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Crouching Tiger Mother Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger Mother Hidden Dragon

Amy Chua unleashed a firestorm of debate about “wimpy” western child rearing. Is she right?


You’d think that after all the business we Jews have given Chinese restaurants over the last 3,000 years, we deserved better than an in-your-face essay called “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Talk about ingratitude! Discerning readers will quickly divine that the article was written by a Chinese mother, and when it was published in the Wall Street Journal recently as an excerpt from the author’s new bestselling book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," it unleashed a firestorm of debate, counterpoint essays, and much gnashing of teeth amongst moms across the world – save China I suppose. This is understandable, because author Amy Chua, a law professor at Yale, slammed Western-style mothering for its slavish attention to children’s self-esteem as totally wimpy, a sure-fire way to raise mediocre kids. To ensure that her own meydelehs would achieve academic and musical stardom, “Tiger Mom,” as Chua was quickly dubbed, declared all play dates, sleepovers, TV, computer games, school performances and other “normal” childhood activities as treif, verboten, no-can-do, don’t even ask.

“Tiger Mom” dubbed normal childhood activities like sleepovers completely trief.

If Chua’s daughters ever dared to come home with anything less than a solid A in any subject, she didn’t embrace them and purr, “That’s okay, bubeleh. You’re still Mommy and Daddy’s little darling.” No. Tiger Mom admits, in often self-deprecating fashion, that she went into a full-throttle meltdown, screaming and shaming her offspring as lazy and worthless. She even called them fat.

Chua claimed that she devoted dozens of hours a week drilling her girls on practice tests and stood over them, arms crossed, while they practiced the piano and violin. No wonder so many people who go into academia are dying to get tenure. They must have a lot of free time on their hands to torment their children like this, if that sort of thing excites them.

Related Article: Are Chinese Parents Superior?

I ask you: This is superior parenting? Did Tiger Mom not realize that one day her daughters might one day choose her nursing home? Or has she already reserved a space in a nice one, anticipating this very risk? Maybe she figured that she was immunized from this kind of payback. After all, forcing her girls to practice piano and violin till their fingers nearly fell off did result in one of them playing at Carnegie Hall as a teenager, no doubt while her classmates were watching an Adam Sandler movie at a sleepover. I wonder, how do you say nachas in Chinese?

I was shocked by some of Chua’s tactics, but admit that I admired her sheer bravery. It takes unadulterated chutzpah to breezily own up to this sort of boot camp parenting while you are a law professor at a liberal bastion like Yale University. I imagined campus-wide efforts to declaw Tiger Mom, firing her from the faculty and whisking her into a sensitivity training program. I waited for full-page ads in the New York Times decrying her barbaric approach to child-rearing, and agents from Child Protective Services banging down her door to remove the girls to a home where they could live like regular American kids, flipping through Us magazine and contemplating their next facial piercings.

Tiger Mom has a point: Western parenting styles are often slack. She’s right that the best way to instill true self-esteem kids is to not let them give up too quickly, and to push them when needed to realize their potential. But let’s face it, you show me a kid who’s been forced to practice violin four hours a day without bathroom breaks and I’ll show you a kid who will end up on a therapist’s couch for the next seventy-five years -- at least. Jewish mothers have often been maligned for Tiger Mom practices, but I think that most of our species (Maternis Yiddishinachas) long ago realized that screaming epithets and similar hair-raising methods of trying to raise academic superstars usually backfire. Jewish kids raised to fulfill their parents’ fevered expectations for their professional achievement just end up writing nasty novels (remember Portnoy’s Complaint?) and kvetchy memoirs that have sullied the good name of Jewish mothers everywhere. Besides, what good is a Nobel Prize in chemistry or literature if you’re so resentful of your mother that you don’t even tell her you’ve won? By the time she drops the news at shul, “Oh, did you hear my Sarah was just in Oslo to accept her Nobel Prize?” the news will be as stale as week-old mandelbroit.

Did I mention that my daughter has a leading role in her school play?

Anyway, these stratagems aren’t really Jewish. May I observe that for all of Tiger Mom’s success in raising academic luminaries, she didn’t say anything about trying to raise her girls to be mensches. Hey, how about a few drills in the art of giving tzedakah? Practice sessions in greeting others with a smile, even when you don’t feel like it? Doing acts of kindness that aren’t random, as the bumper sticker says, but planned, as part of a commitment to doing life-affirming mitzvahs? How about a lesson or two in speaking kindly and avoiding gossip?

This doesn’t mean that our kids are slackers, either. In fact, did I mention that my daughter has a leading role in her school play? The Hollywood Bowl it’s not, but we are all very proud, and unlike Tiger Mom’s daughters, mine can read Rashi. Oh heck, let’s not get catty over this. Tiger Mom, next time you’re in town for some academic symposium or trotting after your girls around to their next performance, stop by for a cup of coffee and some fresh mandelbroit. I’m sure we can learn a thing or two from each other. And if you apologize for that article, I’ll start ordering Chinese take-out again.

February 12, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 21

(18) Joshua, February 19, 2011 10:01 AM

Thoughtful And Grateful

Thank you for your well written article named " Amy Chua unleashed a firestorm of debate about “wimpy” western child rearing. Is she right?" at am a native college Chinese student in China and appreciated that you jewish people are not only concerning just about your people,but also people from other extractions.I want to inform you that Amy Chua's method is a traditional method.However,old things don't always mean wisdom.I am harmed by this kind of method and wish to do better to educate the children of Chinese,not to follow the same suffering as me.You know,it's very difficult to make a person to be kind,responsible,caring,creative and most importantly happy.This is a cruel world.Yet I learned a lot of wisdom by reading Jewish articles.Chinese people today are determined to wake up and to participate in the global affairs.I also hope that what you know about China is not just yummy but unhealty Chinese dishes,or some extreme persons like Amy Chua.After all,we wish to share with you and learn from each other.Hope we have friendship and talk freely yet critically.

(17) Yosef, February 18, 2011 7:17 AM

Have chinese mothers been successful?

Sure, they can teach their kids to repeat on fear of consequence, and do it well. But look at China- they are an economic powerhouse- adept at pirating Western innovation cheaply. When I see Chinese innovation - not repetition - then we'll schmooze. To create disciplined innovators - that is magical. But that takes building a human being, an individual, - and yes, much of the western coddling is silly- but the chinese have made robots, and not people who can lead, innovate and create.

(16) Anonymous, February 16, 2011 10:55 AM

Too much pressure creates mental illness for some, and "conditions of worth"

As a psychologist, I had the opportunity to treat a very bright and talented young lady (a Barnard and then Columbia Univ. student), who had been shown flashcards by her mother since the age of 3. Salutatorian at her exclusive private girls school, she had a major psychotic break in the hallway of the prestigious news magazine where she was already working part-time in her earnestness to go into publishing 2 years later. There is a risk in placing so much presssure upon youngsters to be perfect (as none of us are). When one falls even slightly short of these goals, the person doubts one's self worth, and self-evaluates as a failure. We need to re-think what success as an adult is all about. Perhaps being a kind loving person who treats their famiiy and others well, and is able to make a living "doing their best", while living a well-rounded life (including studying Torah or other religious values) is a better goal to strive for. Perhaps the high rate of teen suicides would decrease as well.

(15) CSSTARK, February 16, 2011 3:45 AM

Im mor e concerned about the wishy washy style of parenting that is so common today, and which creates anxiety and low self esteem in our kids., than with Amy Chuas use of the word fat. Her expectations for her kids are clear,boundaries are set without guilt, and her children are expected to be able to handle tough parenting. She might be a bit self righteous in her article, but the overall picture is one of leadership and responsibility. We would do well to walk away with some of her less extreme parenting skills.

Corin, May 9, 2011 4:31 AM


While she does take things too far, I would much rather have had a parent like Amy Chua than both of my parents combined. Whose version of parenting was, "let him figure it out for himself." While I'm starting to figure it out myself all my brothers and sisters ended up working out how to do drugs, get tattoos and abandon ethics altogether. My largest problem has been fighting off procrastination and laziness, I guess that is what happens when all your parent does for you is feed you and give you a few bucks to buy some clothes once every couple of years. Boundaries are essential, and nobody ever learns anything growing up without the guidance of their parents.

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