Posted by: Emily Schmutz Garcia | October 23, 2011

A Book Report and Some Ramblings About: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

A dear friend of mine suggested that I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (BHTM). David and I went to the library the other day and they actually had a copy. I decided to give it a try. The cover seemed very intriguing-a woman who set out to write about the benefits of Chinese parenting over Western parenting who learned many valuable lessons while raising her two daughters and sharing her successes and failures.

In the beginning, there are a few solid rules that Amy Chua did not allow her daughters to do:

*attend a sleepover

*have a playdate

*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 less than an A

*not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama

*play any instrument other than the piano or violin

*not play the piano or violin

Okay, when I first read that on the back cover, I thought this sounds insane, but I’m curious to learn the reasons behind the insanity. Amy Chua has two daughters and the book takes us through both of their childhoods into their teen years. They were both brilliant musicians before they hit their teen years and studied with some of the best music teachers. People asked Amy how her daughters got to be so talented. The simple answer is hard work and lots of it. She insisted that her children practice 90 minutes every day, rain, shine, vacation or otherwise. This was not easy for her children nor for her. She and her husband are both full-time professors at Yale. His work asked him to travel a great deal and anytime anyone went on vacation, they all went on vacation. As a result, her kids have visited most of Europe, along with many other countries. She had to secure practice time and instruments in every place they went.

Her children didn’t have time for play dates. When they weren’t practicing, they were studying. If they didn’t come in first in their classes, that meant studying until they were. What was the problem with school plays, some may ask? Asking children to stay after school for hours, occasionally coming to school on Saturdays to play Chorus #212, seemed like a ridiculous waste of time and energy.

I must confess after reading her story, I really didn’t think she was insane. Driven, certainly. Insanely busy, yes, but not crazy.

Will I be trying to raise Dobby using the Chinese Mother model? No. I don’t have the stamina. That being said, there are a few techniques and tips that I think might be useful.

I think insisting on music practice for a decent amount of time is a good idea. I’m all in favor of either the violin or the piano. I would like my children to be able to play and I think either of those instruments are preferable to some other options that don’t seem to be as useful in later years. I wish I had stuck with practicing the piano. My wonderful husband got me a keyboard for Mother’s Day this year. Which now means that I have no excuse not to practice and try to teach myself. Perhaps a teacher might help me a bit with motivation. Perhaps-not that it worked when I was growing up…I seem to recall having gone through three or four piano teachers, but never actually practicing.

Amy Chua did have to “brow beat” her children into practicing, which later on, they really appreciated. She describes some pretty intense fights about practicing, but the results seem to be worth it.

She mentions never worrying about being the bad guy and being hated by her kids, because some day they would appreciate it. She also discusses her disdain for the Western parenting model that attempts to make your kids your best friends while growing up. Now, her explanation is more that most Chinese children love and respect their parents when they grow up, whereas most Western children do not. How often do you hear people blaming their parents for something that is not right in their lives? How often are those people Chinese?

I think this particular concept rings true with me because my parents, particularly my mother, was not bothered about being my best friend. She always made it clear that she was my mother. Parents, teachers and leaders were always to be respected and listened to. She was firm. Now, we were allowed to have sleepovers, play dates, and seeing as how I am not a concert pianist, my mother was not a Chinese mother. She was amazing and did let me make many of my own mistakes, while trying to guard me from any that would cause permanent damage.

Parenthood seems quite daunting to me. I hate making mistakes and making mistakes with my kids seems like it will be 10,000 times worse. That being said, mistakes are a part of life and a necessary part of life that I am constantly trying to learn to live with.

Take Aways From the Book:

1) It is not only okay, but necessary to say “no” to your children. My mother tried to avoid saying “no” to me, and I seem to recall trying to teach my dad to say “no” to me. As such, I am a bit on the spoiled side-my poor husband is learning ways to help me say “no.” He hasn’t actually said “no” to me yet, but occasionally he will ask some questions that will help me to see that what I feel is absolutely necessary at the time, really is just a passing fancy.

2) It is okay to reject sleepovers. I never actually enjoyed sleeping over at friend’s houses. Socially, it seemed like the thing to do, but I have always liked sleep too much to enjoy sacrificing any amount of it. Also, I kind of think the world we live in has come to a point that I would rather not worry about what my kids are learning at their friend’s houses while the parents are asleep.

3) As far as choosing their extracurricular activities, I have to hope that I’ll help them find things that they will enjoy, while also guiding them towards more beneficial activities. I want all of my sons to get their Eagle Scout and my daughters to get their Young Women medallion. I do want them to play the piano or violin. I would like them to play soccer, but I am aware that sometimes people aren’t overly athletically inclined. (I always enjoyed sports but was never overly gifted. I excelled in musical theatre. I starred in three of my high school’s four musicals while I was there. The amount of time we spent practicing was insane, but I will never forget the high I got from getting the last bow or singing solo after solo on stage. I loved it. I usually did better in school when I had more activities going on.)

All that being said, I don’t want them to be overworked. I want my kids to have an enjoyable childhood, but I also want to prepare them for the rest of their lives. And thus I look ahead at parenting with trepidation. I assume it will require patience and endurance, among many other things. BHTM was an intriguing book with some great ideas, as well as some not-as-great ideas. I recommend reading it for yourself and seeing what you think. Cheers.


  1. Dearest Emily – you have the greatest joy and the greatest responsibility ahead of you. Being a mother is to a woman the ultimate joy and fulfillment. I still ache when I think of your wasted second grade year. It haunts me. I got you into GATE the next year by a great deal of persistence. You totally belonged, but a blood sugar problem had affected you score on the exam. I loved soccer and musical theater. The proudest moment for me was twofold. Winifred in “Once Upon a Mattress” and the duet you sang with Chrissy “Anything Yo CAn Do, I Canb Do Better!” I love you and look forward to our newest addition to our family Dobbie!

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