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Why I Like the Tiger Mother (And Think She’s Lazy)

Let’s start here: I am totally fascinated by Amy Chua.

No matter how horrified I might have been by her list of things she refused to allow for her daughters (sleepovers, school plays, any grade less than an A), my first response was intrigue. Other moms I know read the excerpt of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in the Wall Street Journal and were instantly appalled. Not me; I was too busy wondering how she got her daughters to practice music for that many hours everyday. And then I was busy envisioning what life must be like in the Chua-Rubenfeld house. Is it pristine and quiet? Do they yell? Make messes? Crack jokes?

Of course, eventually I balled up my (metaphorical) fists, assumed my (metaphorical) fighter stance and declared Chua’s ideas appalling. What can I say? It’s what we moms tend to do when our parenting style has been challenged.

Everybody has been talking about this book for a good two weeks now, and most of what I’ve heard and read has been pure outrage, with a little vitriol thrown in. Hollee made excellent points last week discussing Chua, her former law professor. I agree with all of them. Good Enough Is the New Perfect, after all, is like the opposite of Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother.

In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that Chua’s “Chinese Mother” parenting is … lazy.  Aiming for a single narrow goal like perfection in grades and music is way easier than mastering the emotionally exhausting obstacle course that takes us to the New Perfect. The New Perfect is about finding happiness, defining our own expectations, and succeeding in seemingly contradictory areas of life. It requires constant recalibration, the ability to read cues and understand other people’s talents and viewpoints, and the ability to balance a waitress-tray of goals simultaneously. It means knowing ourselves. Yes, Perfect requires the ability to prioritize, but the New Perfect requires something even harder: the ability to re-prioritize.

That last point is crucial, because life pretty much never turns out the way we’d originally planned.

And, as it turns out, Chua eventually got that. She even admits it on the cover of her book: “This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.” Like every single one of us, Chua isn’t perfect — and she knows it. She didn’t completely change course, but she does, for the record, confront this and make adjustments.

But that’s not why I like her and her book. I like her because she wasn’t afraid to share ideas that others would undoubtedly find controversial and extreme. And I like her book because it started a conversation. When someone promotes a philosophy that makes us bristle, that’s just an opportunity to advocate in the opposite direction. It’s a chance to reflect, to explore other ideas and, sometimes, to create new ones. Debate is good.

I’ve had fascinating conversations with other moms since Chua’s book came out. And, for that, I’m grateful.


  1. L. Eleana says:

    Thoughtful debate is always a great thing, especially amongst parents. When we can agree to disagree, and sometimes embrace new cultures and ideas, we are supporting each other and our children.
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  2. Debate IS good. In many instances, take child abuse for example, children KNOW what they have LEARNED from their parents. The “cycle” of a parenting style that is carried down – repeated over & over – because that’s what the parent taught the child to KNOW. In a way this reminded me of the cycle and how hard it is to BREAK the cycle of parenting that may not conform to a particular societal “norm”. This is what Chua KNEW and BELIEVED was best and right – may not be right & best to us – but I do respect her for one thing that Becky stated: “Like every single one of us, Chua isn’t perfect — and she knows it. She didn’t completely change course, but she does, for the record, confront this and make adjustments.”.

    I do have to admit – I am tempted to invite her girls over for a sleepover party and see what happens. :)

  3. Devon says:

    I was not allowed to go to sleepovers but I think I turned out okay. Also, I wasn’t put down if I didn’t get an “A”, but if I got all A’s and a B, my parents wouldn’t say “good job” – they’d say “why’d you get the B?”

    Maybe my parents are secretly Chinese.

  4. I’ve heard of the controversy and saw her speak on TV. I’m strangely not appalled nor feel threatened. I think there is a happy medium in there somewhere. The building of self-esteem on a foundation of false accomplishment feels good for the parent and child temporarily but doesn’t translate into success in this world later in life. (And our goal has to be to prepare our children to survive and thrive in this world). What seems extreme (excepting calling your child ‘garbage’) is simply a world without all the extras which our society has turned into ‘must haves.’ I want my child to be happy. But I also want him to understand the world is tough and he’s not going anywhere without hard work and true accomplishment. And accomplishment takes commitment, dedication and earning reward. Not just getting a trophy for showing up.
    Susan Cartier Liebel recently posted..Would A Virtual Law Office Work For You

  5. My life was immersed in both Eastern and Western cultures. I can see the pros and cons of both. After watching Amy on YouTube, she appeared more balanced than what was presented on the WSJ article. The debate is fantastic.

    I was concerned about the impact of culture and parenting practices and emotional development and conducted a study. It is published in The School Psychology International Journal, April, 2010, 31(2), titled “The Impact of Culture on Parenting Practices of East Asian Families and Emotional Intelligence of Older Adolescents: A Qualitative Study”.

    Honestly, it is not the matter of Eastern vs. Western. It is about who we are as human beings. The awareness of how our beliefs and values impact our children and adolescents, select best practices, and integrate it into lifestyle will only produce higher quality people. We all need to work together for our future sake.

  6. Anya says:

    Becky – I love your take on her book, both your initial reactions and your more in-depth thoughts. I had a similar first reaction of horror, then I nodded in agreement that some parents and teachers in America say “great job” about every single thing kids do these days, even when they AREN’T doing a quality job. It has driven me (and my strict German parents) crazy for decades. But I love your point, Becky, about how it would be EASIER as a parent to just focus on one or two aspects of your child’s development, and cut out everything else. No driving around to 400 activities a week would sure simplify the schedule.

    I think there’s a middle ground that would fit some definition of “perfect” for me… but my kid is only 3, so ask me again in 10 years!

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