Book review: Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother

On the Menu: home made tomato soup with basil and fresh bread

I’m Reading: The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly


I don’t write that many book reviews – and certainly not fiction – because I know how hard writers work to get it right, and how devastating it can be when people tell you you’ve got it wrong.  But this book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, is a little different.  This got huge press a couple of months ago, with Chua claiming that the book was all about how ‘western mothers’ are raising lazy, unproductive kids while ‘Chinese mothers’ raise disciplined, ambitious children.

I actually agree that many parents – including, too often, me – are far too lax.  In the book’s excerpt in The Wall Street Journal and Chua’s many media appearances (I didn’t see any but I read about them), it seemed like it was all about school and learning.  I thought I could learn something from it – I believe that kids can do a lot more, both in terms of knowing stuff and in being creative, than many parents ask for.  And I was willing to learn how to ask.

But here’s my problem with the book.  It’s not about academics at all.  There’s maybe one minor example of how the mother pushed her two daughters to work harder in school.  All the rest of it is about music, and how she pushed them over and over to become the best possible pianist and violinist respectively.  Ultimately, this is just a story of a ‘stage Mom’ – or ‘tennis Dad,’ or ‘skater parent’ or whatever term you want to use.   There’s nothing Chinese about this – my American-born neighbor makes her 9-year-old daughter dance three hours a day and all day on Saturday, and fly out to California for TV show auditions.

There are two crucial pieces of evidence for this view, in addition to the fact that the book is all about the music and almost nothing about school.  (In fact, she took her daughters out of school, frequently, to practice their instruments.)  One is that, over and over again, she talks about how other parents asked her ‘how she did it,’ how she raised her kids to be such great musicians, and she waits, with baited breath, hoping they’ll ask more, so she can brag.  The other is that she doesn’t even want them to be professional musicians.  So how can this be, in any way, about preparing them for successful futures?

Ultimately, Amy Chua is little different from those parents who want their kids to be the next American Idol or the people who want to be on reality TV.  Since this is exactly the opposite of who I want to be, and the values I want to pass on to my children, this book really held no wisdom for me.





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