Publisher: Penguin Press, 2011
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Where I Got It: Bought It
Why I Read It: After reading the Time cover story on Chua’s book, I was intrigued and wanted to read more about her and her extreme parenting style
My Rating: 4 stars
This memoir is Chua’s explanation, defense and personal account of the Chinese mother style of parenting, which emphasizes academic achievement, pursuit of perfection, a strong work ethic and respect for your elders (i.e.,the Chinese mother). To Chua, this style of parenting is not limited solely to Chinese mothers, but she does think that the Chinese approach to parenting and the Western approach are at different ends of the spectrum. Where Westerners value self-esteem and nurturing, the Chinese style emphasizes strength and preparing children for the future. As Chua interprets it, there is no room for fun activities like sleepovers, school plays or play dates because they don’t prepare children for the future. Under her regime, her two daughters were required be the top student in every subject area (except gym or drama) and to play either the piano or violin (practicing up to 4 hours a day).
Chua is unapologetic about her parenting approach and doesn’t sugarcoat her actions as she struggles to impose her will on her daughters, husband and even the family dog. She admits that her approach is extreme, but it is difficult to argue with the results. Both of her daughters are academic superstars and gifted musicians. However, the road to these results was often littered with tears, anger and rebellion, particularly by Chua’s youngest daughter Lulu.
Although Chua often comes across as extreme and almost unfeeling, it is obvious that she did all of this out of love for her daughters and her belief that they could handle the intense pressure she placed on them. In fact, she is confident that they will one day appreciate all that she did for them. (In fact, she demands this kind of recognition and respect now. In one chapter, she talks about ripping up the homemade birthday cards her daughters made because the girls didn’t expend enough effort making them.) In addition, Chua repeatedly mentions that this style of parenting isn’t easy on anyone—not the children or the parents. After working at her job at Yale, Chua would spend hours supervising her children’s musical practice, taking detailed notes and demanding they replay sections again and again.
Although it is easy to dismiss Chua’s approach as cruel and extreme, I think she makes some good points. I do think that I, as a parent, can push my son a bit more. He has a tendency to be a bit lazy—expending the minimum amount of effort for his homework and in soccer. After reading this book, I realized that pushing him a bit wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although I wouldn’t take things to the level that Chua did, I found myself asking my son to do homework beyond what he was assigned and asking him to practice soccer at home between games. (And what do you know? The week after practicing at home a few times, he managed to score his first goal!)
This was an interesting memoir, and it deserves the controversy that surrounded it upon its publication.Yet before criticizing Chua, I think people owe it to her to read this book and gain a full understanding of what she is about and trying to do.
Readers interested in learning more about Chua’s controversial parenting style and parents who wonder if there is a benefit in pushing their children more than they are used to.
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