Saturday, November 26, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Well, I'm back to my blog with a book recommended by a colleague at a dinner. How we got on the topic of Chinese mothers is beyond me since it was an educational association gathering, but perhaps it had something to do with teaching and discipline. That's what Amy Chua writes in her memoir about raising two daughters in the "Chinese way" (This phrase appears throughout the book).

She comes from a background of hardworking immigrants who taught her self-discipline through highly anti-western methods (another term Amy uses often is "westerners" which basically means Americans). She claims that traditional Chinese parents ignore a child's self-esteem when it comes to feedback about performance and encouragement when it comes to achievements.

Amy describes how she tries to raise her children in New Haven the Chinese way to be successful students and musicians. She describes in the great detail the numerous hours she spent hovering over her children like a taskmaster never withholding a critical remark and avoiding platitudes so as to discourage complacency. The chapters are all very short and this helps to cover many years of childhood well without getting too bogged down in family history. Some of my favorite chapters have to do with Amy and her youngest daughter railing at each other one moment and then cuddling in the next. The amazing thing to witness is how this intimacy slowly breaks down over the years and how Amy doesn't see it because her Chinese mothering blinds her to it.

This book is for men and women alike, in my opinion. I have learned that there is a fine line between encouragement and coercion and that one can motivate and even criticize in healthy ways. She is both inspiring as a parent and humorous as a writer. There is not a tough moment that she deals with that cannot be saved with a little comic relief. Anyone who raises kids should read this book (and then take a vacation from their kids for a few days lest they be tempted to be a tiger mother without much training).