Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua is a personal memoir of one woman’s raising her children in the “Chinese way.” My initial takeaway of the “Chinese Way” is that it is to insult and torment your children, to be self-centered and project yourself on your children, and to be more than overbearing in forcing them to succeed. However, after sitting and chatting with my book group, I have realized I missed something: It is satire! She’s making fun of herself!

While I don’t think anyone would (or really should) imitate her specific parenting strategies any more than they’d imitate those of Jeanette Walls’ parents, there is something to be learned from her dedication to raising the bar.

I wasn’t going to read this book for my book group. But I found myself with a copy and I found myself skimming through it. I couldn’t really put it down because I found the narrator so horrible I couldn’t believe it. But that’s because, as I said, I was skimming quickly. I also am incredibly dense to sarcasm and satire. (*blush*)

At any rate, if one takes Battle Hymn as a book full of parenting suggestions, it is rather shocking. Using the “Chinese” method (a term that seemed rather generically used for “strict”) rather than Western techniques (a term Ms Chua used to mean more hands-off), Amy Chua forced her children to play piano (or violin) for hours, expected A’s (an A- was a punishable offense), forbade “playdates” due to lack of time (too busy practicing), and essentially made most decisions for her children.  I hated Amy Chua, and I felt her threats towards her young children (given in order to get them to play the piano, violin, or even to eat caviar for goodness sake) were more than ridiculous: they were abusive. However, after discussing it with my book group, I realize the things I missed: the humor of her threats, the ridiculousness of her insisting, the ways in which she went overboard. She had changed by the end, eventually allowing her 13-year-old daughter to choose how long she’d practice her violin.

That said, it’s impressive to observe how Amy Chua certainly didn’t let her children be lazy. There is something to be said about expecting more from our children. Having read this book, I find myself being more expectant of my son to do what I know he can do. Since he just turned four, I used that as a reason to talk about his household jobs, and we made a list together of what he should be responsible for: setting the dinner table, cleaning his toys from the family room, practicing his gymnastics, and practicing the piano (this is a new thing we’re working on, and he’s so excited to play the piano). I am confident that expecting more from him will bring about success, although I don’t intend to yell and scream as Amy Chua did in order to see that success. We’ll see how the future pans out. I’m still a beginning mom. In twenty years, I may have a new perspective of the Tiger Mom’s methods.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. As a mother of teenagers, one already in college, I have to say that although it is good to expect more from your children, I’m a firm believer in finding ways (including humor) to get them to expect more from themselves. I never want to put my kids in a position where something they do will greatly disappoint me. They should have expectations for themselves, by this point.

    1. Jeanne » yeah, that’s how I feel too. Since my boy is just 4, I’m finding I need to make sure I keep expecting more from him so he can learn how to expect more from himself. But I’ll never be overboard about it! And yes, by the time they are in college, they certainly should be able to negotiate their expectations for themselves!

  2. I saw Amy Chua speak at the National Book Festival, and she was great. She spent the first 30 minutes talking about how the whole book was a satire, and the last part of her time talking about how helicopter parenting- the extreme opposite of tiger parenting- ruins kids. And I agree with her. The point she made that stuck with me was “hovering moms expect weakness in their children and so their children are weak- tiger moms expect strength in their children, so they are strong.” I loved that.

    1. Amanda » Did you read this book? Am curious. Personally, I saw her tiger mom style as the most Helicopter of all hover moms. She was right there as they practiced, she left them notes on how to practice when she couldn’t be there, she was the one making all the major decisions for their lives, even when 12 and 13 and 16(!) years old. Isn’t that hover mom? That’s the parenting style that I think was a bit exaggerated, and that’s why i don’t think people should imitate her style with their own children. It’s one thing to expect a lot from your kids. It’s another to hover over them demanding that they do it.

      I totally agree: if we expect weakness, there will be weakness. If we expect strength, they will find strength. That was what I took away from the book. I was and am somewhat of a hover mom for my son since he’s my only. When he was learning to walk, for example, I was always right there. But. I don’t want to be a hover mom, and I’m finding ways to be more demanding of what I know he can do. Like I said, we’ve made some lists of his jobs, and I’m going to expect him to practice piano and his gymnastics, etc. And hopefully as he starts school I can help him learn to demand the best he can do for himself.

  3. I’ve not read the book (yet) nor am I a parent, so I don’t know if my opinion counts for anything but I’ll give it anyway.
    Even if she wrote this book as a satire I think her parenting style is extreme. Certainly children need to have boundaries and discipline, but sometimes you just need to let kids be kids. My parents were nowhere near as strict as Chua appears to be, but I was never allowed to go on sleep-overs and I feel I missed out.

    1. Suzanne » I’m probably not going to let Raisin go on “sleepovers” either. Not because he “doesn’t have time” but because I am just not sure who to trust these days. That said, yes, play dates and play time are an important part of growing up, I think. I definitely found her extreme…From my book group, we figured out which of the “experienced” moms (i.e., moms with grown kids) were “tiger moms” and I liked their styles far more than the extremes Chua wrote about. There is give and take in parenting…

  4. I haven’t read this, yet, but I saw her on The Daily Show and I’ve been meaning to pick it up, since. I think I’ll either love it or hate it. I’m a bit more…um…”flowy” as a parent but I think I’m strict in my own ways. Cool!

    1. Pam (@iwriteinbooks) » I’m definitely more “flowy” but still, since I”ve only had one child for four years, I do tend to over-mother, I think. I want to let him be his own, but still expect much of him. It’s hard to balance, I think!

  5. I’m not a parent myself, but working in a public library I am able to observe the parenting styles of people from many different cultures. It’s been a very interesting part of my job. If I am ever lucky enough to have children I would want them to be more independent than so many of the teens I work with are. They can barely converse in an articulate manner with adults or conduct business for themselves. They rely on their parents to speak for them. I wonder if the “Chinese” style of parenting would foster more confident children or make them more dependent on their parents?

    1. Anbolyn » I do think that is part of Amy Chua’s point of mothering. By expecting much of her children (by ironically hovering over them and making them work) she certainly made them more confident, I think. I mean, her 12 or 13 year old played piano in CARNEGIE HALL for goodness sake, it takes a lot of guts to walk out there by yourself and do that. I don’t think her kids ended up dependent on her. It worked. Her oldest is at Harvard now, obviously very brilliant and accomplished.

  6. Having read the YA fiction equivalent of this book (does that make me sound stupid?) Bitter Melon, I was actually angry about this type of parenting. I guess if she’s using it more as satire than tips, that makes me feel better. Bitter Melon had me in tears the way the mom treated her daughter. Extreme parenting on either side of the spectrum is pretty terrifying.

    1. melissa @ 1lbr » I think it’s important to remember, though, that that is a different girl with a different mother and father. Amy Chua’s husband was not Chinese and he seemed a bit of a mellowing influence for the family, taking them to water parks, game night, etc. I do think Amy comes across as pretty extreme in this book, but from the oldest daughter’s story (she’s now a Freshman at Harvard), it does seem like it all worked out ok for her in the end. If I really cared, I’d reread the book with SATIRE in my mind but I probably won’t ever just because she annoyed me so much on just one read. Without the satire, yeah, it would have been pretty awful. Just read about the book you mentioned and yes, sounds heart-breaking.

  7. I’m glad that you’ve reviewed this book. I’d heard and read a lot of negative commentary about it. I have a 5 year old and I share the anxiety with the independence/dependence issue. A lot of this stems from the fact that parents now typically have fewer kids and so we really have the time to worry and plot parenting techniques. It amazes me that my mother has turned into a worrying grandmother when she let me lead a very independent childhood. I think we fear the world more now then even a generation ago. I’m a more of a Dr. Spock kind of parent. Seems to work with my son and I. I do have expectations of him and he seems to have a few of himself! I guess I’m more laid back too. I want him to be happy, self-sufficient, strong and to always question the world around him. Sometimes we worry whether we can do it all. But overall, I think it’s very rewarding being a parent. Tiger mum and all. Thanks for the post.

    1. Kinna » I think you hit the nail on the head: we have fewer kids and more time to worry and parent. I am still figuring out what kind of parent I am. Although I was shocked by this book, it was great to then sit down and talk about parenting styles with the others at book club because I realized we can all go about parenting a little differently and still have wonderful success. I’m working on expecting more of my son and he enjoys it…for the most part!

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