Just about every major media outlet has covered this so-called “mean mom” and (no surprise here), the “Battle Hymn” memoir is ranked #4 on the Amazon.com Top 100 list and #1 on the memoir and biography lists.
Let me start by saying that despite my Tiger upbringing I love my parents and I know they love me.
Like Chua’s children, I wasn’t allowed to attend sleepovers until 8th grade, I couldn’t have boyfriends, anything less than an A was unacceptable, and although my parents didn’t discourage me from joining dance and choir, let’s just say they didn’t show up to every recital.
I spent my entire life trying to please my parents. But as Chua’s husband eloquently pointed out, it’s not a child’s job to please. My Tiger mother was definitely more ferocious than my Tiger father. In 5th grade, I told a boy I had a crush on him. My mom overheard me telling my sister. The very next day she looked me straight in the eye and lied, “Your principal called. She learned you told that boy you liked him. That’s against school policy. She said the next time you do that, you’re going to be expelled.” I was terrified. In 9th grade, I learned that I was one of the top 5 students in my grade. Boy was I proud of myself. I ran home to tell my father. His reaction, “Let me know when you’re number one.” Ouch. As a child of Tiger parents, majoring in anything other than science, law, or engineering is unheard of. I decided on journalism. Every semester my parents asked if I was sure. After they learned of the relatively meager salary, my mom raced to point out, “You must regret your decision.”
“No, I don’t Mom.”
A Tiger mom and dad’s expectations of success don’t end after college because to my parents, you are perpetually a child who needs guidance. I moved home after college because finding a job in this economy is hard. I worked in retail for a few months and then for my dad as an office assistant. We had a “meeting” on my first day.
“Your mother and I are concerned you’ve become very mediocre and if you don’t get your life together you’ll work in retail forever. And maybe it’s time you let go of writing and try a real career.”
“Writing is my dream.”
“You do know the difference between a career and hobby, right?”
Being the child of Tiger parents is tough, unless you’re unequivocally obedient. I even managed my fair share of confined rebellion. In the end, all my parents ever wanted was to raise a successful child and they have. They said and did these things in order for me to be on top. It was the only way they knew how to raise children. I definitely don’t condone their parenting strategies. But in between those harsh remarks, were countless moments of love and tender care. And I know that no one would climb as many mountains or swims as many seas to see a smile on my face as they would.
This past weekend, a friend (who is Chinese) sent me a link and I read, with a mixture of horror, amusement, disbelief, and slight agreement, the Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.”
Being Chinese myself (and not even an American-Born Chinese or ABC), I wish I could tell you scary stories of what it was like growing up with an exacting, overbearing, and terrifying Chinese mother who would verbally beat me into submission. Except, believe it or not, I don’t have any. Growing up, I attended sleepovers and had play dates, watched TV, chose my own extracurriculars (including theater, but I didn’t act), rarely got grades less an an A (until college), and never played the violin (piano, yes, though I was far from being Lang Lang).
However, I did have Chinese friends with mothers like Amy Chua – and, those friends did excel better than me and also went on to Ivy Leagues, but some of those friends also grew up crying, feeling inadequate, and believing parental love and approval came with straight As. They extinguished their creative and artistic sides and prepared for life-long careers in medicine, engineering, and law. Over 147, 718 people (presumably Asians), including some of my friends, have shared Chua’s story on Facebook—and most of the comments have been the same: they remember what it was like growing up feeling criticized, never good enough, and uncertain whether the paths they chose was what they really wanted.
Amy Chua would probably say my parents became too Westernized when they moved to America and didn’t try hard enough. My own parents would probably be considered hippie Chinese parents even though they aren’t familiar with the term “hippie.” My parents never once yelled at me or called me “stupid, “worthless,” or “garbage.” They let me pull out of Chinese school when I refused to go and they encouraged my love for reading, art, and writing. As Patty Chang wrote on Huffington Post, not all children are the same so they can’t all be force-fed the same parenting style.