I don’t know whether to laugh, scream, cry or simply be in a state of shock. This was my reaction as I read and flipped through the pages of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I found myself thinking, “Wow, I thought I had it rough when my mom took away certain privileges if I misbehaved or didn’t finish my homework.” But those “privileges” consisted of not watching my favorite television show one evening, or not having my favorite snack, or not going outside to play with my best friend. Amy Chua threatened her daughter with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years if her daughter, Lulu, did not perfect “The Little White Donkey” on the piano.
Yet, I do remember a time when I threatened to take away all of my son’s privileges, for life, because he “cut” class one day and he decided he no longer wanted to continue playing the drums (after we had bought him an expensive drum set). It’s a good thing he had a compassionate dad who decided to have a conversation with him rather than lock him up for life. Yes, there were consequences for his misbehavior, but not a life sentence. Although as I read Chua’s book she does mention that playing drums can lead to drugs. Really? I guess my son dodged that bullet since he also had the opportunity to play the piano!
Chua’s book is her journey in how she raised her daughters. Perhaps I may not be in total agreement as to the tactics she used, but it is her journey. Chua states that Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts: higher dreams for their children, and higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take. She goes on to say that many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. However, Chua believes that all decent parents want to do what is best for their children. She states that the Chinese have a different idea and way of accomplishing that.
“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they are capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”
When I consider what Chua states regarding Western parents and Chinese parents, I see both in my upbringing and in how I raised my own children. My parents were raised in Puerto Rico and I was raised in New York by Puerto Rican parents. Their upbringing clearly had an influence on me and in turn had some influence in how I raised my children. However, when it comes to parenting, I don’t believe that one specific culture holds the secret to successful parenting. As I consider The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother it is the journey of a mother, who is Chinese, wanting the best for her daughters. As I consider my own journey, it is about a mother, who is Puerto Rican, wanting the best for her son and daughter.
I wonder if we were to move away from the stereotypes and generalizations that Chua brings out in her book, and instead move towards conversations that recognize and honor the traditions and values of specific cultures if we can then see and appreciate the value of the varying parenting styles. Perhaps I can say that I was raised by a “Tiger Mother”–Puerto Rican style–and I am a “Tiger Mother”–Puerto Rican style.