Sunday, December 4, 2011

A tiger mum in all of us?

Intrigued by the response towards the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mum", I decided to pick this up from the library last week. 

I admit that when I started off reading the book, I was somewhat  biased. Afterall, which parent would not find Amy Chua's methods a bit extreme? This is a famous excerpt from her book.

"Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

- 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
- not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin
- not play the piano or violin."

I remembered thinking to myself "wow, this woman is a bit extreme" when I first read some online reports and reviews of her book.

So, it was somewhat of a surprise that as I read on, I was entertained. Throughout the book, she openly compared the different parenting styles between a Western mum and a Chinese mum. Some of the statements are downright outrageous and provoking. Here's one:

"If a Chinese child gets a B — which would never happen — there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A." (from Chapter 10, Teeth marks and bubbles)

Though I find her methods extreme, I do know for a fact that many parents do pack in many many hours of assessment papers, etc., for their children. Hence I have to concede that this Tiger Mum really has the and determination to drive and direct, guide and many a time, force (lol) her children to excel.

Here's an excerpt which I like: (From Chapter 22 (“Blowout in Budapest”):

Here’s a question I often get: “But Amy, let me ask you this. Who are you doing all this pushing for – your daughters, or” – and here always, the cocked head, the knowing tone – “or yourself?” I find this a very Western question to ask (because in Chinese thinking, the child is the extension of the self). But that doesn’t mean it’s not an important one.

My answer, I’m pretty sure, is that everything I do is unequivocally 100% for my daughters. My main evidence is that so much of what I do with Sophia and Lulu is miserable, exhausting, and not remotely fun for me. It’s not easy to make your kids work when they don’t want to, to put in grueling hours when your own youth is slipping away, to convince your kids they can do something when they (and maybe even you) are fearful that they can’t. “Do you know how many years you’ve taken off my life?” I’m constantly asking my girls. “You’re both lucky that I have enormous longevity as indicated by my thick good-luck earlobes.”

Though I do not think that this is my parenting style, there are some parts of what she shared in the book which sounded familiar.

Amy Chua shared that even during vacations, her daughters were expected to practise their instruments. Being a homeschooler, I take every opportunity to share, guide and teach Dumpling. Even when we are out for playdates / dinners, I will always have some books in my bag to read with her. During our holiday in Perth, I brought along books and lapbooking resources so I can homeschool her every evening instead of watching TV.

While it is easy for many mums to snub or say that they do not subscibe to Amy Chua's methods, as I read on, I realised what she is doing is not far off from some parents I personally know as they ferry their children from enrichment classes to classes every weekend and packing in many hours of tuition on weekdays. So are many of us that far off from her (minus her extreme "rules" mentioned above)?

While it is not a method that I will adopt, I do respect her efforts (and in case you do not know, one of her daughters did rebel against her) and that unrelenting focus. Both her girls are unbelieveably talented and I do believe if she did not push them the way she did, they would not have achieved as much. When her youngest daughter decided to lay off the violin for a while, I felt sad for Amy Chua and to my surprise, thinking about what a shame it was for the younger daughter to "throw" the gift away. 

I also felt sad for her, from the perspective of a mother, that the very same drive (ok, narrow-mindedness and forcefulness :p) which pushed her girls to excel, backfired. I also recalled finishing the book with the thought that I hope her daughter would, one day, pick up the violin as her love for it is renewed. The only difference is that she pursues it on her own accord and based on her own motivation.

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