The Curse of the Tiger Mother.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


There’s a controversial book out about motherhood – with the author mom stirring up debate on The Today Show, National Public Radio, and my own personal favorite, Michel Martin’s Tell Me More


I’m starting to think that “a controversial book about motherhood” has become a redundant phrase, since any candid book about motherhood seems destined to be labeled “controversial.” Remember the headlines surrounding Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness? Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother? My own anthology Mommy Wars?


The underlying truth being: honesty about motherhood stirs folks up, all by its little self.


This latest salvo is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The author is Amy Chua, a Yale University law professor, ‘84 Harvard graduate, and the Chinese-American mother of two teenage daughters. A recent Wall Street Journal excerpt, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, gives you the jist of the book. Amy Chua starts motherhood blithely enough, determined like all of us to be the best mother on earth. She believes that her superstrict upbringing (No playdates! No sleepovers! No A- grades!) led to her lifetime of achievement and bliss. If it was good enough for her, this “virtuous circle” of accomplishment will work on her two daughters.


Oh, I love our theories about motherhood before we actually become moms.


Because, naturally enough, Chua’s two daughters have a few ideas of their own about how they should grow up.


Chua follows a draconian parenting style – impressive in its own bizarre way, particularly given that she manages to be a fulltime law professor, lecturer, writer and wife while raising her children with superhuman strictness. During early motherhood, she follows the no playdate-no sleepover-no TV-no computer games rules, as she intended. And just to make early childhood a little more character-building for her kids, she assigns each daughter a challenging instrument, one the piano, one the violin, before each girl turns five. Chua rushes maniacally from work to home and school to supervise her daughters, pull them out of non-essential classes like PE and drama for additional music lessons, and leaves them “thousands” of detailed notes when she’s away. Just as they must bring home As, the girls are held to elite individual performance standards: each must practice every day for hours (even on vacations in foreign countries), perform in solo recitals, and win coveted awards at either Carnegie Hall or Juilliard.


It is definitely a curse. Having been raised by a tiger mom and showing signs of it myself, it is a definitely a hard cycle to break. I try to maintain balance though and allow my children to have "normal" "happy" lives amongst the piano and violin practicing and academics. Thank you for glimpses into the book outside of the WSJ article, I've been afraid to pick it up myself. But with everything, parenting should be a journey, and a journey with moderation.


Wow, when I read this, all I think is--" that's kind of mean." Why are we so quick to judge this woman? I am responding to this woman's story so differently than many responses I've read.

Disclaimer-- I haven't read the book. I am not Chinese. I don't plan on using Ms. Chua's style of parenting. BUT--I am willing to read her thoughts, listen to her story, and recognize this book as what it is--NOT a how-to guide, but a MEMOIR. A story of her choices, her rationale, and what she recognizes as her "superior" successes and her mistakes along the way. Has anyone bothered to read the subtitle of the book-- how she "Was humbled by a 13 year old"? I think it's brave and honest for her to tell it like it is. And read the NY Times article in Sunday's paper-- which gives a really nice picture of her side of things.
Techinally, we ALL have superiority complexes when it comes to parenting-- we choose what we choose because we think it's BEST for our kids. So she does things differently than me. So what?
And by the way, although she wrote the book and is therefore obviously going to be the subject of the criticism... she is not a single parent. She did this TOGETHER with her husband and father of her children.
I know I've certainly made parenting mistakes, and my oldest isn't even 4! I say cheers to Ms. Chua for offering up her story--and cheers to her for finding a great career move in writing this book. I look forward to hosting sleepovers for my daughters, and also look forward to telling them when THEY are mothers, that we all do the best we can... let's be on the same team, huh?


I'll have to get this book and read it..I'm hoping that it has a happy ending where Tiger Mom realizes she's wrong and destroying her children and then they manage to regroup and have a happier life. If not, she's going to be an old woman sitting around waiting for accolades about how great a mom she is and how much she sacrificed, only to realize her family hates her and went on to have a happy life despite and without her. Ugh. Poor daughters. Sounds like a work camp instead of a home.