Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Ever wonder why it always seems to be the Chinese kids at school who are good at Math or exceptional at playing instruments? Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother ” claims to answer that question and provide a “look inside the world” of raising two American-Chinese girls who become musical prodigies. The author, Amy Chua, believes in raising her daughters “the Chinese way” which apparently entails a lot of screaming, yelling, berating and nagging. Softer, gentler “western” parents will most likely be horrified by her parenting strategies, and may not even finish reading the book. Those of us who hover in the middle might find some encouragement, even if it is a bit tainted by our own shame.

Ms. Chua is an excellent writer, often quite amusing, but also quite crazy. I mean, is it really necessary to find a hotel with a piano while on a fantastic vacation, so the girls could practice 5 hours a day? Really?

Despite her harsh Chinese parenting methods, I thought she made a couple of valid points that gave me pause to consider. I do have to preface this by pointing out that BHTM is a personal memoir, and does not purport to be a parenting manual.

  1. Being good at something takes work; once you have put the work in and are good then it becomes fun. I know I bailed early on while learning to play piano and I’ve often wished my mother had pushed me to practice more. It made me feel empowered to push my own kids to work hard at their activities, whatever those turn out to be.
  2. Western parents worry about saying something that might hurt little Johnny’s feelings, and offer indiscriminate praise when they accomplish the mundane. Ms. Chua says Chinese parents start out believing their kids have tons of self-esteem and it isn’t as fragile as we westerners believe. For instance, she was okay with calling her daughter, who had put on a little weight, something like “fatty, fatty, fat girl”. Okay, so I wouldn’t go that far. It’s just downright mean to say that to anyone, but I like the point that children have more confidence in themselves than we give them credit for.
  3. Children do ultimately have their limits and we must respect that. I agree pushing our kids is good, but for me, if it becomes a screaming match every day to practice, then I’m out. Yes, I’m a western parent and don’t like to deal with the conflict. Does that make me less of a mother? Perhaps in Amy Chua’s eyes. I absolutely loved it that her youngest daughter (Lulu), after all she and her mother went through, finally rebelled against playing violin. I loved it even more when Lulu found her own passion and used the work ethic ingrained in her through her torturous violin practices, to excel at it. And that her mother left her alone to pursue it!

Love her or hate her, I think it’s brave of Amy Chua to publish her story. She is very hard on the girls but on the other hand, kudos to her for being so involved in her children’s lives. The book also begs the question of where’s the husband/father in all of this. Apparently that’s his story to tell and perhaps someday we’ll be reading his side of the story. Wouldn’t that be an interesting read!

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua is available for purchase at