Sunday, March 13, 2011
Book Observation: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, aka Crazy Time in Chinatown
Amy Chua is a mother, and fiercely proud of her role. She's also 'crazy' when it comes to her kids (and later about her dogs) but the thing is, I think, all mothers are crazy to come degree. I am not a mother, but I know that if I was, I would be crazy. Something happens when a woman gives birth that naturally changes a woman (and for argument's sake, let's focus on kind women, not the jerks), a piece of their heart grows legs and walks out into the world. I get that. I honestly do. So unless you're a soulless, selfish vile piece of crap as a human being who should never procreate then it's not really my place to pass judgment on your method (unless of course it involves abuse, which goes into the vile piece of crap category). So take what I say with a grain of salt as it's just my opinion.
Battle Hymn is an interesting read. It's a window into one woman's method of rearing her children; The Chinese Way. Which is very different to most Western ways, but not all different. I too, couldn't have sleepovers with classmates, and I too, was told, after getting an A in school, "why not A+?" It's perhaps, more The Immigrant Way than one specific ethnic group. That being said, The Chinese definitely take it up several notches, with some stellar results. But at what cost? What is the cost to the child's personality? Or heart? Or inner thoughts? Or how they interact with others as they grow? The Chinese Way makes no apologies for what it is because the bottom line is the result. It doesn't care about personal expression, or self-esteem, or hurt feelings because it only wants to produce success, and for the most part, it seems to be an outward success. There are exceptions to every rule though.
The book is an easy and quick read, with an approachable style of writing. It's not heavy handed in its literary style, probably done that way deliberately. Almost as if it's "dumbed down" for the Western Parent. What I find odd, at times, about this book, is the reasoning as to why it was written. At times, it comes across as a boasting, self-aggrandizing, and narcissistic effort with quite a bit of hypocrisy intertwined in the mix. On page 11, Chua says that she doesn't believe in astrology and says those who do, have problems, which is then followed by the next sentence where she goes on to describe her daughters under the Chinese astrology and says it fits them perfectly. So isn't she telling us that she, herself, has problems? Because she does. She also says on Page 148 that she has lucky earlobes, and how that's tied into her longevity. I'm not sure if she's being serious, or ironic.
She also doesn't believe in sleepovers, or bribery. And yet, she lets her daughter go to a sleepover, and bribes her youngest daughter, Lulu, on more than one occasion. The one time being with a dog! Which, of course, she ends up taking for walks, feeding, grooming, trying to train (she fails, realizing that a dog isn't a person she can control). I think Amy Chua, is first to admit that she's a control freak, but at least she's not a lazy freak. For all the hours and work, and tears that her daughters put into their schooling and piano and violin, their mother is there with them every step of the way, despite the fact that she, herself, doesn't play an instrument, but seemingly knows all the best musical notes to give to her kids.
Raising dogs requires patience, love, and some initial training (pg. 161) but Chinese parenting is so much more than that, she goes on in detail to describe it. What, I think it requires is open communication. Otherwise, resentment sets in somewhere within. It may never be voiced, but it's there somewhere. It has to be.
Amy Chua is full of intensity, and panic at all times. She can't relax and there has to be something wrong with someone who can't relax, or cry. She's always in this panic mode as if driven by fear, not just out of failure, but of the chaos in her own mind. What I get from her is that she comes from a place of pure ego. She cares what others think to a fault. She speaks without thinking to her children, but is poised in public. She reveals herself to be a Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character. She exposes herself to the world with this book. And I don't think she sees most of her own faults. We never really see our own, do we? Unless they're pointed out to us, and it then takes a lot to admit them to ourselves, and even more to change or improve.
But I don't think anyone can say that she doesn't love her kids. Because she does. And it takes courage to write a book that makes you look like a monster at times. I've heard some backlash against Chua, and this parenting style, which is understandable. But I don't think Chua is a bad person, nor is she perfect. Perhaps, she needs more humility as a writer, and parent, and human being. Then again, maybe we all do.
Her daughters are still teenagers, so who knows who or what they will grow up into. Chua has already gone through a rough go of it with her youngest daughter Lulu, who definitely rebelled against the Chinese Way, but in a fairly common Western way.
Maybe, her daughters will be free thinking parents who give their kids space, or maybe they will be just as hard on their kids as their mother was on them. Hopefully not, because maybe a balance can be reached here. I think there are valid teachings on both sides of the parenting debate. Children should have boundaries, consequences, and limits. There is an appalling lack of manners amongst our youth today, and even amongst some spinsters as well. So if Chua has raised polite, kind, and considerate women who aid in making society a better place then she's done a good job. Maybe it's just time for her, for all mothers, to take a good look at themselves first.