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'Chinese Tiger Mother' Amy Chua -- Is Her Parenting a Form of Child Abuse?

3 years ago
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Amy Chua, a Yale law professor and the woman who has quickly become the infamous "Chinese Tiger mother," seems to be a taskmaster and a bully. I don't know her personally, but after reading the episodes she chose to put in her book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," those are the nicest things I can find to say about her parenting techniques. The not so nice thing? I felt like Chua's accounts bordered on child abuse.

Chua's book is generating tons of heated discussion in online parenting circles thanks to the Wall Street Journal article highlighting it (first written about at Politics Daily by Helena Andrews) titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Nothing gets more attention and critique from mothers and the mom blogosphere than a new spin on the now-tired Mommy Wars narrative. At first blush, I thought Chua's story would be a humorous journey through the ups and downs of unbending rules and attention to detail in a world of children who are overly attached to their Wiis and their Facebook accounts. But her book, which Chua says she wrote after her "crisis" when her younger daughter announced she was quitting the violin, is actually scarier than that -- it's a shocking tale of extreme parenting.

While Chua may not be "Mommy Dearest," if another parent forced her young daughter to pull an all-nighter of piano practice, refusing to give her water or bathroom breaks, or tried to force a 3-year-old to do better at her first piano lesson by making her stand outside in 20-degree weather until she relented, I suspect that Social Services would be knocking at the door. At the very least, that mother or father would be subject to our pop culture scrutiny, a la Kate Gosselin.

By her own admission, Chua has called her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, "garbage," "worthless," "barbarian," "common," "low," and "disgusting." Chua's book is filled with anecdote after anecdote about how she wields unrelenting command and control over her girls, threatening to burn her children's stuffed animals and treating them cruelly:
I threatened [Lulu] with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas and no Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing [her piano piece] wrong, I told her she was purposefully working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
I was truly shocked by Chua's actions and the cavalier tone she used to write about them. Simply put, Chua does not come off well no matter how hard she tries to back-pedal on her promotional tour. In the aftermath of readers expressing outrage over her parenting techniques, which I am hoping were exaggerated for literary effect, Chua has been telling anyone willing to listen that "Tiger Mother" should be read as a tongue-in-cheek account of a humbling parenting journey. She told Diane Rehm this week on NPR:
I . . . know many Chinese people who do not parent this way. So what I put in the book, I mean, is partly tongue in cheek, I said, ''What a Chinese mother believes,'' and this is me, by the way, at the beginning of the book because the book is a journey and I do change.
There is little evidence of a humbleness evolution in her book however. Amy Tiemann of Mojo Mom blog concurs, saying that despite Chua's protestations to the contrary, she read the book as completely serious and uncompromising:
I realize that there are many ways to be a good parent. But I assigned myself the task of actually reading Chua's book and forcing myself to come down on one side or another: Do I think that it's acceptable to treat your children the way Chua raised her daughters? My answer is, no, it's not okay. If the behavior described in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not abusive perfectionism, what is?
Given her views, I suspect Chua would scoff at the recent article about families returning to the pleasures of playtime with their children. And odds are "The Blessing of a B-" is not in her stack of bedside reading.

Some writers in the online Asian community are highly critical about the fact that Chua seems to celebrate this parenting style. One Asian blogger wrote a post entitled, "Parents like Amy Chua are the reasons why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy." And Cynthia Liu writes at K12 News Network that there are too many stories of sad consequences in young adults who have been raised with the take-no-prisoners parenting approach reflected in Chua's book, including suicide and long-term depression:

The wreckage from the lives I've seen as a result of this high-stakes parenting outnumbers the glowing "success" stories I'm well aware exist. After all, we can't all be number one. That's why I'm puzzled as to why Amy Chua would want to repeat the kind of parenting she experienced with her own children.

There's nothing wrong with being strict with one's children or having rigorous standards. Maryland mom Jessica McFadden describes herself as a Western mom with Chinese mom tendencies, requiring her children to do math and spelling drills, and buying her 7-year-old son a free-standing basketball hoop to practice when he wanted to quit the sport. But McFadden's accounts of her parenting style, as tiger-like as she thinks they may be, come nowhere close to those of Chua, a woman who confesses to being disappointed about her older daughter's Carnegie Hall debut, as well as the handmade birthday cards crafted by her children.

"The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" is already a success -- it's currently ranked No. 4 in sales on Amazon. I suspect "Tiger Mother" will be on the other best seller lists sooner rather than later because even if parents are shocked at Chua's methods, we are still a society of competitive helicopter parents who know that it's become increasingly difficult to get our kids into college and even harder for them to find good jobs when they graduate. In our 'please give me the secret to perfect parenting' culture, if one mother is viewed as having a magic wand, or should I say a magic whip, for turning one's child into a prodigy with Ivy League potential, even if the methods seem harsh, there is sure to be a substantial audience.

As a "Dog Mother" of a "Rabbit Daughter" who plays a little violin, I know first-hand that it's usually a struggle to persuade kids to practice the instruments they've chosen or been forced to choose. We all know that there are few who will practice on their own and that parents need to be involved on some level to help their children gain a positive experience from learning to play music or any other endeavor that requires time and effort. But in a world where our children are increasingly victims of a culture of perfectionism, celebrating a memoir of parenting that harshly judges any parents who don't push their children in the same way that Chua did, and that suggests that extreme parental harshness is the key to any child's success, is dangerous.

I want my daughter to succeed in life and enjoy it. I want her to practice her violin and get her homework done before she's allowed to watch some TV (shhh!). I have to believe it's possible to accomplish that without resorting to abusive tactics. Clearly, Chua (or her publicist) has sparked a flame. But I think it's one most of us can agree should be be put out quickly before it spreads. And I pray that my daughter, as Chua's did, never compares me to Lord Voldemort.
Filed Under: Race Issues, Woman Up, Culture

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