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Tiger Mom Author Amy Chua One Year After The Uproar

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Amy Chua at Berkeley book signing, 2011/ Photo: Pamela Burke

UPDATE  3/28/18: Amy’s daughter opens up about being raised by the “Tiger Mom”…she says her mother’s technique worked!

UPDATE 1/6/14: Amy’s new book, The Triple Package, written with her husband Jed Rubenfeld, is scheduled for audio release 2/4/14. It’s sparking controversy already.

UPDATE 11/16/13: Amy says on TWITTER that she and her husband Jed have a new book coming out in February. We’ll be on the lookout and hope to have her back on radio.

By Stacey Gualandi

A year ago, Amy Chua’s controversial memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, ignited a firestorm when she dared to tackle the subject of raising a family. This Yale law professor has been called mother-of-the-year by some and vilified by others.

“It’s just about believing in your children and teaching them that they are capable of so much more than they think…” Amy Chua

Many moms believed that the book implied that Chinese mothers were superior to American mothers. Well, you’d think she’d started World War III. I’m exaggerating, but Amy did touch on a very big nerve. Now her controversial book is available in paperback. Recently, I was delighted to talk to Amy on “The Women’s Eye Radio Show” to find out if, a year later, the dust has settled. Here’s an excerpt of that interview…

STACEY: You have emerged from the tiger den, or did you even retreat to the den?

Amy Chua publicity photo c Peter Z MahakianAMY: I’m still alive.

STACEY: You survived!

AMY: Yes. It’s so much better now. It was a rough six months.

STACEY: I can imagine, but why did people – Americans, mothers–take this so personally?

AMY: I have been asking myself this for the last 12 months, and I think part of the problem is the book was excerpted last January, and the Wall Street Journal put the headline, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” as the title. I was horrified.

I mean I had never seen that title, and I totally don’t agree with it, but even worse, the cover of my book, which you’ve now seen, says the exact opposite. It says that the book is about how I was humbled by a 13-year-old. It’s a memoir. It’s definitely not a manifesto.

It’s gotten a lot better because people have started to read the book, as opposed to just kind of reading about the book. And I actually think the conversation has gotten really good. For the first time, I’m thinking that yes, maybe it’s okay that I published this thing.

“Most moms want to have an open, tolerant, non-judgmental conversation about how we can all do better.”

STACEY: Sure. It’s almost like you opened up this can of worms, and people were saying how dare she tell us this or how dare she say this. But then they wanted to see exactly what you said.

AMY: Yes. I think there was a time when I thought that if everybody hates me so much, then who is buying the book? I think you’re right. If you looked on the internet, it’s like I should have left the country.

There probably is this subconscious feeling among many moms out there that maybe we’ve gone too far in the direction of permissiveness and indulgence. And people have fear. It’s like they know they’re scared to parent.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy ChuaSTACEY: Yes, they want to do a good job.

AMY: They do want to do a good job, and one of the things that I’ve learned from the emails that I’ve received that I’ve had is that maybe they don’t agree with me, but they want to have an open, tolerant, non-judgmental conversation about how we can all do better and how different cultures do it differently.

I think the media kept the conversation at such a low level, bringing up things like “did she burn the stuffed animals?” The book is about so much more than that.

EYE: In your book, you wrote an afterward for the new paperback basically saying what’s with the media? And of course, they go for what will incite the most and what’s going to cause the biggest headlines. It’s unfortunate.

AMY: I can’t complain. It got a lot of attention. But I have to say, it’s fun to be interviewed by somebody who has actually read the book. This almost never happens to me.

STACEY: I really liked it, and it’s funny because I have some friends who are helicopter moms which drives me crazy. And I must disclose I have no children, so I probably can’t really have an opinion. I didn’t because I always thought I’d never be good at it. But if I did have children, I would want to incorporate probably about 80 percent of what you wrote.

AMY: Wow! Well, Stacey, that’s a compliment. But I think it’s interesting that you bring up helicopter moms because a lot of people confuse what they’re calling tiger parenting with helicopter parenting. But I think it’s the exact opposite. People who haven’t read the book think all she cares about is A’s and gold medals.

The book is supposed to be kind of funny and satirical. And if you ask me what I think a tiger mom is, it is really simple. It’s just about believing in your children and teaching them that they are capable of so much more than they think, and that if they don’t give up and don’t blame others and do hold themselves to a high standard, they can do anything in life that they want.

It’s really more about very early childrearing. It’s about instilling an ability to focus and have self-discipline and a work ethic when they’re really little. Then, when they’re older like in junior high or high school, you don’t need to hover over them. You don’t need to write their essays for them. You don’t need to make every little decision for them because I think that doesn’t really raise self-reliant independent kids in the end.

“I think my parents having had such high expectations for me is actually the greatest gift that anybody’s ever given me.”

STACEY: When you wrote the book, you definitely emphasized the fact that this was a memoir. When you looked at how you wanted to raise your children, you had this epiphany…

AMY: Very much so. Basically, I had two kids. I was raised myself by super-strict Chinese immigrant parents, with that list everyone has heard: you had to get straight A’s, no boyfriends and no sleepovers. I had intended it to be tongue-in-cheek, making fun of these often, fresh-off-the-boat immigrant parents.

That list was actually applied to me and my three younger sisters straight and with no humor, so I got it really hard. But the weird thing is that as an adult, I look back and I adore my parents. I’m so grateful to them now.

I’m 49-years-old, and I would say that despite all my complaints, I think my parents having had such high expectations for me is actually the greatest gift that anybody’s ever given me. So I tried to do the same thing with my own two daughters.

The book is really about how I couldn’t do it because I can’t pretend that I’m a poor immigrant. So my first daughter was super easy, self-motivated; I didn’t have to do anything. And I got cocky, thinking what is wrong with all these western parents out there?

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy ChuaSTACEY: Right, this is my experiment and it’s working…

AMY: Yes, you have to be a little firm. And then my second daughter came along and oh, my gosh, I’ve talked to other moms. Everyone has one of these. She was born saying no. I mean she was so similar to me.

STACEY: She’s going to fight you on everything…

AMY: Yes, and she’s similar to me in personality with the same temper. So about two-thirds of the book is supposed to be funny. We have these zany showdowns, and she always gets the last laugh. But I basically hold to my guns. You’re going to be a good student. You’re gonna play the violin.

And the epiphany moment you’re talking about is that everything turned terrible when she was 13. But this is the universal story. It’s not about Chinese people. It’s about all human beings, and adolescents, and separating. And my daughter at that point rebelled against my strict parenting in a way that was totally not funny.

“I learned that as they get older, you need to listen more and let them make their own choices…”

STACEY: Do you think that you had to adjust per child, or did you have to slack off a little bit?

AMY: Yes, I think it’s both. What are the lessons that I learned personally? One is that I needed to pay much more attention to the individual personalities of my children so what worked with one is just not gonna work with the other.

Secondly, I actually do believe that Western parents give their kids too many choices when they’re young. I mean if you tell a six or seven-year-old just to pursue their passion, they’re not going to do the hard things. They’re going to want to give up. So I am a proud, strict mom.

To this day, I would do a lot of the things the same way. But what I learned is that kids get older. Basically, by the time she was 11, 12, 13, she was crying out. She was saying, “I don’t want to do the violin.” I learned that as they get older, you need to listen more and let them make their own choices even if they’re not my choices. In the end, as you know, there was a massive blow-up.

Amy Chua’s Newsweek Cover

Recent cover story by Amy Chua

STACEY: In Russia, no less.

AMY: I know. How could it be there! She said some of the most painful things that anyone has ever said to me, and I report them straight in the book….like you’re selfish or a terrible mother.

STACEY: She actually brought up the hate word.

AMY: Oh, I hate you. I hate the violin. I hate this family. But even more painful to me were things like “you make me feel bad about myself. Everything you say you do for me is actually for yourself.” And it suddenly hit me that I might lose my daughter. And when that came up, I said wait a minute…I do not care about the grades or the violin.

STACEY: Exactly, because that was the bottom line for you.

AMY: That was the bottom and that’s when the renegotiation started. And I’ll tell you, it’s still a work in progress. She’s 16 now. We are in such a much better place.

“If you just listen and are perceptive and you just keep trying, I think that’s going to make you a good mom.”

STACEY: Oh, that’s good to hear.

AMY: It’s not like I’ve given up entirely. I feel like I still have a role. I still disagree. It shouldn’t be a popularity contest. Sometimes I feel like it would be so much easier just to give in and say that C is fine, and you don’t have to take out the garbage. But no, it’s my job. I have two more years to instill a sense of self-respect and inner strength in her. So I go back and forth, and you know that it’s never easy.

“We are better at raising independent, creative, vibrant kids.”

STACEY: And it’s tough, too, because there’s that argument that some people just shouldn’t be parents.

AMY: This is one thing I learned. If you just listen and are perceptive and you just keep trying, I think that’s going to make you a good mom.

STACEY: Exactly. So do you realize the reaction you have now and with everybody coming out of the woodwork wanting to say theirs is the best way to parent?

AMY: I know. I just so disagree that there is one best way to do it. I mean I don’t even think within one family there can be one right way to do it. That’s the lesson I learned. But I do think that like lots of things, like with cooking, it would be great if we could learn from the best of all cultures.

Here’s what the West is great at. For all our complaints, we have a better system in many ways. We are better at raising independent, creative, vibrant kids. There is no question.

Amy Chua's Family, 2010 from her Battle Hymn book

Amy’s family, 2010, from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom

EYE: Unfortunately, we have to wrap you up here, but you had mentioned maybe writing about parenting sub-cultures or exploring them. Do you think you have another book in you on parenting?

AMY: I have a couple other things. I’m just going to steer clear of this topic for a while. I’ve just been burned. But I’m keeping this big file because the book has come out in 30 countries. It is so interesting to me the response in every different country.

And even the responses in America. I’ve heard from a lot of single moms. I’ve heard from a lot of different ethnic moms. I’ve heard from military moms, from African-American moms. And I feel like I have some interesting insights.

EYE: That’s very smart. Well, Amy, I can’t thank you enough for spending time with me today. You certainly created a movement here, did you not?

AMY: I know, unintentionally, but I think it’s all for the good in the end. And thank you so much, Stacey.

EYE: This was terrific. It’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, now out in paperback…whether you agree or disagree, you will not put this book down.


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