Random Thoughts on the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

The first time I saw Amy Chua interviewed on The Colbert Report, I vowed not to read her book.  She talked about how she condoned calling her daughters names like “garbage” and how she tore up their handmade birthday cards. I thought, how could I relate to her?

But when my dear friend and fellow book-club member chose it as this month’s selection, I felt compelled to pick up a copy (discounted, of course, at B&N) and join in.  This particular friend happens to pick the most interesting selections to discuss and she is meticulous about leading the discussion (she uses post-it notes like crazy).  Also, with all the controversy about the book on social media over the last few months, who isn’t a little bit curious about what’s inside the pages of this book, which is apparently selling like hotcakes?

I don’t have the best behaved children, I readily admit it.  When I ask them to practice piano, they stall.  They tell me they’re busy, they’ll get to it later.  And they don’t.  I haven’t forced the practicing….yet.  Mainly because I want them to continue to love it, and I want them to play piano for years to come.  That’s my tactic, maybe it’s wrong, but I’m no Tiger Mother.   Chua got her two daughters to practice their instruments, piano and violin for four hours a day.  How did she get them to do that, you may ask?  By belittling them.  By forcing them.  By giving them no other option.  One plays Carnegie Hall.  The other auditions for Julliard at a young age.  Together, they play a special concert in Budapest.  She wants them to go all the way to the moon.

As a result, one of her daughters rebels at age 13.  She’s had enough.  Chua, an over-achiever, who insists that Chinese parenting skills are far superior to what she considers Western laziness and permissiveness, condones her own actions and words used throughout the book.  She locks her daughters out in the cold when they refuse to play piano, denies them of play dates and sleepovers, forces them to practice their music on weekends and vacations, doesn’t accept grades less than an A, doesn’t allow television or video games.  She calls them names when they go against her wishes.

Sure, I’d like better behavior from my kids, but not this way.  It’s important, while you’re reading this book, to note that this is not a parenting guide.  It’s a memoir.  Reading this book made me realize that I’m not a great mother.  But I am teaching my kids compassion, to live life to the fullest, to follow their dreams.  Chua wants her daughters to take one road.  For her, there is only one road.  When her younger daughter, Lulu, comes forward and tells her she no longer wants to practice four hours a day, that she wants to live differently, taking tennis, being normal, Chua can not handle it.  In real life, Chua can think she’s being tongue and cheek about her whole experience and that people are taking this book far too seriously as much as she wants to.  But I’ll go to my grave questioning her parenting skills.  Skills that her own husband and parents questioned throughout the book.

By the way, I am not writing about this book to promote sales.  If I were you, I’d borrow this book from a friend, wait until the library has a copy.  There is no need to contribute to Chua’s growing wealth and profit from this book.

So, going back to my book club who gathered tonight to discuss the book,I  want to share their opinions and thoughts.  It’s important to note that my book club consists of mostly lawyers, much like Chua.  Everyone is opinionated, and we all have kids.  We discussed why this book is having such a moment, and everyone believes that it’s due to the tenuous  state of U.S. education and the ascent of China.  We’re having a Chinese moment, so this book arrived at the right time.

Here are some random thoughts from the group.  There was primarily a consensus from people who didn’t care for the book, but for whom the book made them think about their own parenting skills and methods.

“Why would a Professor of Law expose herself like this?”

“I thought she was joking, I kept waiting for her to say ‘Ha!’ after every page.  She’s a snob and I didn’t care for her loose comparison of Chinese culture to the Western World.”

“I think her (Chua’s) husband will write his own book, his side of the story.  We didn’t get much of that.  Why did he side with her the whole time?”

“How could their relationship (Chua and her husband) work with such a different type of upbringing?”

“Even at the end of the book, after all is said and done and her daughter flips out, Chua was faux humbled.”

“She’s over-invested.  She’s looking out for her best interests, not her daughters.  She has zero powers of reflection and is busy turning their experiences into their own.”

“She just wanted to win…at her children’s expense.”


On the flip side:

“It’s an insight into the Chinese mind.”

“As a memoir, she seemed to get the joke of her life.  Her attitudes about permissive Western society makes sense, but I, myself, am too lazy to be a tiger mom.”

“The book makes me desperately afraid as a mom.  Am I allowing my kids to grow up too soft?”

“It made me think of how I am raising my own child and reassess my own skills.””It made me think of how I am raising my own child and reassess my own skills.”

“The book is truthful in teaching your kids about hard work.”


One member handed the book to her 12-year-old son and told him to read it.  He read it in two days and came back to her and immediately said, “She’s (Chua) crazy.”  He also stated that her children know more now if they didn’t already.  About Chua’s daughter playing Carnegie Hall: “It would feel good to play Carnegie Hall, sure.  But it was one night!”  He also insisted on knowing where was the baby’s father?  Everyone agrees that he’s writing a Tiger Dad book with his own perspective.

Another member’s husband is reading the book as a “how to” with his own children.

Lastly, one member could not even pick up the book.  She saw Chua in interviews and decided not to read it.


Disclosure: This post is based on my own personal experiences.  No compensation was provided by anyone and all opinions are my own.


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  1. Well, I bought a knock off from a street vendor in china for usd1.00. Read and hated it. I could almost see that she made up a whole new different story – I would bet her husband is a no-use sissy who would let his wife do that to the kids. What a sissy husband? Or is he not giving her enough love to make her bitter-insecure.

    Her markings as a mom clearly shows she is a very insecure woman. She needs psychiatric help. Many things written in that book might just came from a dream of hers. Some could be true though. But can’t you guys see the fake-ness of it all?

    If you paint the wall white, it should be white. But hers turned out to be black. Its all fake !

  2. I could write a treatise on this because a) Chua was a law prof at Duke when I was there, b) I’ve just written a book that’s pretty much the Anti-Tiger Mother approach, and c) I’m a law prof, too! But I’ll give you my short take (and I DID read it, but only because I needed it for my research).

    Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not well written. It reads like a first draft, and in response to your friend who asked why a law prof would want to expose herself like this, I would guess the answer is that she didn’t read it a second time! (Obviously I’m hyperbolizing, but you catch my drift.)

    I started the research for Good Enough Is the New Perfect in 2007, and I’ve been studying perfectionism and why it’s bad for parents and kids since then. That is by far my biggest complaint with Prof. Chua’s book. While I felt bad for her personally (she admits in the book that she doesn’t know how to relax and have fun), I felt much worse for the disservice she was doing her children.

    One of the experts in our book, the founder of the Families & Work Institute, talked to me at length about why modeling perfectionism is bad for kids. Really, really bad. And it’s bad for moms too. Yet that’s what Chua promotes in her book — and why I’m so glad that ours is coming on its heels:)

  3. I’m with Kim; I kind of feel compelled to read it. I already know I won’t agree with her parenting style. And the condescending tone she has used in all the media I have seen makes my blood boil. But, I don’t totally disagree with everything she says. I think it is OK to have high expectations of your children. As long as you know they are capable of meeting them. It’s the expectations she sets and HOW she gets her kids to meet them that bother me most.

    This was a very interesting post. Thanks!

  4. So interesting! I can’t bring myself to read the book. It just flies in the face of everything I want to be as a parent. In her own way, Chua may be trying to be the best mom she can be, but it doesn’t work for me.

  5. I feel compelled to read it, but I’ll take your advice and wait for the library version. You might like this take on the book from my friend @DarryleP http://blog.darrylepollack.com/2011/01/they-call-her-tiger-mother-but-will-they-call-home/

  6. Loved reading your post and opinions of your book club. I have not read the book. I am not sure if I want to. Somethimes I think it would be an insight on the chinese culture. On the other side I think it is kind of degrading that she says they are superior. Your post was very insightful. Every parent is different . I like that you said people have to remember as you said this book is a memoir and not a guide to parenting.

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