Feb 27, 2011
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother; Time cover story; Amy Chua with her family

Last month I promised to write about the much talked about book of Chinese American Amy Chua entitled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Here it is. For those who have not heard of the now famous book, Amy Chua has been in the news since Wall Street Journal (WSJ) featured her book in an article with a controversial title Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.

The book is a memoir of an over-achiever mother in raising her two daughters Sophia and Lulu. She uses the term “Chinese mother” to refer to parents who raise stereo-typically successful kids who are math whizzes and music prodigies, such that non Chinese or even male parents/guardians of super successful kids are referred to as Chinese mothers. On the other hand, she refers to the opposite kind of parents as Western parents in her book. She also implies that since she was born in the year of the Tiger, she possesses the quality of strength and generally inspires fear and respect; thus the title Tiger Mother.

Unlike the readers of the WSJ article who were immediately up in arms against Chua calling her names like devil, I actually ended up admiring (although not always agreeing with) this OC, intelligent, super devoted, but sometimes “constipated personality type” mother as I was entertained by the humor of her honest account of her parenting. By the way, her parents are Chinese migrants from…here, the Philippines! I read the book in two sittings, it was hard to put it down and there were parts where I sort of related with her. In fact, the age of Lulu, her stubborn daughter, is almost the age of Anton, my “third and great challenge” son in my book. But I am no match to the Gestapo ways of this Chinese Tiger mother.

Here are the things her daughters were not allowed to do:

  1. Attend a sleepover
  2. Have a playdate
  3. Be in a school play
  4. Complain about not being in a school play
  5. Watch TV or play computer games
  6. Choose their own extracurricular activities
  7. Get any grade lower than A
  8. Not be the # 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  9. Play an instrument other than the piano or violin
  10. Not play the piano or violin

This is such a heavy, if not impossible, list and I’m sure if I try to implement these on my boys, there might be an EDSA 3!

I am not going to spill all so that those who want to read the book will still enjoy it. I just want to share some snippets of insights I got from reading both the book and the reactions of people on the book:

1. Chua tried to raise her children the way her Chinese immigrant parents from the Philippines raised her – very strict always demanding the best, readily showing displeasure when less than the best is delivered by their children.

And why did she do this? Because she was happy with how she turned out. She is a successful professor at Yale Law School and also the author of “Day of Empire” and “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.”  

And I think it is a smart move to use the parenting styles that particularly worked well on us. This message struck me when I was a young mom listening to the sermon of a Jesuit priest. He said that parents always think of the things they didn’t have as a child and make sure their children get it, and get lots of it. But the truth of the matter is they’re not even sure it those things are good for them. He advised us to look into the things that our parents gave us that really worked well for us.

Of course, we have to modify some in order to be relevant to the times and our particular situation.

2. Showing displeasure on the less than par performance of our children is not being too hard but is sometimes necessary to remind them how good they really are. Chua says that Western parents are over anxious of their children’s self-esteem that they end up praising mediocre performances just so they won’t hurt their feelings.

Fortunately, I haven’t really seen this among my co-parents in my boys’ schools. To a certain extent, we are a bit Chinese mothers expecting the best performance, if not honors, from our sons. Maybe because their schools are the competitive traditional ones such that giving their best is almost always a mode of survival for the boys.

In our case, the challenge came as they got older and got involved in extracurricular activities which demand a lot of time in their already hectic daily schedule (long hours in transit due to traffic and lots of homework). It was a good thing that I was their tutor in their early grades and I know first hand what their individual learning style and capacity are. I know what to demand!

3. Different strokes for different folks (even if your children live in the same house, eat the same food and come from the same set of parents!). Chua did not see this at the start and insisted on a one-size-fits-all parenting. She realized this later on when Lulu rebelled against her. Maybe she didn’t read the different personality types I discussed in Chapter 2 of my book!

4. She believes that although she uses very strict parenting style with her daughters, there is still so much love and caring around their home. Although some of her critics say this could not be true, I tend to believe her. I think you can dish out your criticisms on your children and not be afraid to lose their love and respect if you have given them a lot of love, dedication and affirmation throughout their growing up years.

My husband and I are finance people so we like to use the analogy of a bank account and investment. Since we already “deposited” and “invested” from the very start (by always being there, loving, affirming and disciplining them) we can afford to take some risks in giving our criticisms even if it will hurt them or sometimes we can just be “tired parents” when we are because we’re only human anyway. These actions will not harm them because there is enough buffer-love to draw from. If I go a little further to liken it to the stock market, I can even say that these criticisms are the needed “corrections” in the ever increasing prices in the stock market!

5. We are all very defensive when it comes to our parenting style. When I was a very young mom, I had arguments with my older sister when there would be hints of criticizing the behavior of my first son. But as I grew older, I learned to relax. I like what Chris Tiu’s mom said, “When people tell us the defects of our children, we are not defensive but rather thankful that they inform us. Then we try to correct our children.” I learned to do this only as I became more relaxed and confident of my parenting style. Being defensive is usually a sign of insecurity.

Maybe this is what a lot of parents felt when they read the WSJ article Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. Can you imagine this being read by Western parents? This must have been shocking and hurtful to them, even if for some years now they have been wondering how these Chinese and other immigrant kids, mostly from Asia, perform better than their children in school. I once read in a parenting book written by a Western author that somehow the letter grade A seems to stand for Asian!

6. This brings us to the next insight: Sometimes poverty and hardships give us the competitive edge. The book talks about the children of migrant parents who start as outcasts and whose parents work so hard to have a good life in the USA (like Chua’s parents). Their being outcasts and their parents’ constant reminder that they are sacrificing to give them the best opportunities rub on them positively and consequently result to highly successful students.

7. The more global we become the more we should make sure our children know their roots. Knowing where they came from, their family and cultural traditions may make them “weird” in the eyes of “mainstream kids” but this “weirdness” will actually become their unique qualities which will give them the competitive advantage someday, enabling them to contribute more to this global society.

8. Good parenting is not all about raising the best children but becoming the best persons we parents can be. I admit there were times I felt guilty that I did not encourage my sons to “over-achieve” in sports. I did not impose that Marty take up basketball even if he was among the tallest in class during his early grades. I was probably one of the laziest soccer moms when Enrique was in the varsity team. I did not really follow through with Anton when he was showing interest in basketball at an early age. Why? Because sports was my husband’s territory while I took care of the academics. And his style was just to have fun in sports with them because he believes this style worked well for him during his younger days. I also know that sports is not my area of competence and taking over it would drain me. All these years, I have learned to exercise some restraint in my “motherly sacrifices.” And this is because I don’t want to drain myself to the point of being super tired and corny and not fun to be with. I think a cranky mom will not rear happy kids. 

In Chua’s account of her super strict measures to make sure her daughters become the best they could be, she probably forgot to take into account that sometimes pushing too hard makes her a not-so-good person. One incident that she narrated was when she threw the homemade birthday card Lulu gave her because it was haphazardly done. She insulted her to remind her that she can do better than that and she even went on to enumerate what she (Chua) does and how much she spends on Lulu’s birthday parties. I’m guessing that she must be tired and frustrated at that time and was too obsessed with always bringing out the best in her daughters that she forgot it was bringing out the worst in her.


So am I a Tiger mother? Am I a Chinese mother? Maybe I’m a distant relative. I am actually a Dragon, a symbol of good fortune and master of authority; free spirit and non conformist, confident and fearless. I would like to think I possess these characteristics. As I get older I do observe that I become more confident and fearless. In the midst of these challenging times of raising children I’m actually confident that my sons will turn out fine. And this is why I can allow them more freedom in their choices.

So maybe I’m a Dragon mother, a Pinoy Dragon mother. How about you?