Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

No sleepovers, no school plays, and no TV: Does the Tiger Mother’s parenting style actually work?

I’ve been hearing reference to the new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother everywhere lately: the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, even Bethany Saltman’s February column in Chronogram is inspired by the controversial tome. Written by Yale law professor Amy Chua, the book is a “proudly politically incorrect account of raising her children the Chinese way.” In addition to forbidding things like sleepovers, playdates, school plays, and TV, requiring hours of piano and violin practice, straight As, and complete obedience without reproach, Chua admits to rejecting a birthday card made by her four-year-old for not being good enough, and calling one daughter “garbage.” All of this in the name of excellence.

Of course, the brashness of Chua’s approach has everyone talking. Much like Erica Jong’s assault on attachment parenting, Chua’s cold and demanding parenting style (and her strong implication that any other way is the wrong way) inspires an almost reflexive rejection by us lovey-dovey Western parents for whom child-led child rearing reigns supreme. But just as I came to see some of the — shall we say, truth — of Jong’s argument over time, I can see in some ways where Chua is on to something. While I have no plans to get in touch with my inner Tiger Mother and relegate my toddler to the piano for eight hours a day, I (sort of) understand why so many seasoned mothers stress consistency, boundaries, and discipline in their advice. It’s that whole “you’re their parent, not their friend thing.” Of course, there’s a middle ground, but where that middle ground is often remains to be seen.

The book I’m reading now, Nurture Shock, deals with some of these themes in a fascinating and eye-opening way. It looks at why modern parenting strategies — those meant to safeguard children against things like low self-esteem and rejection, while making them happy, healthy, and good global citizens — are actually backfiring. I’m not finished with the book yet, but so far it makes a pretty convincing argument for less homework but more sleep, for less praise but higher expectations, and less “we are the world” and more “this is how the world works.” It may have to move to the top of my first-time parents required reading list.

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Readers, have you read any of these (or anything else pertinent)? I’d love to know your thoughts. Comment away!

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