I got a Kindle for Mother’s Day. Well, actually I got a Kindle Fire for Mother’s Day, but I returned it for a plain old kindle. Although the Kindle Fire looked really cool and had a lot of great features, I did not want to read on a computer screen, especially right before bed, which is when I do the majority of my reading.
I was a Kindle hold out. I like books. I like holding them, the smell of them, the fact that I don’t have to buy every one I wanted to read. I even like visiting the library, that is until I had kids. It’s not so easy browsing shelves with three little ones tagging along, even when my destination is clear.
Then, I read the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series and I started thinking how nice it would be if I could just start reading the next one, immediately. What can I say? It’s hard not to fall victim to immediate gratification, these days. But still, I waited. And then, my sister told me that her library loaned ebooks for the Kindle, and I was sold.
Of course, you can’t check out every book that you can buy, but still, at least it gives me options. One of those options is, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
In all honesty, I had kind of forgotten about that book, but my sister recently rented it from her library and she had been discussing it, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Nothing like coming late to the party.
Here are my impressions. First of all, if you are in any way thoughtful about your parenting skills, meaning you want to do what’s best for your kids, and so read, and consequently, try out different methods of parenting (i.e., The Baby Whisperer, What to Expect the First Year, Dr. Sears, The Happiest Toddler on The Block) in hopes that one will solve your problems, which, news flash, they won’t, then you will most likely wonder if Amy Chua isn’t right about some things, and that perhaps you’re a lazy loser, letting your kids float into mediocrity.
She claims, and I say claims, because I was trying to do the math on this one, and it seems a bit far-fetched, to make her children practice their instruments, six hours a day. As a mother of children with obvious musical talent, this makes me feel embarassingly lazy and weak. I have to force ten minutes of practice on my one son, enduring his inevitable elbows on the piano, this is stupid, attitude. In fact, if I can get ten minutes of piano practice at least three times a week, I feel like mother of the year. After reading Tiger Mom, not so much.
Grades, she expects nothing less than A’s, extracurricular activities and sleepovers, forget it. I don’t think she’s all wrong. When she talks about how, in a moment of weakness, she let her twelve year old go to a sleepover and then describes, through her daughter’s eyes, the events that transpired, she decided she didn’t like the influences her daughter was exposed to. I see her point and wonder if perhaps more parents should stand firm on what they do, and don’t let their children do, and I’m not just talking about sleepovers, because, although I’m not a fan of sleepovers, I don’t think they’re necessarily bad. I’m talking about saying yes, when you really want to say no, just to forsake the battle.
The grades. Well, she has a point there, too. Sure, she seems a little over the top with her girls, but at the same time, she thinks her girls are capable of getting A’s, so expecting less from them, or accepting less from them, she claims, would really just be insulting to them. I also think she has a point when she describes the difference between Chinese parents and Western parents when it comes to school. To paraphrase, she says that if a Chinese student comes home with a poor grade, the parents freak, and the mom goes to town with drills, worksheets, flashcards, whatever it takes to get the grade where it should be. Conversely, the Western parents would call a conference, meet with teachers and come up with an action plan for their child. The Chinese way, don’t blame anyone, or wait for someone else to fix the problem, just work harder. It’s not a bad idea.
The way she deals with her daughters, the fights, the insults, the berating, well, really, who am I to judge? Because if you believe her, her kids are a thousand times better behaved than mine. Maybe I’m not strict enough. Maybe my whiny, ungrateful, never stop asking for things kids (love ya, kiddos), would do well with some more discipline.
But that’s really where we part ways, because if you have just a bit of sanity, when you get to the point when it seems that she’s going to whip her lazy ass dog into shape with her Tiger Mom ways, then you will ask yourself if this lady is operating on all cylinders. I mean, seriously, when someone remarked that her breed of dog wasn’t smart, she went full force researching to disprove this finding, backing up her findings with the research, and she names names for proof. Talk about getting carried away.
That’s not it, though, six hours a day of practice, and the name calling, which I’ve already mentioned, and other things, like centering their vacations around practice (she calls around to find pianos to use, and packs the violins, even when out of the country), claiming her husband is selfish because he doesn’t want to travel nine hours round trip for one night, paying an instructor hourly to accompany them, and putting said instructor and her boyfriend in a luxury hotel, all so her daughter could have a lesson with a famous violin teacher, that make her seem decidedly over the top. And of course, through all this, she clashes with her daughters, one, whom she describes as openly defiant, and the other who lets her anger simmer.
Her observations about her daughters, though, for most of the book, seems to be the extent of any type of introspection, she might have. At times, though she vaguely wonders if her daughters will one day hate her and observes how she wishes her daughters could be cheered, like their dog, for something so simple as swimming, she consistently falls back on the idea that it’s not possible and that it’s tough to be a Chinese mother. It is she, who is the victim, not her children. Who cares if they hate her, she’s doing what’s best for them, because they’re her children and she’s the decider.
In the end, her younger daughter rebels and Amy Chua, reluctantly changes, as she comes to the realization that what works for one child, doesn’t always work for the other. In the afterword, she reveals that the book has been written with the help and consent of her family, and that she considers it a satirical memoir. In truth, I didn’t really read it that way, but whatever.
Overall, it was an interesting read and in some ways she has inspired me. In fact, this week, I’ve taken a tip or two from her and kept my son at the piano for a whole twenty minutes, working on a song, together. When he wanted to quit, I told him to stop being so lazy. You know what? He finally got it (though it needs a lot more practice) and proudly played it for his dad, later that night. So, maybe a little Tiger Mom isn’t always a bad thing.