My previous post regarding Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was more based on the backlash the author, Amy Chua, had been receiving for writing it than the book itself. However, now that I have actually finished reading the book, I’d like to comment further on it.
Prior to reading Battle Hymn, I sided with Chua for the most part. I felt, sure, there are some intense parenting practices in Chinese culture, and perhaps she’s been misunderstood and overly scrutinized. I take it back. Yes, there are, but Chua’s parenting style was SO unbelievably over-the-top that it was often painful to read. Her husband, while disagreeing with her sometimes, still held a united front with her against their daughters. He must be the most passively patient husband ever. To have to listen to daily screaming arguments between his daughter & wife that continued for hours would make any person crazy!
One of the first things that struck me as odd about the book was that she talks about her upbringing and that she used to have an accent and eventually lost it. She was “rebellious” in that she married someone who wasn’t Asian, and even speaks of her father as being the outcast of his family for not being conventionally “Chinese”, and yet she tries to instil this old-school Chinese method of parenting. Her constant comparison between “Chinese” and “Western” makes me think she’s a little confused or delusional about her own methods.
I can sort of see why this memoir has stirred up so much controversy. She might have had good intentions with her story-telling of her own parenting experiences, but it comes off a little preachy (which she admits that she sometimes can be) and extremely close-minded. She insists that she was humbled by her younger daughter, and be that as it may, her methods in raising these two daughters were intense. She includes snippets of conversations and “improvement notes” that she used to leave her children for their piano & violin practices. Her nitpicking borders on obsessive compulsiveness. A lot of the book was surrounding her fights with her daughters to push them to practice piano & violin. She seemed like a “ballet mom”, where she was pushing her daughters so much to do something she wished she had done. What’s interesting is how Chua posits that, in general, the older child is often the more obedient one and the younger is more rebellious. Had they been reversed, it would have almost fit my younger sister and I exactly. While both of us are studious and intelligent, I was – and am – the more rebellious one in our family. (and proudly so! ;))
One particular chapter completely appalled me. It was one of the few moments where it didn’t have anything to do with practicing their instruments. They were out for dinner for Chua’s birthday, and her husband had forgotten to make a reservation so they were at an “okay” restaurant. The girls had given her a handmade card that, to Chua, looked like it was thrown together in a few seconds. Rather than accept it, she berated them for giving her such garbage. There’s wanting the best from your children for their talents and skill, but to be so ungrateful about a birthday card? A bit much.
That being said, her daughters have grown up to be extremely talented and proper young ladies; her elder being quite well spoken (as evidenced in some snippets of essays she wrote for class). I guess the verdict is up in the air. Perhaps this tough love method works for some, and not for others. But I honestly don’t think Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was honestly intended to be a “parenting” book, even though many have looked at it that way. I also don’t even necessarily think of it as Chua’s “memoir” as she has been calling it. Rather, it looks to me like Chua is trying to come across looking good in (now that she’s “learned her lesson”) but instead it really doesn’t reflect too highly on how she had been acting all this time. All I have to say is, as much as I had moments during my childhood where I thought my mother was being tough, I’m glad it was just that: moments. So while I still don’t necessarily agree about the backlash that Chua received, I think she knew what was going to come of it. As one of her daughters pointed out (in a moment of anger) in the book, she doesn’t do things with the best intentions of her daughters but rather herself. She wants the attention, and she’s got it.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ (3.5/5 stars)