I Have A Tiger Mother

A few months ago I moved back to my suburban family home after some years of independent living. This is not a guide to managing your emotions during such a transition (YouTube yoga clips, journal writing, buying and installing a lock on your door); this is a brief itemisation of why Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother is both amazing and a bit weird, a realisation I’ve had only since moving home and chatting about the book with my own Tiger Mother.

It’s a relieving read for Asian kids.

If you haven’t read the controversial book, or the even more controversial excerpt/exposition in the Wall Street Journal, Amy Chua is a second generation Chinese-American who decides that despite contemporary Western parenting trends she is going to raise her children as strictly as she was raised. She is sure that the reason so many Asian children are successful is not because they are somehow more talented than their non-Asian classmates, but because they are pushed. To tears. Regularly. For years. This may seem pretty obvious to those working in admissions at selective schools around the Western world, but it’s still a pretty radical thing to say. And good on her for doing it. She gave those of us with Tiger upbringing the opportunity to discuss our traumatic childhoods (teasing, rock-throwing, an oversupply of piano lessons) under the guise of topicality (see: this article).

Rote learning is awesome.

Chua is a great advocate for rote learning and by golly do I think this is a debate that needs reviving. Almost every chapter contains some excruciating detail about how she forced her daughters to drill a certain scale or phrase on the piano or violin until it was ready for stage. It’s a mentality I used to resist, but having moved away and come back home, I’ve started remembering childhood traumas with a slightly different perspective. From the age of three or four my sister and I had to keep an exercise book for spelling. On each page we drew wide margins in which my grandmother insisted we write all the new words we encountered in our reading, at least ten a week. At the end of each week we would be tested on the spelling and meanings of not only the words which had been collected that week, but also the previous weeks. This explains why, in my second year of formal schooling I was able to spell “university”. Also, I blame the absence of such techniques for my varying degrees of success at “university”.

Tiger parenting is hard. On everyone.

Throughout the book Chua makes mention of the fact that it’s not easy to be a Tiger mother. All that early rising, hours of sitting in on music lessons, driving four hours to the best tutors, screaming matches, forcing homework and practice—it’s not glossed over. Underneath this “honesty”, you can’t help but notice that Chua basically suggests that she’s more hard working (and though she never says this, but let’s assume this also means she’s better) than non-Tiger mothers. In the touchy-feely world of parenting advice, this is basically warfare, and not just on non-Asians.

“Of course, I also wanted Sophia to benefit from the best aspects of American society. I did not want her to end up like one of those weird Asian automatons who feel so much pressure from their parents that they kill themselves after coming in second on the national civil service exam.”

As with so much of this book, I find myself somewhere between judging Chua for being so goddamn black-and-white about things, and an arms-length respect for this woman who is, quite simply, doing everything she knows how to make the best life for her kids. TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • Aelya

    Ahahaha, God, I loved this. Even though I’m brown, my parents were never Tiger parents. Granted, they always stressed the importance of learning and education and being the best you can be, but we never things like fighting matches or people breaking down into tears over a page of spelling dictation.

    However, my brother and I were unusually precocious, so we actually took on rote learning (in various degrees) ourselves. 

    Good article, even if the ending was abrupt

  • http://fastfoodies.org Briana

    wanted more!

  • http://twitter.com/tashny Tashny Sukumaran

    as another desi chick with a tiger mother, can i just say that i don’t agree with anything you’ve written. kthxbai.

    • Linnea Pj


  • the sexiest guest

    I used to baby sit for an asian boy and all he ever wanted to do was read. it was kind of cute, but then again, maybe he just had a tiger mom that forced him to read all the time. sad story.

  • ryan chang

    have not read the book, but where/when do you draw/cross the line? some kids are already pushed over an edge way before entrance exams et al. and end up hurting themselves

  • Loljame

    i read the whole book and i loved it even though i’m not asian and my parents were completely un-tiger-like. but one of the major points up for debate was whether whether as a tiger parent you’re really doing it to help your children or you’re doing it to glorify yourself as an extension of your children. sophia (the older daughter) believed the former and lulu (the rebellious one) clearly believed the latter.

  • brown girl

    I am a second-generation Indian and my parents were never anywhere as extreme as Amy Chua, but my mother did make us do math problems that she came up with everyday and was generally more strict than your average American parent. I could read and do my multiplication tables up to 12 before kindergarten and I don’t think it’s because I was exceptionally smart. My mother returned to work full-time around the time I was in fifth grade because we needed the second income. Because she had a long commute, she didn’t have as much time to help us with homework or keep tabs on our grades. In high school, we were pretty independent, but she made it very clear we could always come to her if we needed any help in schoolwork. Without the strict supervision, I began to slack off in high school. I got Cs more regularly and didn’t do as many extracirriculars as I was probably capable of. Looking back, I wish I still had my Tiger Mother even as a teenager because I didn’t have the discipline myself. I excelled because I was pushed early on. And I am who am today because of that. I don’t agree with Chua’s extreme style of parenting, but there is value in holding your kids to high standards.

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    Growing up white & middle class in suburbia, I did not have a Tiger Mother. I had a mom that let me quit ballet, soccer, basketball, debate team, piano, band and any other number of hobbies when it got to be “too much”. I excelled in school — but I could’ve done better, had someone ridden my ass about it.

    I get why the article is so ‘controversial’ and I love my family endlessly for having raised me to be a reasonably well-rounded person. But I’m still jealous, and if I ever have children this might be my go-to parenting guide over all others.

  • Guest

    Y u no write more paragraph? (Was enjoying that.)

  • Guest

    I don’t feel like this article is finished.  I feel like it was just starting with the last paragraph.

blog comments powered by Disqus