Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, raising kids with no TV

February 28, 2011

 We survived the weekend and Tuesday I leave for Nebraska tomorrow.  It’s cold there.  Amy came down for the weekend and now we watched the second Bourne movie which starts in Goa, India where Steve is.  It looks pretty nice there, very much like Hawaii in terms of the foliage.  Matt Damon is fun to watch in these movies.  He seems to be having a good time easily fighting off bad guys who are mostly the CIA. 

 Last night was the Academy Awards which we missed.  We used to be very interested in this show and would go to Academy Awards parties and try to watch the movies and we would vote on them.  But, then we didn’t go to those parties and since we don’t have television, we stopped knowing what the movies are.  We’re missing seeing the ridiculously beautiful outfits worn by people who are completely overpaid for acting. 

 Saturday much of Hollywood was closed for the awards; Nora and I made our way down to Melrose.  On the way back it hailed.  Very odd in Southern California. 

 I’m nearly finished Saul and Patsy, and then I want to read the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

 According to Slate, Amy Chua’s book

… about how “Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids” starts out with a list of what her daughters were never allowed to do. They were never allowed to: attend a sleepover, have a play date, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade lower than an A, not be the number one student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or the violin.


The book was an attempt at satire. Chua tried to paint a self-effacing portrait and use humor to poke fun at her shortcomings. “It is a strange memoir. You hear me making fun of myself 18 years ago, and then I change. It is a self-caricature. Yet every review is on the parenting methods described,” she laments. “I had higher ambitions, that people would see it more for its literary merits,” she says, again with a laugh. “That’s not come out at all.” The authors she admires, and was hoping to somehow emulate, include Nabokov and David Sedaris.

As we stretch in her spacious home—her two daughters, now 15 and 18, are at school—I am getting to know two other characters in her book……As we enter our second hour of chat, it is clear that the strict rules she laid out in her book applied mostly while the girls were much younger, and are especially relevant between the ages of nine and 13. “If there is one lesson, it is that as they get older, you have to give them more choice,” she says. “By the time Sophia went to high school I was not that involved, she had the skills already.”

Instead of letting her daughters spend days “hanging out” with friends, she made them practice music. The girls—who are both accomplished musicians – also spent a lot of time with Amy and her husband, playing Monopoly or table tennis while their parents sipped wine. “I don’t know why I didn’t put any of that in the book,” she says, with some regret. “I just strung together the most extreme situations. It proves that I was not trying to write a parenting book!”

She differs from stereotypical Chinese parents in important ways. For starters, she says, she does not cook much, and just that morning bought a box of Dunkin’ Donuts for her daughter’s class snack. She and her Jewish husband, also a law professor at Yale, are “socially liberal”. It is in this regard that some of her Asian students who have been raised by strict parents have difficulties. “If they’re coming out of the closet, if they want to be a fashion designer instead of a lawyer, this can create problems,” she says.

As for her daughters, she is now much more hands-off. And if they wanted to be in a school play, she would not stand in their way. “Now, if my daughter said ‘I want to do theatre’, I would say OK, I would support her.”


 Well, isn’t that nice?  The kid would be allowed to think for herself.  Isn’t that just special?  Parenting and families are the stuff of great books.  As Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Families are complicated; Nora and I spent all yesterday afternoon talking about her family and ours.   Her family sounds like a bunch of crazy Italians.  They would make a good story. 

Amy Chua sounds like a strict mother, and lots of people argue that she is way too strict, but I would say that it’s hard to decide if kids were raised too strictly.  It sounds strict, but since I raised my kids with no TV, most people would think that’s cruel and unusual, but they did fine. 

There isn’t a formula that works for raising children; Mark and I were badly raised and turned out fine.  I know lots of kids who grow up in nice decent families and are utterly boring people who seem to have nothing that they think about. 

I wanted kids who were really interesting, smart cool people who I would want to hang with and do things in the world.  Make a difference.  Not just sleep their way through coddled lives consuming, buying stuff, living commonplace American lives where what they have to complain about is inadequate health insurance and misshapen couches, to say nothing of leaking roofs and whether or not one should shop at WalMart which you shouldn’t if you can help it.  They underpay their employees, sell cheap stuff from Cbina and they pay women less than men. 

 But there’s more to life than hating WalMart.  I suppose some would argue that we can’t all be creative intellectuals, that some of us do need to just take up space on the planet and buy things.  They could be right, but I don’t want that to be me or mine.  I want us awake and thinking, awake, yet dreaming.

All I want now is more time to write and run.  That’s my dream.







Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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