Local Moms React to “Tiger Mother” Parenting

Mothers across the country, including here in the Chicago area, are buzzing about Amy Chua’s controversial new book. So, what exactly is Chinese mothering? Here is an excerpt from Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

A portion of Chua’s controversial book published in the Wall Street Journal generated more than 7,500 comments.

Some expressed outrage at Chua’s harsh parenting tactics, while others praised her for her devotion in raising disciplined daughters.

Needless to say, the topic has heated up the blogosphere, especially among “mommy bloggers.”

Annie Burnside, a North Shore mother of three, admits she has a very different style of parenting than Amy Chua. But at the same time, Burnside recognizes Chua’s love and devotion to her daughters.

“I truly believe that she absolutely has her kids’ best interests at heart,” said Burnside. “She loves her children. She just has a different perspective on the definition of success.”

Burnside, author of Soul to Soul Parenting, describes her own parenting style as much more organic. She calls herself a “butterfly mom” in her blog, where success is about transformation, soul evolution and self-realization.

“We place a very high importance on personal growth and the intimacy of one’s own soul,” she said.

Despite differences in parenting styles, Burnside acknowledges that there is space for both tiger moms and butterfly moms in the world.

“I don’t judge Amy Chua. Parenting is about making the choices that feel right for you. There is space for both of us,” said Burnside.

As a second-generation Asian American mom, Helen Lee acknowledges that she shares some similarities with Chua.

“I have an 8-year-old pianist and a 5-year-old violinist, so I know all about trying to motivate kids to practice their instruments!” said Lee. “But I question Chua’s narrow definition of success. I found Amy Chua’s perspective on what ‘success’ means, and the lengths to which she was willing to go to secure it for her daughters, disturbing and unsettling.”

Lee, author of The Missional Mom blog, says she defines success much differently than Chua.

“I want for my kids to love learning, and not just get an A to pursue a 4.0 GPA. I want for my kids to understand that they may well be called to a professional path, but they must never forget their obligation to be a contributing member of society,” said Lee. “I always want for them to remember and serve those who have so many fewer opportunities than they do. I want my kids to embrace the reality that our life is short, and pursuing a path that is truly meaningful is to make a difference in the world, and not just to think about one’s self and one’s future.”

Despite being a Western parent herself, high school teacher and Chicago mother of two, Amy Bocchetta, agrees with some aspects of Amy Chua’s description of permissive Western parenting.

“Call it Western parenting, call it lazy parenting, whatever you want: it’s easy being the mom that takes the kids to McDonald’s and buys a toy for a treat instead of taking the kids to the library,” said Bocchetta. “It’s easy being the mom that plunks the kids down in front of the TV. It’s easy being the mom that accepts a C grade as a decent effort.”

Bocchetta goes on to praise Chua’s hard work as a parent.

“It’s not fun – and sometimes it’s downright hard – being the mean mom that forces the kids to sit down at a table and study, the tireless mom that urges the kids to turn off the TV and video games, and actively engages them in a creative activity,” she said. “I think we need to have higher expectations for our children. I think we need to do our part. Set boundaries. Encourage kids to discover their talents and then work towards success.”

Whether you agree with her parenting style or not, it’s important to keep in mind that Amy Chua’s book is a memoir, not a how-to guide for parenting. She shares her personal experiences, while acknowledging that her methods were not always perfect, and did not always produce the best results.

What do you think about Amy Chua’s “Tiger mother” parenting style? How would you describe your own parenting style? Please post your comments.

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5 responses to “Local Moms React to “Tiger Mother” Parenting”

  1. Wyeth says:

    I’ve been a public school teacher. If more students had “Tiger Moms”, teaching would be a far more satisfying and far less stressful occupation, and no school district would be worried about its test scores.

  2. Helen Lee says:

    I don’t have any problem with encouraging kids to work hard, to study, to achieve to their potential. But if all the emphasis is on a certain kind of success, I feel as though the kids are sacrificing the long-term for the short-term. Alexandra Robbins’ book The Overachievers is an interesting study on what happens in the lives of children who are pushed too hard by others or by their own limited views on success. Cheating becomes a means to an end, kids become burnt out before they even leave high school, depression more common…there are many ramifications to pushing a success narrative on kids that grades, a great college, and a great job are the end goals of life. IMHO!

  3. Michael says:

    The job, as a parent, is to teach, encourage, and nurture (love) your child. I find it difficult to accept this idea of ‘molding’ your child into the type of person you want them to be – and this includes their interests. Variety is the spice of life. And the thought of using belittlement, on your children, to get them to try harder is disgusting. False positives are bad enough. We don’t need to add derogatory comments to the equation.

  4. Lynne Johnson says:

    My first attempt at a response went something like “what could the producers of Chicago Tonight be thinking to devote so much on air time to an abusive parent, and what neglect by the children’s father to permit this insane person to influence his children’s lives to the extent she did.” Upon reflection, I would say that the Chau’s western/eastern distinctions are a distraction. Chau promotes the conditional love of children – that is not an eastern phenomenon, it is ubiquitous in all cultures. It is one that promotes an idealogy that children are valued to the extent they live their parents desires and dreams. It is not “western” to do the opposite, it is so much more simple: recognize the humanity of children.

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