The book has only been out for a couple days and already it's a highly debated subject. The memoir, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom," by Yale University professor Amy Chua, breaks down the differences between “Chinese” parenting and Western parenting.
An excerpt of her book was printed in the Saturday edition of The Wall Street Journal. Chua lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters, Louisa “Lulu” and Sophia, ages 14 and 18.
The excerpt starts off with a list of things the girls can never do, such as:
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
In the excerpt, she explains that “Chinese mother” is used loosely; that it encapsulates all nationalities that push their children to excel through means of ridicule and rigidity. “I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too,” she wrote.
Chua writes that while Western parents think their they are being strict, they’re really not. She uses music lessons as an example. “...my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough."
In her book, Chua points out that Chinese parents can get away with more than a Western parent can. When she was a child, she recalls that at least once when she was “extremely” disrespectful, her father called her “garbage” in their native Hokkien dialect.
She defends the incident, saying, “It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.”
She then tells the story of when she did the same thing to her daughter, calling her "garbage" in English when she was disrespectful. She notes that when she told the story at a dinner party, one guest was visibly upset, crying, and had to leave early. The rest of the dinner guests tried to “rehabilitate” Chua.
One of the greatest differences between the parenting styles, Chua says, is that Chinese parents believe their children are capable of more. The Chinese parent assumes that the child is strong, not frail, and thus treats them that way; whereas Western parents worry more about the child’s “psyches”.
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home,)” she writes.
While the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, and the book, is causing many to think her parenting style is extreme and dangerous, Chua wants people to know that Chinese parents love their children very much and that all parents just want what’s best for their children. There are just different ways of parenting.
“The Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”
“As a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't,” she adds.
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, she said that many will probably misunderstand what she's trying to convey.
“What the Chinese parent is conveying to the child is not that ‘you’ve got to get A’s or else I won’t like you.’ On the contrary, it’s, ‘I believe in you so much, I know that you can be excellent,’” she said.
The reporter at the Globe and Mail asked Chua about an incident in which she called her daughter an “uncultured savage” for not trying caviar while vacationing in Russia. Her daughter then called her a selfish terrible mother, and that she hated her and the violin. In the interview, Chua responded with, “I felt, ‘Oh my gosh. Is my family falling apart?’ At that moment I thought nothing is worth the possibility of losing my daughter. I needed to change.”
“We’re in hybrid mode right now. My daughters have so many more choices right now. They do have sleepovers and hang out with their friends now. Sophia just went to a rap concert,” she said.
When asked if she has any regrets, Chua said, “I have many. I wish I hadn’t been so harsh. I wish I hadn’t lost my temper so much. I wish I’d paid more attention earlier to the individual personalities of my daughters. Maybe given them a little more choice. If I’d had to do it all over again, I would basically do the same thing with some adjustments. Looking at my daughters now, I am incredibly proud of them. It’s not just that they’re good students. It’s that they’re really kind, generous, confident, happy girls with lots of friends and huge personalities. They’re always putting me in my place. They’re the opposite of robots.”
"It’s as much about mistakes as it is about successes," she said.
In the National Post, columnist Barbara Kay writes that readers need to look at the larger picture -- the academic success. She writes that the disproportionate numbers represented in universities (3 percent of the population, but represent about 25 percent of the college students) is because of the “Chinese” parenting style.
Since its publication on Saturday, the excerpt in The Wall Street Journal has received thousands of comments and has been recommended to Facebook almost 213,000 times.