When Amy Chau’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ was first published in 2011 and an excerpt appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a huge media backlash began, condemning Amy for her Chinese parenting techniques and seriously questioning the concept of the ‘Tiger Mother’.
I had my own opinion on the matter and wrote on my blog about how shocking it all was and why I would never be a ‘Tiger Mother’ myself. But I hadn’t read Amy’s book. Now, having read the paperback edition which is published by Bloomsbury, my opinion has changed slightly.
‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, apart from anything else, is an excellently written, humorous, intelligent and, at times, self-deprecating memoir. Amy’s writing is sharp, her account of family life is brutally honest and yet she isn’t afraid to laugh at herself and point out her own flaws.
From the outset, Amy paints a revealing picture of family life with her husband Jed, her daughters Sophia and Lulu (and the dogs who eventually join the family – Amy’s Chinese Mother approach to ‘parenting’ a dog is part insanity, part hilarious account of how she recognises she cannot always be in control).
Of course, Amy’s approach to raising her daughters is vastly – and sometimes shockingly – different to the approach taken by the majority of ‘Western’ parents. And yet, having read ‘Battle Hymn’, I’m not angry with Amy, as I expected to be. I don’t despise her, I don’t even condemn her. I actually applaud her unbelievable self-discipline and drive, even if I cannot understand it and certainly don’t feel that there would be a place for it in my own home.
Her continual, and often very dramatic, battles with her daughters over piano and violin practice may be extreme, but there is a part of me – the coaxing my children to eat their dinners part – which completely gets where Amy is coming from, as a mother, putting herself into an unpleasant situation in the belief that you are trying to do what you believe is best for your children.
There are some very painful low points between Amy and her daughters, but these always seem to be countered by the most amazing high points as they reach a seemingly unattainable goal and shine in their public performances, playing the piano or violin. Amy’s pride and absolute love for her girls, at these times, is hard to deny.
From the gasp-inducing episode of the ‘Birthday Card’, to the relentless pursuit of excellence which involves booking the grand ballroom of the hotel they are staying in while on holiday so the girls don’t miss out on any piano practice time, to dealing with two family illnesses, to the final showdown with her youngest daughter in a restaurant near Red Square, this is an account of family life which I couldn’t put down.
With the paperback edition comes a post script from Amy, which gives us an additional insight into her reaction to the media storm which followed the initial publication of the book. Her re-telling of just one of the many interviews she experienced is hilarious. We also have the letter written from Sophia which was posted in the New York Post: ‘Why I love my Tiger Mother’. This, perhaps above all else, tells the real story of ‘Battle Hymn’.
Perhaps all parents face their own battles when it comes to raising children. ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ certainly makes you think about your own parenting style. Ironically, I read the closing chapters of the book as I sat sipping a coffee, waving occasionally to my children as my husband played with them in the swimming pool. I could almost feel Amy breathing over my shoulder admonishing me for my shockingly lazy parenting techniques!
Amy Chua’s battle is definitely one to open your eyes – and one which you simply cannot offer an opinion on until you’ve read the book.
‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ is published by Bloomsbury.