Saturday, April 02, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

This book gained plenty of notoriety when an excerpt was published in the Wall Street Journal. This excerpt seemed to make its way around every parenting community, often with signs of disgust with a parenting style that seemed to border on child abuse. The book, however, is much more balanced than the excerpt would have you believe.

The author is second generation Chinese. She was raised in America in a very Chinese style by her Chinese immigrant parents. She noted that first generation immigrants tend to struggle to obtain success that their children can build upon. Their children, however, tend to slack off, leaving the third generation not achieving as much as their ancestors. She is determined not to let that happen to her children. Thus, she chooses to raise them in a very strict Chinese fashion.

She lives in an area with a small Chinese population. She is also married to a non-Chinese Jew. Thus, she tends to overcompensate in the strictness of her Chinese parenting. She demands hours per day of studying and practicing musical instruments. She demands success in everything, even down to the quality of the birthday cards that her children make for their parents. Social activities for the children are seriously limited so that they can focus on their achievements. She pushes them to great heights, and doesn't accept "no" or "I don't want to" as an answer. Her first daughter thrives in this regime. Her second daughter, however, gives her trouble.

While her second daughter ends up following most of the prescribed routines, she does so somewhat reluctantly. Eventually, while on vacation in Russia, she violently rebels. (Good thing this wasn't Nebraska or child services would have been called in.) The author relents and lets the daughter stop devoting so much time to violin. The daughter takes up tennis, and excels there. She credits the strong drive and worth ethic that her mother instilled.

One key insight she has is that tasks become "fun" only after you have devoted enough time to become good at it. Parents that let children give up too soon deprive them of the chance to get good enough to enjoy the activity.

I wonder how different the book would have been if the author had lived in Cupertino instead of New Haven. In Cupertino, Chinese-style parenting is the norm, while "western-style" parenting is the oddity. Would she have tried to out-Chinese the Chinese parents? Or would the greater community enabled her to become more complacent (or even more "western") in her parenting style. Perhaps we can have a follow up of somebody raising a child the "western way" in Cupertino.

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