"The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" Brilliant or Terrible Guide to Parenting?

So many parents have asked me about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that I felt compelled to read it.  In case you haven’t heard, Battle is an autobiographical story about an Asian mother, Amy Chua, who takes charge of directing her two daughters’ lives.  She insists that her daughters, Sophie and Lulu, pursue activities she thinks are valuable, and pursue them at a very intense level. The story focuses on Chua’s expectations for her daughters, their accomplishments, and a peek into their family dynamics.

People have asked about my reaction to the book because I work with children who are struggling and need strong planners as parents.  I also see children who are high achievers and able to work together with their parents to follow their personal interests.

Chua doesn’t believe in following children’s personal interests.  She believes in academics.  Music should be either piano or violin.  Her daughters have demanding practice schedules, sometimes as great as six hours a day.   Sports should focus only on individual competition, such as tennis or golf, rather than team sports.  Chua does not believe in play dates or slumber parties.

Parenting doesn’t influence the skills and abilities our children are born with, of course.  But it does shape the direction those skills and abilities will take. That's why as a brain trainer the book was interesting to me and many parents I work with.  We want to know that how the activities we plan affect our children, positively and negatively.

So what did I find to like about Chua’s approach?

I liked that the parents were in charge of this family and not the children.  I’ve observed that children seem more settled and goal-directed if parents have leadership skills.  When parents have a long-term and planning perspective, their children seem to grow and change. Chua did have long-term goals for her daughters.

When children are struggling the parents must act to reverse this course and work to guide them forward.  Parents who can articulate the vision in broad terms of where they want their child to be, and work backwards setting goals in this way, will find that method to be very powerful.  The nuances are a little different for children who are accelerated.  For them, it’s best to have buy-in about which extracurricular activities they’ll pursue, especially during their teen years.  Chua is honest and reveals that while she had buy-in from Sophie she did not from Lulu and the high-level music goals became a battleground.

It did appear to be a smart move on Chua’s part to hire a person to execute and coach the day-to-day sessions with her daughters, although she made the big calls.  When you are emotionally connected to the person you are coaching it changes your relationship.  Working with my own daughter intensely on cognitive areas was exhausting, while I can do it all day with other children and adults.  I realized being my daughter’s coach and trainer was a disruption to a more natural mother-daughter relationship.

Next week, I’ll talk about what I didn’t like about Chua’s approach and what practices to avoid at all costs.

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