say, I absolutely believe that today’s parents praise their children FAR too much. When I’m around children I constantly hear the parents yelling, “GOOD JOB” when it wasn’t at all. And don’t get me started on little sports teams not keeping score so no one will have any hurt feelings.

    I believe children need to know that dogged persistence often pays big dividends although that can be carried too far. Unlike Amy Chua however, I believe that failure is often a great preparation for the real world. I’m glad I grew up when we had letter grades in everything, including penmanship and citizenship. I learned a lot from some of the comments made on my report cards and it has served me well in life.


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