Now here’s a classic case of judging the book (and the mother) by its cover.
The first I heard of Amy Chua’s book was when I read the excerpt on WSJ.com a few months back. Of course those few pages alone were enough to make me dismiss her as one of those harsh, old school kind of mothers (Actually thinking back to Joy Luck Club, “Chinese Mother” is the right term for it).
And then a few weeks ago my best friend encouraged me to read it.
I finished it in 2 days. Considering that on a daily basis I hardly have time to brush my hair and much less pee, I managed to find time to devour it, as my husband says.
And I conclude: she’s not as bad as I thought she was. Controversial, and somewhat extreme, yes. But really just another mother raising her children in the best way she knew how. Surprisingly I could relate, both as a daughter and as a mother.
I grew up with very strict grandparents, and I wasn’t allowed to attend sleepovers (unless they were held in my house). I wasn’t pushed to get straight A’s, but every time I brought home a grade less than above average, or I’d come home with a bronze medal or a silver one, my Mama Mia would always say, “Good. But you can do better next time.” I still was praised, but I was also reminded that more was expected of me.
I also played the piano and had a good teacher — but she had that kind of temper that would drive you up the wall or in tears. If I couldn’t get a section right, we’d go over it again and again for as long as it took (and would sometimes use harsh words to try to whip me into shape). I don’t play anymore (except for Sam’s toy piano), and now that I think about it I didn’t want to go back to her. At 15, I felt it was too much pressure. So I can understand Luisa’s conflicting feelings for rebelling against her mother and the violin, but at the same time missing it.
There is one review on the book which says readers gasp in envy — that’s true too! I did. I once fantasized playing in Carnegie Hall, and reading about how she got her eldest daughter to do so only made me think: if only someone had pushed harder, then maybe right? Maybe.
Then again, maybe it’s not about pushing, it’s about finding the proper motivators. While I do relate to her struggle and her desire to maximize the potential in each of her children, I did feel that calling them a disgrace was a little over the top. I think that’s what makes a lot of people judge her and her book badly; she could have used kinder alternatives if she was only open to them. There’s also no telling as to whether or not the other methods would have achieved the same results.
At the same time, I can already see myself being very firm and strict with Sam. I’ve been teaching her to finish what she started, to clean up one set of toys before she can get to another, and to talk properly or say things clearly when she reads. I would love it if she took an interest in an instrument or a form of art (dancing, painting, etc), and I will definitely support it and encourage it (and study it so I know what we’re getting into). We will definitely aim to find an interest and hone it to the best of our abilities. I believe playing an instrument or dancing ballet, or being good at a sport is essential to her long-term growth. After all, mother knows best right? (Oh don’t all mothers say that! Haha!)
I think that I do “push”, but I motivate positively. I have to be creative at times, and reward and negotiate, as it is all part of it. She is as strong-willed as I was when I was a child (so says my mom), so I do have my work cut out for me. And I’ve had my fair share of arguments with my husband as to how firm we should be or what she is able to do at her age. It hasn’t been easy, but the results in the end are rewarding (like Sam’s sleep-training and potty-training!).
How it will go with Jamie, that remains to be seen. Definitely though, we shall not expect anything less. 😉
There definitely is a Tiger Mother in every one of us, it’s just the degree and the intensity that varies. If the book as a whole doesn’t strike you, choice parts of it will. Her stories will resonate with each reader who may have experienced similar situations with their own children, whether or not it’s something they’ve done, believed in, thought about doing but never did. You can choose to agree and disagree with it, but at the end of the day, we have to admit: parenting is a challenge! As we’ve said from the beginning of this blog, we can only do the best that we can, in the way we know how.