The hardest job

Hi, All.

I am writing today to recommend to you a book that I read recently:  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua.  Back in May, I mentioned this book as one of a list of motherhood-themed books suggested by the Globe & Mail around Mother’s Day.  I read it in ebook form, and really enjoyed it.  Here’s the scoop.

20th Best Book about China - Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Photo by China Books, from Flickr

Chua is the daughter of two Chinese immigrants who came to the USA as graduate students.  They lived hand-to-mouth for awhile, but through discipline and hard work became successful.  They raised their American-born children with the expectation that their kids would learn and achieve great things through a similar sort of discipline and effort.  The book tells the story of Chua’s own experience raising her two daughters with those same high expectations.

Much controversy has surrounded Chua’s list of expectations, which are detailed at the beginning of the book, and in many reviews (here’s an excerpt which should get your blood boiling).  She describes her parenting style as Chinese, and contrasts it with Western-style parenting, characterized as laissez-faire, with little pressure on children to live up to their potential.  Chua is a provocative writer, and many readers (and probably lots of non-readers) have taken offence at her forthright statements about the superiority of Chinese-style parenting.  She even received death threats.

I think this may have been an unfortunate result of Chua’s excellent storytelling ability, and would urge any reader to be undeterred by the trash talk.  As she states on her web site,  the book is a memoir, not a parenting manual, and Amy is a compelling character in her own story.

Chua is funny, and self-deprecating, and the book is a fast and pleasant read (excellent for the ebook format).  It could also serve as a fertile discussion-starter in a variety of directions.

Nadine et Elisabeth

Photo by ParaScubaSailor, from Flickr

For instance, here’s the part that lingers with me.  Music was one area in which Chua chose to develop her daughters’ potential.  They began studying piano at an early age, and younger daughter Lulu eventually moved on to violin.

Chua actively participated in their musical education.  She accompanied them to every lesson, and made meticulous notes; she sat with them during their daily hours of practice, keeping them focused on their task; she found them new teachers as they gained in ability, and chauffered them to their lessons; and she arranged for prestigious opportunities for performance for both girls, even travelling to Europe in order for them to perform.

Chua, who studied music as a youngster, invested heavily of herself in her daughters’ musical accomplishments, and her determination drove the family.  And I wonder if Chua was able to maintain her determination to push her daughters musically because she herself valued musicianship so highly.  In other words, was it more about her own frustrated desires to achieve great things as a musician, than about helping her kids pursue their interests?  I found myself wishing that she would spend some of her energy playing music herself, instead of putting all her creative drive into her kids. (Does that seem harsh on motherhood?  Or just a sneaky way to bring creativity into the discussion…)

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Bye for now,

Elizabeth

Violin lesson

Photo by angus mcdiarmid, from Flickr

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2 thoughts on “The hardest job

  1. Having experienced musical parenting with two very different sons I can say that for me there is certainly a self-serving motive in the exercise. At age seven my older, more musical son reached a point of self-discipline that freed me to begin to explore my own musical interest. Rather than enduring daily nag sessions and occasional tears (mine and his) over practice routines, he began to sit down to the piano freely, and I loved listening to his music. I took this cue to pick up my own instrument and begin re-learning the music I began as a child and adolescent. Rather than continue with the instrument that had been chosen for me in grade five (french horn), I chose what I had always admired: the trumpet. Ten years later I am playing music that inspires me and moves me, and it is better than therapy! He plays his piano and drums daily as a source of happiness and expression. I think the most important element in each of our musical experiences is the choice we made to play. Without that I’m not sure either of us would be making music so happily today.

    • Hi Julie,
      Yes, freedom to choose is important, isn’t it? (And that was a stumbling point for Chua and her daughters.) But, unless a child has an obvious gift, they may not realize that music, or volleyball, or watercolour painting, etc. is pleasant, if they quit doing it before they’ve gained some skill. And that’s where the nagging and tears come in. Another balancing act…

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