Multi-American

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The roar of the Tiger Mother

Screen shot from tigermomsays.tumblr.com

This has been the week of the Tiger Mother, and it's not over yet. Since last weekend, when the Wall Street Journal published an essay by author and Yale law professor Amy Chua titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," Chua has become perhaps the most notorious parent in America, setting off a firestorm of controversy over the parenting techniques she described in the essay and in her memoir, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother."

It's not suprising given some of the content: Among other things, Chua described a parenting regimen that deprived her two daughters of play dates, sleepovers, television and computer games in favor of piano and violin practice, along with incidents like once calling one of the girls "garbage" and rejecting the children's homemade birthday cards.

After receiving what she described as “hundreds, hundreds” of e-mails and even death threats, Chua defended herself in an interview with The New York Times that ran this weekend, explaining that her sense of irony and self-mockery was misunderstood. In the meantime, a series of spoof sites have emerged, from an alternately hilarious and painful to watch animated video to a "Tiger Mom Says" Tumblr.

Beyond Chua's story, though, is the greater conversation that the Tiger Mother controversy has led to. Various explorations of Asian-style parenting (and whether Chua, a second-generation Chinese American, presents an accurate example) versus Western-style parenting have appeared in countless articles and, most interestingly, in the comments sections of just about every piece that has run on the subject since Chua's Wall Street Journal essay appeared Jan. 8.

On Friday, KPCC's Patt Morrison interviewed a parenting expert about the controversy, drawing a string of opinionated callers and many more to post comments online. Several were Asian Americans who weighed in with their own experiences, some of whom defended the thinking that goes into the sort of tough love parenting espoused by Chua, even if they weren't a hundred percent behind it. A sample:

From Lou:

As an Asian-American, I've seen plenty of kids raised in this manner. Yes, they are very book smart and talented at playing piano but at the cost of no personality, no creativity, and most likely emotional damage.

I've known plenty of Asian kids who can play Mozart and Bach beautifully but wouldn't know where to start if asked to create a piece on their own.

And sadly, that birthday card story may sound harsh to people, but I can totally understand it.

We need to take this into consideration when the pols keep comparing us to other countries. We don't want to produce robots. And not all Asians support this way of parenting. There is a large percentage of Asians who feel Asian education produces robots and send their kids overseas to get a Western education.

But that is not to say Western parenting is better. All this coddling has led to an entire genration elongating adolescence into their 30s.

Like everything, there's probably a happy medium.


From JC:
I'm Chinese. When I was in high school and my report card showed all A's but one B, my mother would only focus on "why did you get the B", I would here about it until I get an A in that class. The rest of the A's I recieved was not mentioned of or praised. But I understood that means she approved of it. It didn't hurt my self esteem. It pushes me to work harder.

From May:
The goals in parenting seem different. As a Chinese American I can see both sides. Generally speaking, as primary goals, Asian parents want a successful future for their children that can lead to happiness. American parents want happiness for their children that can lead them to success.

And from Lori, of "Danish and German descent:"
I think the success of this apprach depends on the personality of the child, as well! I am 48, and of Danish and German descent. In my home, anything less than first place, first chair in orchestra, president of student council, or an A was absolutely UNacceptable. Even when we excelled, my father would gives us "notes" on how we could still have "improved" on what we had done. The message I took away from my family was that I could NEVER be good enough.

My older sister is a wildly successful physician. However, although I graduated college with a 3.95 GPA, I have been marginally employed and have struggled with self-esteem issues my entire life.

I was the cub that the tiger would have eaten...


One thing I may have missed is comments on Latina mothers (Jaguar Mothers?) like my own, a tough cookie who taught me to speak my mind, yet never to be punctual.

Amy Chua is scheduled to be a guest on this morning's AirTalk with Larry Mantle.

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