by Mark Sklarow, Executive Director, IECA
I had heard so many pieces of stories and scores of opinions based on the same few passages. Rejecting her daughter’s birthday card because not enough effort was put into it. No play dates because there is no free time in her daughters’ schedules…for the next year or two. Accusations of disgracing the family name over some small matter, like not wanting to try caviar. Threatening to dispose of holiday presents if a difficult musical piece wasn’t mastered and performed flawlessly. Upon hearing one daughter came in second during a weekly multiplication speed drill, she required the daughter to do 20 hours of drills the next week so that would never happen again. And on it goes.
There’s no question that Amy Chua has hit some raw nerves in her explosive bestseller, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” I winced often as I read the book over the last few days, especially when she quoted herself using words like “horrible,” “disgrace,” “failure,” and worse to ‘motivate’ her daughters. One wonders whether Amy Chua was thinking mainly of her daughters—or her own glory—when pushing them to practice piano or violin for six hours a day. In one disturbing segment she threatened to cancel her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah: perform the violin or no party, even as the girl sought to make the day a religiously significant one and made pleas not to play the violin. Mom won.
But the book is not, as some have led you to believe, simply a recitation by Amy Chua of why her method of parenting—the Chinese way—is superior to permissive Western parenting. Rather it helps understand another mindset. One where allowing a child to stop when something gets tough reinforces failure, while she wanted her daughters to see they could achieve more than they imagined with hard work. More importantly it is a story of two very different daughters and how the “Chinese way” worked for one, but not the other. By book’s end it is clear that the book is really about discovering that children are different, requiring different motivators, parenting, and approaches. And that’s a story that resonates.
Amy Chua will be a featured speaker at the IECA Spring Conference this May in Philadelphia. Watch for conference registration to open in a few days.