Jan. 10, 2011 at 8:40 PM ET
Pathetic. Lazy. Garbage.
These are just a few of the insults Amy Chua has hurled at her two daughters over the years, in an effort to get them to practice the piano, get better grades and generally conform to her strict ideas of perfection. She shares this in her new book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" -- but this isn't one of those momoir confessionals. No, she's bragging.
Chua rationalizes her nastiness by calling it cultural: She is a "Chinese mother," she explains in her book, which is excerpted at TODAYshow.com and in the Wall Street Journal. She's scheduled to appear on TODAY Tuesday to talk about her controversial parenting practices. The WSJ excerpt, published over the weekend, prompted 2,000 comments. Chua's philosophy is so extreme that many readers thought it was satire lampooning the stereotype of the over-achieving Asian. Having read her book this weekend, I can attest that, sadly, she's totally serious when she writes things like this:
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.
And this list of things she actually said to her daughter while supervising 90-minute daily piano practice sessions:
1. Oh my God, you're just getting worse and worse.
2. I'm going to count to three, then I want musicality!
3. If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM!
Or this gem, after her young children presented her with handmade birthday cards:
I gave the card back to Lulu. “I don’t want this,” I said. “I want a better one — one that you’ve put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophia, and this one can’t go in there.”
“What?” said Lulu in disbelief. I saw beads of sweat start to form on Jed’s forehead.
I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen from my purse and scrawled ‘Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!’ I added a big sour face. “What if I gave you this for your birthday Lulu- would you like that? But I would never do that, Lulu. No — I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and erase party favors that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.” I threw the card back.
Sounds like a real peach, doesn't she?
There are some nuggets of truth amid all the craziness and wild generalizations. Chua argues that "Chinese" mothers -- and she uses that term loosely, to include parents of any ethnicity who agree with her super-strict philosophy -- set high standards and don't tolerate failure because they believe their children can truly achieve greatness. Meanwhile, she bemoans the dominant American culture in which children are praised and rewarded for mediocrity: bribed with Xboxes to make their beds and paid for passing grades. She's got a point. Children live up, or down, to the expectations we set for them. But there has got to be a way to set high standards without resorting to the name-calling and Mommy Dearest meanness that characterizes Chua's relationships with her daughters.
Chua had to reconsider her "perfect" parenting strategy when her youngest daughter hit 13 and rebelled. Still, she seems to look back on her days of iron-fist parenting with fondness, and a big dose of superiority. Wonder how her daughters will look back on their childhoods? A few of the comments on the Wall Street Journal article hint at the possible future. Here's one:
"I am from such a Chinese family being raised by a very strict father.
However I still don't find this article funny. In fact, I HATE my father for all that he has done to me.
I hated going home during the holidays knowing he will be there. And I avoid contacting him. Since its customary for grandparents to help raise grandchildren, I will absolutely REFUSE my kids to spend any extend time with them as I do not want their parenting style to have any influence on my children."
What do you think of Amy Chua's "Tiger Mother" philosophy? Do you think American parents should be more strict? Have your say in the comments.