Monday, August 1, 2011

Tiger Mom: Revisited

Lately, I've been reading the blog of Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, Amy Chua's daughter. Not only is Sophia obviously intelligent and hard working, but to my surprise also appears to be creative, witty, personable, and well-rounded. She also seems to have a great relationship with her mother, and is genuinely thankful for the way she was raised.

In several interviews following the release of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", Amy Chua stated that her book was meant to be a satire. After reading Sophia's blog, I'm more inclined to believe that Amy Chua exaggerated parts of her book and that she really wasn't that strict at all (relative to how I was raised). To compare, when I was Sophia's age I was not allowed to have a job, have a boyfriend, wear clothes that stylish (or even shave my legs), have my grades drop from from an A+ to A, and not major in anything but pre-med. Additionally, I have yet to read about Sophia or her sister Lulu receiving physical punishment for poor performances or disagreeing with their parents. It really seems that Amy Chua did allow her daughters some liberty in their lives.

While reading Sophia's blog, one entry of interest was when she discussed her trip to China. Here, Sophia talked about how many Chinese readers viewed the "comic list of 'things [she and sister Lulu] were never allowed to do' as the new 10 Commandments". Furthermore, she described the Chinese translation of her mother's book as "totally literal and devoid of humor". In fact, author Amy Chua had to correct the misconception that she was some sort of education expert, telling her daughter, "How am I supposed to defend a position? I don't have a position! This is just my life!" and later defending the merits of the American education system.

Sophia and her mother seemed surprised at the Chinese reaction to "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". However, I knew that this was going to happen from the moment I read the initial Wall Street Journal article. From the beginning, my biggest criticism of Amy Chua's book (in addition to the flashbacks I've experienced from reading about it) has been that despite its comedic nature, many parents will miss the humor and use it as a parenting guide. As illustrated by Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, it seems as if a number of parents now view Amy Chua as a parenting expert and her book a "how to" guide on how to raise academically successful children.

As someone still recovering from the strict Tiger Parenting described in the most extreme parts of "Battle Hymn", it saddens me to think about the children that will be subject to this type of parent style as a result of this book. While no one can deny that Tiger Parenting produces individuals like Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, what happens to those that, for whatever reason, cannot meet their parents' high expectations? Is success at all costs really worth the potential consequences? I can only hope that most parents that read "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" see it as the biographical satire it's meant to be.


  1. I'm not entirely sure it was satire, but I do know after reading the book and comparing that to my impressions about it from the WSJ article and other media reports, the book was not nearly as inflammatory as I had expected. I know that I didn't have any horrendous flashbacks while reading it. I may revisit it again sometime -- I listened to it as an audiobook, which was interesting because Amy Chua read it herself, so she was able to emphasize and inflect with her own words, and audiobooks are rarely read by their authors. Anyway, i decided that if I was going to refer to the book often and cite it as some kind of not-to-do kind of book, that I did need to read it eventually, and I think it can probably be done without any kind of nightmarish flashbacks. (As I said, Chua's presentation helped humanize that.) YMMV, of course.

  2. @delatopia: Hello and thanks for your comment! When I first read the WSJ article, I found it difficult to believe that "Battle Hymn" was supposed to be a satire, though Amy Chua claims in interviews that the tone of the book is supposed to be as such. I'll admit that my opinions are skewed because the way I was raised closely resembled the parenting style described solely in the WSJ article, in which I found no humor whatsoever. If you haven't read my "Reflections from a Wounded Tiger Child" post, I invite you to read it so you can get an idea of how "Tiger Parenting" affected me.

    I'm wondering if you were also raised by Tiger Parents since you mention not experiencing any flashbacks from listening to the book. I know that my emotional reaction to the WSJ article was near disabling, but if you feel the book is not that bad, I may look into reading it someday.

    Thank you for visiting my blog! I hope you come back again soon!

  3. I think they were tiger parents. My typical report card was 7 A's and a B, and I'd get zero praise for the A's and some grief (not a ton, but enough to be damaging) for the B. Before long I was bringing home C's and D's as well -- who wants to please people like that? I remember getting a compliment from my mom exactly once. My dad, never. I know they loved me, but still -- that's damaging and destructive. I got endless criticism and zero praise, and it was stunting socially because I'd shut down at the dinner table. Who wants to talk with people who never have anything good to say to you, and say only something negative eventually? I still suffer from that social inhibition today, and it saddens me. Mom was also demanding about piano lessons, which I hated until my dad finally told her to ease up, "hayaan mo na." So there were definitely tiger elements there. I think most Asian kids have some elements of tiger parenting, some cases easier than others. It does scare me, the notion of parents who read the book as a "how-to" rather than a cautionary tale. I really hope that's not the case.

    Hard to say about your potential reactions to the book -- I'm not familiar with your childhood. I still have flashbacks to my own miserable moments growing up, but they didn't emerge from the book. In some ways it was in fact cathartic to read about someone else going through the same things, letting you feel like you weren't alone. I definitely got more of that out of the book, myself.

    Good luck!

  4. That should also say "I know NOW that they loved me." Back then I definitely felt unloved, and that my parents had greater affection for their dreams and their expectations of me than they ever did for me as a person. Very perfectionistic and demanding. At times I felt they would be willing to destroy the person I was (making snarky comments about the things I liked to do and so on) in order to get the person they wanted. That seems like tiger behavior to me.

  5. @delatopia: Thanks for you comments. Your childhood experiences definitely mirror my own. While I know that our parents wanted the best of us, such negative reinforcement provides no incentive to be anything but perfect.

    Earlier, I was having a conversation with my mom and she told me that my family views anyone who isn't a doctor or lawyer as "failures". She stated that my younger cousins will probably succeed (while I didn't) in becoming one of the two because their family is teaching them that the only way they'll be accepted is to be one of the two. While I can see how this type of parenting can certainly lead to success, I sometimes wonder if my cousins will be happy in these professions. I also wonder what kind of damage they'll deal with if they choose another field (like I did). This is definitely the side of Tiger Parenting people need to know about before they mistakenly use Amy Chua's book as a "how-to" guide, which is why I share my own story.

    It's always great hearing from other people who've had similar experiences and being able to relate to them. Thank you for visiting and sharing your story with me!