Last week I talked about the book “Bringing up Bebe,” in which an American mom talks about how French moms view parenting. Now I’d like to go to the other side of the globe and review “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother.” For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it’s the story of a very successful mom of two daughters who is raising them “the Chinese way.” In short, this means she demands perfection in every aspect of their lives, and when she doesn’t get it she acts like a spoiled brat.
I give the author, Amy Chua, some credit for putting all her ugliness out there for the world to see. It can’t be easy being one of the most hated moms in America and she certainly put up with her share of flack. Then again, that flack has also helped her sell some books. It’s probably a lot easier to deal with being called a horrible mom/person while you’re watching your book climb up the New York Times bestseller list. I’d be willing to put up with some name-calling if my blog would take off. But I digress…
Everyone hates this mom except her older daughter and her husband. Her younger daughter, on the other hand, likens her to Lord Voldemort. I’ve read all the Harry Potter books and I think that even Voldemort has a tad more humanity than Amy Chua. To illustrate: When her kids presented her with handmade cards on her birthday, she angrily told them to take them back as the gifts were unworthy. She berated her younger daughter in public. She mocked her, ruined the card and then threw it back at her, demanding something better. She repeated the process on the older daughter, lamenting that she hadn’t written her a poem. The girls, by the way, were seven and four. I couldn’t get past this. Forget the fact that she made the kids practice the piano and violin at the expense of sleep, meals and friends. Forget that forced them to practice while on vacation before they could go out and see any sights. Forget that she didn’t allow them to have playdates and sleepovers. It all hinged on those fucking cards; I couldn’t forgive her. She, on the other hand, seemed very proud of this fact as she dedicated a whole chapter to this scene, aptly named “The Birthday Card.”
I also felt that the theme of the book was misleading. According to the cover, the book “was supposed to be a story about how Chinese parents are better at raising their kids than western parents. But instead, it’s a story about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen year old.” The book did not deliver. As a matter of fact, the author used her 229 pages to brag about her family’s accomplishments: how smart, clever and talented they all are; how well-travelled and culturally superior they are to most Americans; how much praise she receives from everyone around her for her parenting skills. There was merely a glimpse of her daughter “humbling” her: they were away on vacation in Russia and as the author was verbally assaulting her younger daughter for not eating caviar, the girl finally rebelled and stormed away. From that point on she refused to play the violin, on her mother’s terms. Big deal. Instead, she decided to pursue her own passion: tennis. Did she suck? Of course not! She exhibited exceptional talent, most likely because she was committed and practiced diligently, like any good Chinese daughter would do. Amy, remind me again how this Chinese parenting thing failed you? When exactly did the book change from being one that was “supposed to show” superiority in Chinese parenting but went another direction? Please. I wish she’d been more up front about the tenor of the book. We’d still buy it; we’d still hate her but for different reasons (i.e. her nasty demeanor, as opposed to being a pretentious twit).
I will admit that she makes one think twice about the benefits of raising kids the Chinese way. How many serial killers, psychopaths and losers are Chinese? Not many. Remeber Long Duc Dong? He might have been a nerd and a pervert but he was going places. Many people of Chinese descent are accomplished. They are scientists, doctors, musicians, engineers – often very successful because their parents have pushed them to excel, and they in return love and respect their parents, taking care of them as they grow old. Can we Americans say the same?
While acknowledging that all parents want what’s best for their kids, the author differentiates Chinese parents from western ones by how they define “best.” Western parents want their kids to be happy, have self-esteem and pursue their true passions. Chinese parents, on the other hand, want to prepare their kids for the future by arming them with skills and confidence.
This got me thinking. As a kid I dabbled in a few things: art lessons, ballet, softball, all of which i gave up when it got “too hard.” I even tried playing the flute but lasted as long as you can say “Pied Piper.” I blew a few times, made no music and pretty much gave up. Good thing I didn’t try for a career in the porno industry. In school I studied occassionally but was happy to skate by on decent grades rather than really apply myself and shoot for the moon. This continued into adulthood as my work ethic always sort of sucked too. I liked working, but I also liked bullshiting with my co-workers, taking long lunches and occasionally calling in sick, even when well.
I was raised, as most of my American counterparts, to believe that life should be fun and if practicing or studying didn’t make me happy, i gave it up. Admittedly I pushed that philosophy to the max, but I didn’t turn out so bad. I did get myself through law school, traveled around the globe, and ran a marathon despite my hatred of the sport. But could I have been more? I wonder what my life would have been like had I been raised the chinese way. Would I now be a famous prosecutor, responsible for putting Casey Anthony behind bars? I know she was found not-guilty but I bet if Chinese Kim had been the prosecutor the outcome would have been different. Ditto for OJ. Would I be a concert flutist? Or a major porn star? Perhaps I would have my artwork on displaly at the Guggenheim. Who knows.
My sons are too young to be pushed; they are only 5 and 2 and I don’t yet have them in any organized activities. This is partly because we’ve been unsettled now for almost a year but also in part because I want them to be kids and play for as long as possible, with no responsibilities; nowhere to be on a Saturday morning except home in their PJs making pancakes and watching cartoons. I imagine once my kids start trying out the various and sundry activities available to them, I will give them a pass once they get bored. I can’t picture myself pushing my son to practice guitar for six or more hours a day. Not only does it sound like a colossal waste of time, it seems dreadfully boring and painful, for both of us. Imagine listening to a budding musician practice for six hours a day? Not without ear plugs!
After reading Amy Chua’s book, however, I realized that I want my sons to experience success. I want them to find their bliss and develop expertise at something they love. I don’t want them to give up easily like I did with the flute. I don’t want them to be entitled little assholes, thinking the world owes them everything because they’re special (which they’re not, by the way). They should know that to be great they need to work for it. I might not agree with the author’s methods but her kids are wildly talented and successful. There is something to be said for commitment and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones.
At the end of the day I can safely say that Amy Chua will not be my new guru. She did, however, make me reconsider my role as parent and hopefully I will be able to devise more of a happy medium: part Chinese; part American. You know, sort of like those chicken fingers they serve in Chinese restaurants.
Stay tuned next week as I review my final potential guru: Jane Nelson. She advocates firm but kind. I’m still working on crazy but medicated.
© 2012 KIM KINZIE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPUBLICATION OR REDISTRIBUTION OF CONTENT, TEXT OR IMAGE, IN PART OR IN WHOLE IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT FROM THE AUTHOR.