Amy Chua, author of the suddenly infamous Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has been under fire lately. Press reviews and online comments have condemned her parenting skills as abusive and counterproductive, though the harshest criticisms have come from other mothers. Even Chinese mothers have distanced themselves from her, insisting that their views resonate more with the Western style of parenting.
My sisters and I actually agree with much -- though not all -- of Chua's approach. To varying degrees, we're tiger moms who were raised by a tiger mom -- who happened to be Jamaican. Chua believes that immigrants tend to be tough on their kids because they want to prepare them to take advantage of opportunities. That was surely the case in our family.
We were never abused, and we don't abuse our children, but our expectations are extremely high. Some judgmental mommies might say we're "over the top."
We depart company with Chua in that we allow our children their good friendships, sleepovers and other fun activities. My sisters don't know this yet, but eventually kids will rebel. As they get older, they'll break your heart ("After all that money I spent on lessons and you want to be a what? Oy!"). But providing balance will hopefully minimize the impact of World War III.
In our family, self-esteem is earned, not handed out like potato chips. Our girls have no choice: they must practice their music sometimes as long as 3 or 4 hours per day (longer if concerts and competitions are coming up). On top of their music studies, practices and performances, they must do their homework, study for tests, write papers and create science fair projects just like any other student.
If they do well, we praise. If they fail (which they do -- no one's perfect), they hear the truth from us, and we don't sugarcoat. That's not abusive. It's a gift. They may not like it, but they've learned how to use criticism to improve.
As a result, 2 of our daughters placed 1st and 2nd in a Korean music competition this year. This is routine for them. They're like the Venus and Serena of strings. My daughter, the cellist, recently placed 2nd in a pageant and was noted by her college president in his blog. The 3 cousins, also known as SugarStrings, were recently featured on an NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams segment for inspiring young children with their musical performances.
Bottom line: to perform like an Olympian, you must train like an Olympian. Why is it that parents of elite athletes are revered as martyrs while Chua is soundly denounced for basically raising her girls the same way? If you talked to parents of Olympic athletes you'd be shocked at their grueling schedules and tough parenting styles.
You'd also be shocked at the tremendous joy children experience when they master a skill. Not only that, they get to enjoy it early in life. They can do so much with the skill and the discipline it took to master it, and they have this relentless, rigorous parenting style to thank.
Chua's book got me thinking about not only parenting in my family, but the power of books to stimulate debate and change society.
When I last checked (1/26/11, 11:30 CST), Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was #4 on Amazon because of the raging controversy. Chua's book has created a new national dialogue about parenting and the global competitiveness of our children.
Amidst the recent onslaught of celebrity books and just as I was beginning to wonder about the ability of our industry to produce stimulating, thought-provoking books, this roaring book on parenting comes along. Books will never go the way of Fahrenheit 451, thank God. Publishing formats may be changing, but books are here to stay. They still have the power to make us think, to facilitate change.
Amy Chua probably had no idea that her book would cause such a ruckus, and if she had known she might have written another book. She should be applauded for putting her story out there.