I recently read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which was both hysterical and inspirational. I didn’t think it was possible, but Amy Chua makes 90% of strict Asian parents seem like lazy bums. I intensely admire her devotion to the betterment and education of her children, but am completely baffled by the discipline and drive required to execute her methods.
I’m really not sure how it’s possible for a full-time attorney or Yale Law Professor to attend music lessons, oversee hours of music practice for two daughters, create measure-by-measure notes and reminders for their pieces, write multiple books, and walk and feed the dogs daily, while still living any sort of humanly existence. Does she ever… eat? Shower? Breathe? It’s mind-boggling.
I used to think my parents were sort of strict. Relatively speaking, they were, as I was surrounded by peers who had what Chua characterizes as “Western parents” in southwest Virginia. I was not allowed to go out to play unless all homework and piano obligations were completed, even if I had just gotten out of Chinese school, music theory class, art class, or some other activity. I was in big fucking trouble if I got any B’s on my report card, while white kids were rewarded for B’s. There was some of, “_____ got a 97 on his Algebra test; you only got a 93” [oh don’t worry, eventually I beat him in Algebra], or “Your cousin is younger than you and is already setting goals to be a doctor, what are your plans?” Summer was not a free-for-all because I still had to take music and music theory class, practice piano, and memorize ancient Chinese poetry. You know, typical Asian parent stuff.
Of course, even in southwest Virginia, there were stricter Asian parents than mine. One time, when I was 10 years old, after a Taiwanese friend who was over to play at our house had gone home, my mother told me, “You know what her mother said? The 4 hours she spent at our house was the longest period of fun time she’s ever had. She’s usually constantly doing something productive.” I was somewhat horrified. While my life seemed more structured and restricted than those of kids with Western parents, clearly, I had it better than I thought. Anyway, in retrospect, I needed this because I was not always very motivated, and was often lazy. I had a tendency to cut corners and daydream, or not take things seriously unless I was doing something I really enjoyed.
In second grade, I was categorized as a gifted student and along with 3 other students, and was given some material to read and write a report as an extra challenge. The material involved some completely boring species of bird, so I procrastinated until the last minute, and then plagiarized some shit when it was due. My parents never found out about this because they were not told about it, and the assignment was not graded.
In fifth grade, I was assigned to perform a duet called The Dolls Have a Party with one of my close friends, Michael. He played the bass part while I played the treble, and he was even less keen on the piano lessons than I was. We performed to perfection at the music school recital out of fear of our teacher’s wrath (she was a Tiger Mom before she even had kids). We were subsequently also volunteered to perform the piece at a nursing home. By the time of the nursing home performance, we had fallen out of practice, completely fucked it up, and played probably a third of the song being a complete measure off from each other. Fortunately, the old people did not notice it and loved us regardless. We could hardly contain our laughter when taking our bows, but I could see our teacher glaring daggers at us from the front row.
So I was the sort of kid who needed a serious dose of discipline every once in a while.
By the time I got to high school, my parents loosened up, either because they trusted me or because they were too old to bring down the hammer constantly. My freshman year, history was optional, and 3 out of my 7 classes were fine arts classes. After freshman year, I didn’t really have a curfew. I got occasional B’s because my parents accepted that I despised math. I signed up for computer science at the community college over the summer and flunked because I got bored and stopped going. I also signed up for Spanish one year, but skipped two weeks of class because I had a friend visiting from Virginia, and also went to New Orleans for a school activity, so the teacher flunked me.
I suffered no repercussions for these devious acts, and never had to practice piano for more than an hour a day, so compared to Amy Chua, my parents probably seemed like they were running some sort of laid-back amusement park.
And I did not completely fall apart. Being surrounded by my beloved friends who were also products of Tiger parents, I succumbed to peer pressure and took every honors/AP class available and felt guilty for my 4.3 GPA (4.5 was the max, and I never got a 4.5). Yes, it is actually very possible for peer pressure to work in a positive direction.
I appreciate the way I was raised and will strive to impose equal structure and discipline for my own kids, but Amy Chua takes it to an unfathomable level to which I dare not even aspire. The only way I could come close to her level of dedication would be if I was not working, and even then, I think it would be an incredible task. Employing her tactics necessarily leaves almost no time for the self, but indeed, as Chua points out in her book, the things she did for her daughters were not at all for herself – for who enjoys being a constant disciplinarian, the bad guy, a target of your children’s frustration and ire?