Response to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

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How do you create an instantly controversial bestseller? The answer, apparently, is to write a memoir of your incredibly strict parenting tips, thus opening a huge can of worms about culture and parenting. There are very few other topics, in fact, that can usher in the sheer volume of debate that Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has engendered. Her article in the Wall Street Journal, a preview of the recently-published book, drew both ire from many American parents and praise from some who had been through the system themselves. A slew of commentators leaped into the fray to either support Chua’s viewpoint or defend the “Western” way of parenting, and David Brooks of The New York Times expressed his opinion that Chua was neglecting, fatally, the social skills that her children would need later in life.

But the “Chinese” system isn’t only practiced by Chinese parents, as many South Asians know; it’s how the desi society raises its kids too. In this new Nazar debate forum, seven of our writers pitch in with a range of responses to Chua’s philosophy.

Take a look, and be sure to comment and let us know what you think.

Zeal Desai
First, I would like to investigate the root cause of Amy Chua’s technique of parenting. Chua and her parents might agree with the notion that their children need to be successful in school and extracurriculars to become successful adults. Moreover, the struggle that her immigrant parents went through in the USA inspired her to reward them through excellence in academics .

Chua’s own family background explains the reason why she strongly disapproves of mediocre performance–both academic and non-academic and why she expects her daughters to excel in everything they do. Since one of her sisters is a physician and professor at Stanford’s School of Medicine and another is a two-time Special Olympics Gold Medal Winner, it is not unnatural for Chua to expect the best out of her own daughters. Obviously, Chua approves of her parents’ parenting skills, which greatly influence her own.

Also, Chua has been consistent in saying that her book is neither a ‘how-to’ guide on parenting nor does it prescribe or suggest that the Asian way of parenting is superior to the western one. In fact, she calls her book a “memoir,” filled with “self-mockery”and almost “ironic”. The subtitle of Chua’s book, And How I was Humbled by a Thirteen Year Old, clearly reflects her self-awareness and realization of the flaws in “great expectation parenting.” Instead of sitting in judgement about her way of parenting, it would be more fascinating to see if her daughters continue to carve a niche for themselves intellectually, but more importantly, socially.

Amartya Saha
I completely, totally, absolutely, wholeheartedly disagree with Chua.

She (and countless other Asian parents) are tuning the rat race to a fever pitch.The urge to be the best is a natural trait in certain individuals; however, foisting this upon others has the undesirable outcome of making life much more competitive and needlessly stressful.

While some children accept their parents’ exhortations and turn out competitive, others are unable to deal with the pressure and either burn out or rebel against their parents and society. In many cases, escape from excessive parental pressure is found through hard drugs and in extreme cases, suicide. How tragic. I have known many boys in Bombay, Calcutta, Darjeeling and Shillong who have burnt out due to their parents’ expectations. This is more so in communities (such as Maharashtrian, Bengali and Tamil) which are often not inclined to entrepreneurship, and hence view education (and high marks) as the passport to success in the market.

The rat race is a natural, albeit, unfortunate outcome of the high population in India, with stiff competition for limited university seats and jobs. However, carrying over the same competitive tendencies to life in North America, in my opinion, needlessly adds pressures that divide us from each other. Instead, we ought to be searching for ways to defuse political tension and terrorism, reduce our impact on the environment and decrease the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Fostering competition to extremes is incompatible with compassion, the central tenet of Buddhism and the root of dharma, as described in Hindu scriptures as the right way to live. In the end, if life itself is essentially transitory, in accordance with the Eastern concept of maya, why make life artificially difficult for the self and for society ?

Varun Voruganti
I’ve had a different experience in the sense that I never thought that my parents expected me to do better than everyone else. They wanted me to maximize my potential and go as far as I could take myself. They recognized that it was counterproductive to compare me to other people because for every person who did better than me, I could recognize ten people who were doing worse than me. Even though they expected me to make high grades, they recognized that it was not something worth berating me for. As much as Professor Chua believes that it was her continual expectations of excellence that caused her children to succeed, there is a lot more involved in the development of a child including the school environment.

Ultimately, what’s the point of living if one cannot take stock in one’s accomplishments? The job of a parent is not to consistently denigrate but to be proud of a child’s accomplishments. Ultimately, in the world, your parents and friends are the only ones who will not look for an opportunity to discredit your accomplishments.

On a final note, Chua writes in the Wall Street Journal article that the purpose of her book is to show why the “Chinese” way of parenting is superior but at the end, she says that different people have different parenting styles. To me, it seems that she is manufacturing controversy as a marketing gimmick. As much as I admire her willingness to examine her parenting style and the effect it had on her children, I do not doubt that she tried to create as much controversy as she could to sell more books, especially in the wake of her recent comments in which she has tried to back away from some of her earlier contentions.

Merwan Hade
Instead of rehashing what Chua and David Brooks said or failed to say, I’m going to focus my thoughts on my personal experience and opinion on this issue. I was raised by very loving parents who have always motivated me to work hard. My parents have never abused me, never called me fat or stupid, and never denied me food or water. I was always encouraged to succeed, and if I failed or didn’t do as well as I was expected to do, I was asked to practice and work harder. There were times when my parents’ disappointment at a ninety-five felt unjustified, but the next time I definitely made a 100. I think the essence of Chua’s argument is that Asian parents are more willing to push their children. Asian parents expect their children to succeed, and given the time and effort the parents put in to their children’s lives, I think they earn a right to do so.

If there is one image that always haunts me, it’s the look of disappointment on my father’s face when I placed second in a Spelling Bee in elementary school. He expected excellence and on that occasion I did not deliver. For the longest time, I felt his feelings were not justified. I lost, not him, so why should he be disappointed? But, I realize now, we both lost. He had worked hard to make my life as comfortable as possible. It was not just my time and effort on the line, but also his.

Ultimately, our children are a reflection of how good we are as parents. If our children don’t succeed, then we are not doing an adequate job. I don’t think we should abuse our children because they get a B, but surely expressing disappointment is not unfair.

Suchismita Pahi
I’d definitely say Chua is on the extreme right end of the scale when it comes to “stereotypical” parenting in the Asian community. There is some truth to the stereotypes presented though. The pressure to succeed as well as the emphasis on being well-rounded has created a work ethic that I will always be thankful for. It is especially relevant in a world where children are growing to compete on a global playing field. Average achievement in America is zero in the rest of the world, especially when you consider economically comparative states.

Her book is best read for a titillating look at “crazy”. Other than that, it doesn’t do much. I think Asian parents tend to push for higher standards due to their immigrant background — they achieved success through financial and professional degrees, discipline and hard work, and they understand that their upward social mobility in America is found from that style of work. I don’t think one should take it as a critique of Western parenting, although I do think Western parenting could use quite a few of the themes that Asian parenting uses.

Finally, although Chua is radical in her statements, Asian parents do expect too much; at the same time, they deliver a lot too. They rarely expect their children to work while in school, they push their children for success but tend not to ask for chores, and when it comes to a social life, you have one, except it is not determined by you and your friends, but you and the amount of good work you have accomplished.

To me, it is absolutely a good way of raising your children.

Sumita Sami

When I was in first grade, I scored the equivalent of an A- on my final exams. My mother berated me for an hour as I sobbed on the couch. And she was right to do that—I never again scored below an A for those six years of primary school. I may not be a genius now, but I learned what standards and discipline were in my formative years. Although Chua does takes her philosophy to extremes, hard work and high expectations will never faze a child brought up under this regime.

This philosophy’s complete dedication to education is also something American parents need to learn from. A country cannot perform this badly in international standardized tests and expect to remain a superpower for long.

What’s more, I think David Brooks is offering “slacker” parents an easy way out, a balm to assuage their secret guilt. In any immigrant community—like the desi society, for instance—children are constantly under scrutiny. Are they polite, well-spoken and confident? Do they respond to adult enquiries intelligently? Do they eventually present the best view possible of themselves and their family? The social sphere of an immigrant community is as much of a battlefield and learning ground as any lunchroom or drama club. I do think that Chua’s obsession with acceptable birthday cards is absurd and cruel. But her underlying principles are sound.

Srujana Lam
If the question is one of the superiority of “Western” vs. “Eastern” culture, there’s no clear cut answer. Each culture values a different set of skills, and Chua isn’t completely amiss in suggesting that the values of hard work, discipline, and taking responsibility will get you far in life. That being said, I think Chua’s style of “Eastern” parenting leaves a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to the emotional turmoil that this attitude of “You have to be #1” causes kids. It leaves very little time for kids to actually enjoy and appreciate the successes they’ve had, and it strains parent-child relations unnecessarily. Also, as Brooks points out, such intense focus on academics means that Chua’s kids miss out on the many social skills that everybody should be picking up on as children. The “Eastern” parenting style misses this point completely. What’s needed now is not an argument over which parenting style is superior, but for parents to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of both styles and to attempt to strike a reasonable balance between the two.


About Zeal Desai :
A self-proclaimed people person, optimist, and hyperglobalist, Zeal Desai loves majoring in International Relations and Global Studies. She has many stories to tell from her recent study abroad experience in Argentina. Traveling, ballroom dancing, languages, cultures, colors, cuisines, spontaneity, planners, the arts, and more, fascinate her. Zeal awaits the existence of a white globe – a world without boundaries. Her constant quest for information overwhelms her at times, but she is thankful for being appointed as the Longhorn Events Editor at Nazar.
View all posts by Zeal Desai
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