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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011)

by Amy Chua

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I read this a few years ago, when it first came out. I'm glad I reread it now that everyone's done screaming about what a horrifying monster Amy Chua is.

All I remember about that first reading is feeling really, really ticked off about something that isn't even Chua's fault. My family homeschools on a single income, and my husband's been laid off twice in the past decade, which made paying off some medical bills we'd racked up even more fun than it already was.

No, that's not what ticked me off. At the time I first read "Battle Hymn," I was the editor of the late lamented "Secular Homeschooling Magazine." I'd started the magazine myself and we had almost no advertisers, so basically anything I made was handed straight over to the printers.

As a sort of unofficial spokesperson for weirdos, I had to deal, often publicly, with a lot of silly ideas people have about homeschooling. Top of the list of ridiculous stereotypes is that homeschooling is a "Rich Peeps Only" club.

Right around the time Chua's book came out, I was asked to speak up in response to an online article whose gist was that homeschooling *must be nice if you can AFFORD it*. There was at the same time a *lot* of buzz about whether Chua's ideas about education were intriguing or appalling. Was this good parenting or child abuse?

Which *infuriated* me, because if you've read her book, you know how many buckets of money Chua poured into her children's education. At one point, she had a violin teacher coming to give her younger daughter lessons two or three times a *day.* She paid that same teacher to accompany the family on a trip to an important audition. She paid that teacher by the hour, including transportation time; and to sweeten the deal, she put the teacher and her boyfriend up at a really nice hotel for three nights. That part of the daughter's audition ALONE cost three thousand dollars.

I do not have three thousand dollars. Now that I'm in my forties, I could not get my hands on three thousand dollars on short notice even if the naval base were open and I had the address. And this was by no means the only aspect of Chua's driven, dedicated parenting style that cost a bleep-ton of money.

For the record, seeing money as something you make in order to be able to furnish the best possible education for your children is *admirable.* It's refreshing. Chua mentions being on the verge of cashing in her retirement fund in order to get a really good violin for her younger daughter, even though that daughter had no intention of becoming a professional violinist (and Chua probably would have been very unhappy if she *had* wanted to be a musician). I find that honorable.

But it really bugged me that *nobody* was talking about the money when they discussed the pros and cons of Chua's parenting style even though she made no secret of the fact that she is *seriously* wealthy; but plenty of people wouldn't engage in a genuine debate about the merits and difficulties involved in homeschooling because, hey, that's just for rich people.

I'm not homeless. I'm not in any danger of starving to death. But I'm definitely broke. And so are a LOT of homeschoolers I know.

So I had a bitter taste in my mouth when it came to this book, through no fault of the author. It was just a case of bad timing.

It turns out that reading a controversial book *after* everyone's done shouting about it can be very good timing, indeed. Amy Chua is a brilliant, hilarious writer. She is baffled and often alarmed by her younger daughter Lulu's fierce resistance to being told what to do. Here is Chua's response after a preschool interview is initially almost ruined, but is finally redeemed, by Lulu's insistence on doing things *her* way:

"Thank God we live in America, I thought to myself, where no doubt because of the American Revolution rebelliousness is valued. In China, they'd have sent Lulu to a labor camp."

If Chua had stopped at one kid, her faith in her own ideas about education and parenting would never have been shaken. Sophia was her dream daughter: intelligent, diligent, conscientious yet questioning, obedient with a mind of her own. A recent short article in the New Yorker mentions that Sophia is currently a junior at Harvard, with a double major in philosophy and Sanskrit, and "hopes to be a military prosecutor, with a focus on sexual assault."

I was delighted to see that update. But I also want to know: how's Lulu?

Lulu is the one who shook up Amy Chua's world:

"It's hard to find the words to describe my relationship with Lulu. 'All-out nuclear warfare' doesn't quite capture it. The irony is that Lulu and I are very much alike: She inherited my hot-tempered, viper-tongued, fast-forgiving personality."

This book "was *supposed* to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones," Chua explains before the first chapter even begins. "But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old."

This book's great strength is that Chua's jury still seems to be out when it comes to her parenting ideas. She understands that even her most passionately-held ideals are taken to extremes at times, and she's not afraid to make herself look ridiculous:

"One evening, after another shouting match with the girls over music, I had an argument with Jed [her husband]. While he's always supported me in every way, he was worried that I was pushing too hard and that there was too much tension and no breathing space in the house. In return, I accused him of being selfish and thinking only of himself. 'All you think about is writing your own books and your own future,' I attacked. What dreams do you have for Sophia, or for Lulu? Do you ever even think about that? What are your dreams for Coco?'"

For the record: Coco is their dog.

Jed cracked up, as any sane being would, and then kissed Amy and told her not to worry, because they'd work things out somehow.

This exchange reveals two things about Amy Chua: her humor, and her boundless generosity. She worries about *everyone* in the household. She loves her daughters so much that she cares more about their welfare than she does about how they feel about her. "I'm willing to put in as long as it takes," she snaps at Jed at one point, "and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

Or, as she so often put it to her daughters, "My goal as a parent is to prepare you for the future -- not to make you like me."

Which worked fine, for Sophia. But Lulu wasn't having it. And she was every bit as strong-willed as her mother.

This short, funny, brilliant book attempts to answer the old question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
I finished it in one day. The stories were told from the heart. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
Not going to lie, I definitely got some interesting parenting ideas from this woman. BUT they are only things such as "it probably would be good to start my kids out early on an instrument if they are going to be any good at it" and "maybe I should try and have my kids study on the weekends". Other than that, I found it terrifying. Those girls are going to be lucky, as they have a great educational/extracurricular background. But it doesn't seem like they were really able to be kids. Good read. ( )
  katherineemilysmith | May 4, 2015 |
Warning: if you have younger children and read this book, you might be tempted to feel guilty and start forcing them to play piano for 5 hours a day. Actually, this book is pretty funny. And even though I'm the exact opposite of this mother, the western parent that she would so despise, I loved this book. It made me really think about parenting. And not just parenting, but life and the meaning of life and what we are here for. What is really important in the end? And I think that was her point. We are all different, and we all have strengths and flaws. And we all try to do our best as parents. Most of the time :) ( )
  KR_Patterson | Apr 28, 2015 |
Mediocre writing, absent plot. ( )
  otikhonova | Dec 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 101 (next | show all)
...Amy Chua's unexceptional memoir about her dedication to raising children who excel...
added by atbradley | editThe Guardian, Terri Apter (Jan 29, 2011)
 
“There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests,” Amy Chua writes. She ought to know, because hers is the big one: “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a diabolically well-packaged, highly readable screed ostensibly about the art of obsessive parenting. In truth, Ms. Chua’s memoir is about one little narcissist’s book-length search for happiness. And for all its quotable outbursts from Mama Grisly (the nickname was inevitable), it will gratify the same people who made a hit out of the granola-hearted “Eat, Pray, Love.”
 
Parenting and child psychology take up most of the self-help book genre, stressing the point that every parent must develop their own creative and suitable ways to deal with their child.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother stands out from its genre contemporaries, as author Amy Chua delves right into the techniques she used to raise her own genius daughters, who are very lucky. Why? Because they're Chinese! Yes, the author aims at educating the unfortunate rest of the world on how to raise their kids to be more like the genius race that is the Chinese.

Chua believes that the Chinese race is superior because of the mothers’ tough parenting techniques: for example, the Chinese mother considers an A- grade a bad grade, never compliments her kids in public, and only allows them to participate in activities from which they’ll win a trophy or medal; and it must be gold.

The controversy that this book has caused has been mainly down to how the author compares the know-it-all 'Chinese mother' to the typical good-for-nothing 'Western mother'. That being said, the book itself is very captivating, divided into stories and anecdotes that are both educating and suspenseful, with organized profiles on her family. Her controversial theory, however, may jar with parents who do not fall in line with the author’s ideals.

It’s important to remember that everyone has their own parenting methods. So, if you come out with just one thing from this book, it may be that if having no social life, being forced into hobbies, and being under constant pressure to score the best grades is what it takes for a kid to be genius, then perhaps it’s not worth it after all.

It’s easier to read the book as an autobiography than as a self-help book; that way you can enjoy the mother’s thoughts on her daughters’ upbringing and the methods that she used. That way, the book won’t ruffle your feathers or come across as condescending to those who might be in the firing line of the straight-talking Chua.
 
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A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.
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What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.
I can't tell you how many Asian kids I've met who, while acknowledging how oppressively strict and brutally demanding their parents were, happily describe themselves as devoted to their parents and unbelievably grateful to them, seemingly without a trace of bitterness or resentment.

I'm not really sure why this is. Maybe it's brainwashing. Or maybe it's Stockholm syndrome. But here's one thing I'm sure of: Western children are definitely no happier than Chinese ones.
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Traces the rewards and pitfalls of a Chinese mother's exercise in extreme parenting, describing the exacting standards applied to grades, music lessons, and avoidance of Western cultural practices.

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