When a discussion opens up about the “tiger mother” stereotype, the most modern and arguably the most popular topic of conversation is Amy Chua’s New York Times best seller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. This book, released in 2011, was a top seller in the United States, Germany, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Isreal, Poland, Korea and China. It was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and has gone on to represent the common image of the tiger mother in society today.
In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua tells of how she set out to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, the Chinese way— the better way, in her mind. She drilled them in academics, music and discipline. With her first daughter, she was successful. The second child, Lulu, tested every limit set before her. The book is a personal memoir about culture clashes and the struggles of parenthood, but it has been misinterpreted to mold a stereotype of uptight, emotionless tiger mothers who expect nothing but perfection from their children.
Reception of the book was controversial at best. Chua was seen as harsh and unrelenting in her quest to make her daughters succeed. Her ambitions for her children were put in the spotlight as a model to represent Asian American parents. Because Amy Chua was strict and expected a lot from her children, every other Asian American parent was assumed to do the same.
Society missed the point, though. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was not an exaltation of Chinese parenting over Western parenting. It was not a way for Chua to assert her ideas over someone else’s, and it certainly wasn’t meant to define the tiger mother stereotype for modern generations. It was a self-critique— a look inside a commonly misinterpreted style of parenting and the trials and tribulations that come with it.
“Jokes aside about A+s and gold medals (much of my book is self-parody), in the end for me it’s not about grades or Ivy League schools. It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else – more than they believe in themselves – and helping them realize their potential, whatever it may be. My book has been controversial. Many people have misunderstood it. If I could push a magic button and choose either happiness or success for my children, I’d choose happiness in a second.” –Amy Chua
The almost immediate backlash and subsequent popularization of the book pigeonholed the conversation about tiger mothers and Asian Americans. Instead of recognizing that there are several Asian cultures and that they all differ from one another, the strict Chinese mother became the face of the model minority. Amy Chua became a misunderstood representation of a tiger mother that she never asked to be.
The discussion about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not about what style of parenting is best. It’s not even about whether or not you agree with Chua’s methods. It’s a retrospective of one family, and their journey through growing a family and the cultural and generational gaps they encountered. All too often, the stereotypical tiger mother image is rooted in this book. This misses the mark. Rather than using Chua’s persona in this book as a model for all Asian American mothers, we should be joining in with her in laughing, cringing, groaning and cheering alongside her family. The book is not a prototype for the tiger mother stereotype, but an engaging family story about relationships and growing together. And that’s a discussion more worth having.