The Tiger Mother is back in the news . . . because she’s peddling the paperback version of her controversial 2011 memoir, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
And, despite all the criticism she’s received for her approach to parenting, she has said that if she had it to do all over again, she’d raise her daughters in the same way.
Remember last year when she burst into pop culture consciousness with her essay in The Wall Street Journal — timed to be published when the hardcover version of her memoir was released – which outraged many with its description of how Yale Law School professor Amy Chua was raising her two daughters?
People were stunned to read that Chua’s daughters weren’t allowed to do a whole host of things including: “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 . . . play any instrument other than the piano or violin.”
In the wake of her inflammatory op/ed – which suggested that her way was superior to a more empathetic, feelings-oriented child-rearing that’s currently in vogue — and the book’s release, Chua was on the receiving end of some serious vitriol for bluntly describing herself as a demanding mother who once forced her then 7-year-old to sit at the piano and work on a piece for hours without a bathroom break or food until the kid nailed it. She’s the mom who admitted that she called her daughter “garbage” and said she’d rejected her then 4-year-old’s handmade birthday card because Chua said the kid hadn’t put any real effort into it.
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them,” she wrote in the Journal at the time. “If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
Even if you agreed with the overall intellectual argument Chua was making – that children need to be held to higher standards and taught to work hard, instead of being lavished them with false, meaningless praise that won’t help them when they enter the real world – the methods in which Chua said she utilized to put her child-rearing philosophy into practice struck many folks, myself included, as chilling. If you went by what the media told us about her, she seemed like a caricature of a domineering mom that offspring flee in fairy tales.
Now Chua has returned to the pages of the Journal to provide an update on her Tiger Mother parenting now that her oldest daughter is a freshman at Harvard and Chua’s memoir is out in paperback. However Chua appears to be trying to tame her Tiger Mother persona, at least in the public eye, declaring that her job rearing her eldest daughter is, essentially, all done.
“A lot of people have asked me whether I still ‘tiger mom’ my older daughter, Sophia, now that she’s in college,” Chua wrote in a new essay entitled, “Tiger Mom’s Long-Distance Cub” in which she admitted to forgetting about parents’ weekend at Harvard. “Do I block sleepovers from afar, drill her on schoolwork remotely, monitor piano practice by Skype and make sure that she never watches TV or plays computer games? Actually, it’s just the opposite. My husband and I are probably the most hands-off college parents we know.”
Chua asserted that while it’s important to “tiger parent” when a child is 12 and under in order to “produce kids who are more daring and self-reliant,” now she’s letting her eldest daughter take the reins. Color me skeptical. I can’t imagine that if Sophia decided to major in something like Art History or Philosophy, possibly join a rock band and play the drums or, got a C in a class that her mother would say, “Well, my work here is done.” I likewise can’t imagine that Chua would be hands off if, say, Sophia made a career choice or selected a spouse of which her mother disapproved. Turning off the Tiger Mother switch doesn’t seem that simple. Project a little into the future . . . do you really imagine someone who micro managed her children’s childhood biting her tongue should her daughters raise their children in that soft American style or taking umbrage should Grandma reject her grandkids’ homemade cards as not up to par? She’s about as likely to keep quiet as Donald Trump is to become president.
During a recent interview with the Today Show’s Ann Curry, the news anchor asked Chua if she “would be surprised” if her children “seek counseling at some point.” Curry also expressed her surprise that Chua was surprised by the overwhelmingly negative reaction to her Tiger Mother approach, which Chua still sees as preferable to the weak-kneed, self-esteem-centric American parenting approach. Curry, clearly, remains uncomfortable with Chua’s exultation of the Tiger Mother parenting style, regardless of the fact that Chua’s daughters are high achievers (I don’t think they had a choice). Ann, you’re certainly not alone.