I really didn’t want to write a post about Tiger Mom. I didn’t want to lend credit to her media bonanza. And truthfully, I’ve been intimidated by the exceptional writing in response to her words. At first, I didn’t think I had anything unique to add. I don’t like her message (tough/conditional love, tyranny and insults, achievement=happiness) but she probably doesn’t like mine, either. I have high expectations for myself, my friends, my family, and my co-workers. I expect my children to challenge themselves, to learn to communicate, to learn to love, and to work hard to make their conditions good enough so that they can enjoy their lives. I expect them to contribute. I may roar but I really don’t bite. I don’t hit, spank, grab, or insult either. I expect, at particular points in life, many people won’t meet my expectations just like I won’t meet theirs. I believe in forgiveness. My love and adoration doesn’t waver based on performance.
We don’t tolerate aggression in our children, why would we tolerate it in ourselves? Abuse is far more complicated than that which comes from the force of a fist. Just to be clear, I’ll never call my children, “Garbage.”
I’ve read somewhere over 40-50 reviews of the Tiger Mom. If for some reason you’ve not heard of her (who are you??? They’re looking for you to sit on a jury somewhere), Amy Chua is a self-declared Tiger Mom. She wrote a piece entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” in The Wall Street Journal, January 8th. It marks the beginning of the Amy-Chua era. Since then, buzz around her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, hasn’t diminished. A pulse on her perspectives remains one month later.
I don’t want to read her book. The more I read about her, the less I want to know about what she says. I’d rather read something by Peggy Orenstein. I do, however, remain drawn to read what other people think about what this Tiger says. There is an unequivocal sociology brewing. Clearly Amy Chua did more than strike a chord. What’s interesting is not Chua’s idea (that one privileged, hyper-educated, heavily-connected, wealthy, Chinese American mom believes her parenting is superior) but rather, the response of our nation. I mean, EVERYONE has something to say about this. Why would we care that some mom, in one corner of our country, thinks she is doing a better job raising her kids? Why would we care that she equates happiness with achievement or “Westerners” with weakness? Why would we care that she believes intellect is only captured in music capability/competitions and SAT scores? She misses so much about humanity. So much about what defines our connection to others. We care, I suspect, because she was strong enough to state she believed she was right. And that she’s better.
She’s a bully. And a lucky one. Her kids have the wealth of good health.
Read the most memorable response I’ve read, to keep any fascination with Amy Chua’s words in check:
Battle Hymn of A Bereaved Mother
Really, stop reading what I wrote. Go and read what Ben and Ryan’s mom wrote (above).
I’ll tell you, I won plenty of music competitions (oboe), I went to an Ivy league medical school, I have a good job and an innovative career, I married a fantastic partner, and have the fortune of raising two darling boys. I didn’t come anywhere close to perfecting the SATs, I made mistakes, I quit lots of things along the way. Clearly I don’t think my accomplishments (or failures) define my worth, my happiness, or my sense of purpose. I agree more with David Brooks when he said “Amy Chua is a Wimp.” Brooks points out that, “Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls.” Emotional intellect means something. We test for it, just not inside the classroom. And it’s far more difficult to measure than math.
I didn’t grow up with a Tiger Mom; my mom was more of a lion. There was a roar and an expectation, a sense of doing for myself, a sense of owning actions and responsibility. But no ultimate conditions, per se. No insults. My parents didn’t pay me (or punish me) for grades. I could get what I wanted out of school, they said. My family believed it should come from me. As a colleague wrote, “Self-discipline comes from within.” My Lion-mom had lines in the sand, yes. But she watched and listened for preferences and for explanations, too. It seemed to work.
As do a ba-gillion other parenting styles.
Tiger mom’s book feels calculated and corrupt, borrowing time and energy from nation who doubts itself. A parenting book gowned as a “memoir,” I believe her book was written in part to sell and to stir.
Ultimately it comes down to this:
Constant self-evaluation is an unfortunate part of parenthood for most of us. Thanks to the accessibility of information online, the mommy blogosphere, the rise of social media, ongoing traditional media, Aunt Jane and her opinions alongside mother-in-law Trudy, we know what everybody thinks about pacifiers and breastfeeding, antibiotics or BPA, our strategies for getting our baby to sleep, and our choice of sports for our children. Everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to raising our children. Everyone, at one time or another, feels they are right. They likely are. But within seconds online, we can get to places where others disagree with what we’re doing. Devoutly. We can immediately distrust our instincts and our choices.
What a lovely world in which to raise a child.
But we go looking. Don’t we? Late at night, between feedings, before work, or while pumping. Parents are online every day searching for health and parenting information, community and fellowship. I believe this search is defined in large part, by a quest for camaraderie, not fulfillment of any self-loathing. The big issue that makes us want to talk about Chua is that the results to our searches online may lead us astray. We may be left feeling deficient instead of steadied. After reading a blog post, a parenting manual, or a memoir, we often come to distrust.
THIS is why Chua stuck a Carnegie-Hall-type-chord.
Amy Chua has backtracked since the WSJ piece stating that her book isn’t a parenting book but a memoir. I’ve read that she didn’t have final say on the title of the piece in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve read she wouldn’t have entitled her methods, “Superior.” But that seems an odd rebuttal, particularly for someone who aims and excels in perfection.
Being socially connected is profoundly important to happiness. Enjoying our parenthood is too.
I think what we really need to ask ourselves, post-Tiger Mom, is when will we love the parent we are today?
You should really read the book, I think.
I also thought as you did (but thankfully didn’t waste much time writing about it) before hearing an interview with her in which she explained that the whole point of the book is that she wasn’t proud of this parenting style, took it too far, was in danger of ruining her relationship with her kids, and she significantly backed off. That’s the story arc of the memoir. The “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” article wasn’t not merely mistitled; it’s an excerpt from the early part of the book where she’s taking it too far, presented totally out of context from the overall story. It doesn’t at all convey the whole point of the book which is more about balance.
I’m not necessarily advocating a parenting style that even resembles the point she arrives at in the end. But if you actually read the book, you may find that most of your long post is responding to a very different book than the one she wrote.
I love your last line, “When will we love the parent we are today?” Profound. Thank you.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
You’re not alone thinking I should read the book (someone on Twitter said the same thing this morning). I expected this comment. You certainly know more about the arc of her book than I do, if you read it. But this post isn’t a book review. It’s a review of her media tour and the reaction of our nation.
I should have been more explicit about the dangers of believing the media’s reports versus a source. But that’s worthy of a book more than a post!
And this is about the reaction to Amy Chua more than Amy Chua.
I remain uninterested in reading her book. As I said, after the images and content she chose to convey in her numerous interviews and readings, I don’t think her intent was to convey that of camaraderie and tolerance for diverse parenting styles. I don’t think her message is one of acceptance. I don’t like the idea of name-calling. And I really don’t like her belief in promoting physical deprivation for performance.
I’m sure her real-life-motherhood persona is different than that portrayed in the media. I’m certain her book is well written. I have read a few positive reviews, too.
Her selection of content and the statements during her interviews alongside the excerpts she read, functioned as fire starters. They felt calculated. Of course her parenting and relationships are more complex than her book. I should have been more explicit about that point in the post.
What I am responding to is the public’s reaction, and my own reaction, to the media tour and her statements and the content available online.
Ultimately the media will construe and distort most any message. To that, I have dedicated a great deal of time. But as for Chua’s interviews, they can also only put on the air what you provide them.
Clay Boggess says
I think that she is too focused on the extreme stereotype that says that westerners let their kids get away with everything and that we don’t teach our kids discipline and sacrifice. I think that the key is to strike a healthy balance between teaching the former through tough love and teaching our kids how to experience life and respect people. Our kids need both.
Hi- I’ve been lurking for a while- love your blog. I’m continuously amazed that you have the time to write as frequently and as well as you do.
At first I had no plans to read “Tiger Mom” but now I think I will. Before I make any comments of my own, I’m going to find what all the hype is about. This is in no way a criticism of your post our paths are just different. I’m curious: is the arc real, is the message sincere, can I learn anything, even if it is what not to do.
Thanks for the link the the Battle Hymn of the Bereaved Mother post. As heart-wrenching as it was, it’s such a good reminder that there are times to treasure your children simply because they are yours and they are alive and well. I think there are also times to be there to push your kids. I did not read the book, but I did read the NYT excerpt. I think there was something beautiful in the moment that the daughter realized she could play that piece after being so scared of failure. As a mom I do think about how I can get my daughter to realize what is great in her…but would I go to those lengths to do it? I don’t think so.
I think the line we all walk as parents is to recognize when is the time to push your child to realize their amazing potential as an individual and when is the time to just cuddle them and be in the moment.
I am just undone by the Battle Hymn of a Bereaved Mother . . .
For if I had only loved Ben for whom he would have become I would have been severely disappointed.
In a few minutes, when I wake Will up from his nap, I am going to hug him and love on him, just for his little self today, right now.
Same thing when Emma wakes up shortly thereafter.
I do agree with you, however. When things like Tiger Mom get this much following and attention, it is just goes to show how much we parents are looking for the “perfect” recipe to have the “perfect” children. And we are so busy reaching for that “perfect” tomorrow that we aren’t even appreciating the “perfection” of today.
I have also not read the book. Nor do I plan to. It’s all I can do to keep up with my own family’s needs and my career, any reading I squeeze in these days is for purely selfish reasons (think Sookie Stackhouse).
I have heard Ms. Chua interviewed on a couple different NPR shows recently and I’m still trying hard to find my eyeballs after they rolled so severely into my head. The interviews I heard basically lead me to believe that she wrote an extreme book, filled with extreme examples (that I would call abuse, from what I heard her describe). She described these situations as “mistakes” saying that she wrote the book to prevent other parents from making the same mistakes. And I have heard these same “no-that’s-not-what-I-meant” in all the interviews I’ve heard with her (Diane Rehm Show, All Things Considered, and the Today Show).
She must not have done a very effective job of writing this book if she is needing to verbally explain what she meant in the book she wrote. Gimme a break.
A Peace-Loving Western Mother who “spoils” her kids with tons of love and affection and structure and freedom to choose and non-violent discipline.
I can’t believe you’d wish jury duty on me! 🙂 I heard about it first when you mentioned it, then earlier this week I spent a night in a hospital lounge where the Time magazine cover caught my eye. I grew up in the North East and went to a fancy-pants school for undergrad, so to me Amy Chua is a stereotype that is so old and worn, it’s shocking anyone thought to write about it. I know all about Kumon (or similar) starting at age 3, early music instruction, all-honors / AP/ IB courses. How about private tutoring in Latin and Classical Greek to improve ones SAT scores. Since I was an intense nerd, most of my friends’ parents were like this. My parents were tiger parents but not about achievement. They had Taliban-like strict rules about religion, morals, personal conduct. My desire for academic achievement was mine alone.
I think we should talk about how kids turn out when they have ultra authoritarian parents: they are more subject to peer pressure, they have lower self-esteem, they tend to be externally motivated but can waffle at decision making, they can be more prone to risky behavior. Not all, of course. But if you go to a top-10 university, you can often correlate blood alcohol levels with amount of parent pressure. I’ll never forget the girl I kept suicide watch over as a first year student. She was a brilliant girl who did research, performed in a chamber music ensemble, had straight As and was on track for early admission to Pritzker when she got a B in O-Chem. So many of my classmates had a troubling relationship with failure. It’s too bad because perfectionism is the enemy of innovation in creative fields.
PS: have you read Play yet? There’s a story about JPL finding that engineers that didn’t have lots of free playtime as kids were inflexible thinkers and not so hot at creative problem solving. The geniuses that brought Apollo 13 home played in dirt, with tinker toys, and had lots of opportunity to explore. They weren’t scheduled, controlled, and tutored endlessly.
PPS: I’ve very grateful for the link to the Towne Foundation blog. Hits a little too close to home, but glad to know Ben’s story especially in light of a discussion on “tough love.”
Chris Johnson says
“Tiger mom’s book feels calculated and corrupt, borrowing time and energy from nation who doubts itself. A parenting book gowned as a “memoir,” I believe her book was written in part to sell and to stir.”
That sums it up pretty succinctly; it’s really all you need to know. Maybe she treats her children that way, maybe not. But those of us in the nonfiction book-writing business know all about this particular formula. It’s a standard way to create buzz and sell books. It works like this. Take a commonplace observation, in this case, to set high expectations for your children. Then take that unobjectionable notion and drive it off a cliff, generally in the form of an outlandish, over-the-top exaggeration of it. Don’t equivocate, write in extreme absolutes — e.g., always this, never that. In this way you position your message in a niche no other author has occupied before. The purpose is to create controversy and buzz. In a year nobody will remember much about the book, and meanwhile you’ve done your talk show circuit, radio phone-in interviews, and the like, and maybe have earned out the advance money the publisher paid you. Meanwhile, though, you’re working on the next book proposal, using the success of the first to sell it to a publisher for a still bigger advance.
It’s a silly book, but I probably could have written the proposal myself and pitched it successfully, assuming I could have located a mother or two who are sort of like that and wouldn’t mind me exaggerating for effect. That’s how publishing works.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Yes, Dr Johnson, I’m learning more about this. Had a conversation this morning with a journalist who interviewed me about toilet training. We were discussing how and why particular stories are chosen for print magazines and the reasons why some aren’t chosen (wouldn’t jive with advertisers!!!). Ridiculous, of course. Editorializing happens in all sorts of ways and much of it behind the curtain.
We got to talking about books and Amy Chua’s, of course. How writing a proposal has to be calculated and how selling a book has to be exaggerated. The journalist I spoke to also wrote a book, did a big media circuit and still didn’t sell enough books to make money on it….The problem it seems is exactly what you mention. She wasn’t outlandish. And geez, from the way she described it, I would love to read her book.
I’m off to look at her website.
But wait, the only other thought I have this instatnt is that sometimes it may make sense to cause a bit of noise to get people to notice. I mean, you may have to tell the punch line first if you really believe you have something important to say; you may want to squawk a little so people will look at all your color and listen to your song. In Amy Chua’s case, though, her hyperbole bothers me….I simply think it makes parents doubt themselves more. And I think it gives credit to forceful and sometimes, abusive, parenting.
Chris Johnson says
If you asked Amy Chua about it, I’m sure she would answer that I’m just bitter her book is getting way more buzz than mine have. But of course I didn’t have a TigerMom. I’m thankful for that.
Chris Johnson says
And I’m sure Tiger Mom wouldn’t agree with this well-known comment from Maria Montessori: “Play is the work of the child.”
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
I have a post about “play” in the works with that quote!!!! We’re on the same wavelength…
Look for it later in the week.
I love your blog, it’s so well done! The amount of time and energy you have put into is admirable. I finished my pediatric residency at Seattle Children’s 9 years ago and I’m doing primary care pediatrics back in my hometown of Cleveland these days. I stopped by the site today to pore over some of the discussions on vaccine refusal to use with my patients and saw this Tiger Mom post.
I just finished reading the book. I think if you don’t want to read it, then keep strong on that! I hate it when people tell me I have to watch this show or read this book etc. and often end up not doing so just to not be peer pressured into something. Life is too short! I found the book hilarious though and such a fun read. I’m from a Chinese American background myself, raised by parents who immigrated here. They were definitely not Tiger Moms/Dads so reading the book made me reflect a lot on why/how they diverged from that harsher, extremely strict method of parenting. I have two young girls and life is busy enough that I haven’t seen or heard any of her book tour interviews, from your description they do sound calculated and sensationalistic! And just from reading the book, she comes across as completely crazy. But the book is very thought provoking all the same and I agree with the commenter Erin that the essay written by the older daughter on playing at Carnegie Hall is really beautiful (and beautifully written — she may be a better writer than her mom!).
Keep up the great work on your blog and now I will get back to work on the immunization stuff and stop procrastinating.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks, Dr Matt! I am staying strong–still have no interest in reading the book. The last interview I watched was when Amy Chua was on Colbert Report a week or so back……nutsy. Stephen Colbert is phenomenal during the interview–I found Amy CHua as I had previously, slightly calculated, back-peddling her message, and without perspective about the various ways to parent…..And well yes, there is NO time to squeeze in reading it anyway.
Thanks for stopping by here on the blog. Hope the vaccination posts give you some support!!
Best of luck and stay in touch.
Best of luck to you too! I love being back home in Cleveland but I do miss Seattle and the Northwest (and of course all the great pediatricians that trained us). The vaccination hesitancy posts were helpful!