Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother , is a story about a Chinese mother’s journey to raise her daughters within American culture. The book is introduced as a story about cultural differences between American and Chinese parenting styles. However, I found the book to be lacking in reality for what most families in American face, no matter what their cultural heritage. Chua is a professor at Yale Law School, and is married to man who is also a successful lawyer, professor, and author. Her family doesn’t live the typical life of most people in America, and opportunity has been granted to her via status and wealth. Reading her story, there were certain elements that resonated with me as I also set very high standards for my children. However, I failed to see any life lessons or significant cultural insight gained from reading the book. Instead, I found it a light, quick read that made me smile as I’ve experienced some similar scenarios with my own children.
Throughout the book, Chua shared her relentless pursuit and push for success for her children. She places extremely high expectations on her children – they must be the best. The explanation for her actions is that her parenting style is a result of her Chinese heritage. In comparison to what she calls Chinese parenting, she makes broad assumptions about American parenting. Although Chua admits that American parenting styles vary and that she knows there are exceptions, she leaves the impression that American’s just allow their children to make all of their own decisions with limited oversight and that expectations are set at very low levels. Chua lives in the Midwest, in a wealthy community. I am an American parent with very, very high expectations for my children. The American parent that Chua describes isn’t typical to what I see, and I am also from the Midwest. I live in a community where education and musical achievement are both highly valued. The difference that I see is that Chua has the wealth behind her in which to push her children farther than most parents can. Music lessons, instruments, international travel, and time off of work to drive children to their various events takes money, and lots of it. It also sounds as if Chua has some very influential connections, which allowed her children opportunities that others simply don’t have.
I have to wonder if Chua’s personality type has more to do with her parenting than her Chinese background. She shares a touching story about her sister, and in doing so gives the impression that her sister has recommended she lighten up when it comes to her children. While it sounds as if Chinese families (as a general rule) place much emphasis and focus on being very good academically and musically, I believe that there was something even more that drove Chua to parent in the way that she did. If being Chinese was the key factor, then the account of her sister would have told a slightly different story. It doesn’t sounds as if her sister has the same approach with her own children. I have know several Chinese families, and I have noticed that many are very good parents and take an interest in their children’s success. But, I haven’t seen that they consistently push their children as far as Chua. I am an INTJ, which is a rare personality type for a female. As such, my own parenting style is stern, and I am more intense and focused on driving my children to success. My expectation is that my children succeed. They are very smart and talented, and as such they require parenting above the norm. Autonomy, achievement, critical thinking and perseverance are all qualities that I expect from my children. At times, my children have said that I take things too far. But, I also know that they are learning to succeed. It makes me feel good when they express that they are thankful that I didn’t allow them to go down the wrong paths as children (says the 16 and 21 year old:)). I admit that I love it when my children say, “thank goodness you didn’t let me act like them”, or similar.
Today, I am very proud that I have a daughter who is successfully journeying through college to become a veterinarian (biology major, chemistry minor, and equestrian minor). I know that she will be successful. This has been her dream since she was 9 years old. But, I can’t take the credit for her success. I am thankful that the Lord has given her gifts and talents, and a vision for her future. She has worked very hard and has an intuitive drive for success that she was born with. I couldn’t have successfully pushed her so hard if she wasn’t born with a natural capability. God knew that we both needed each other – and it turns out that she is an INTJ also. My son is very much like his father. He requires a different parenting approach, but is also quite gifted. His talent is music. I don’t have to stand over him for hours per day, as Chua did her own children, in order to get him to practice. He does this himself. I’ve learned that I must trust the Lord with my children, and that my job is to help grow and polish the talents he gave them. Trusting isn’t always easy, but He gives me the intuition and wisdom needed. Sometimes I make mistakes, but my mistakes don’t define my children’s success. All of this said, I believe that Chua fails to recognize the unique nature that God gives each person (including her children), regardless of their cultural background. When I read her story, I found her own personality, children’s personalities, wealth and status, ethnic background, and own life experience to all be influencing factors that contributed to her parenting style and children’s response.
After reading the book, I came away with the feeling that Chua used her ethnicity to excuse mistakes that she made in parenting. I was adopted from birth, and don’t know my own ethnic background. There have been times in life where it is evident that I beat to a slightly different drum than the rest of my family. This being said, I know that there are ethnic character traits that are common and can be seen in families. Parenting styles tend to pass from generation to generation, so sometimes there may be a blurry line between what is considered ethnic vs. family styles of parenting. There are things that I do with my own children that are passed forward from my family. We call this the “Gardner” way. My Christian heritage is also reflected in my parenting. At the end of my life, I want my success in parenting to be measured by my own obedience to Christ and by the fact that I raised my children to know Christ and to be successful in their own, unique calling. In the end of Chua’s book, I wonder what her definition of success for her children is today. I didn’t see any indicator that she felt her girls were successful, but instead I heard disappointment that they had gone their own ways instead of her way.
 Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York: Penguin Press, ©2011.