no truce in the Tiger Mother wars yet

Despite Obama’s stirring call for civility this past week, the battle rages on: those who are aghast at the Tiger Mother, and those who defend her principles at all costs. An anonymous commenter appeared on this blog just yesterday to throw down this gauntlet:

Say what you want, but the fact remains, asians score higher SAT scores, achieve more in college, and have a lower level of serving prison terms than most other “cultures” in America.

Taking personal responsibility for ones own success, as well as failures, certainly is almost unfathomable to the typical american mindset, and that’s why the asian stats will remain superior to all others in the foreseeable future….

Having a fat kid should be the same as having a kid who is smoking pot, since the eventual rendevous with a brick wall by the addict, is essentially the same. Parents who consistently “break down” and buy their kids happy meals are weak…. You’re weak. Your kids are fat. Your kids are mediocre in school. You don’t have the will to make it change. Just be honest and say you’re overwhelmed, or deal with it.

Don’t point fingers at your betters and say, “well, they aren’t as happy as we are,” because on closer, honest examination, this will be a lie, and as many of you have experienced, families that lie, eventually disintegrate.

Support your family. Stop lying. 

OK! OK! *sob* I have been lying. My kids are weak, fat, and mediocre in school. 

Kidding. Actually, my 8-year-old can do 20 perfect pushups, my 6-year-old is so skinny you can see through him, and my 3-year-old runs her preschool (and the Upper West Side) with an iron, princess fist.  All three of my children are strong, intelligent, and just-so sized. All of this has happened without me calling them names or depriving them of joy. All three of them are exactly where they should be, neither pushed nor pulled (except when it’s three minutes after eight and they don’t have their coats on). 

Here’s what I don’t buy: I don’t buy you either have successful, berated children, or loser, well-loved ones. I was the valedictorian of my high school class, and I have the softest pillow of a mother. I never strived to do better because I thought she’d break my dollhouse if I didn’t. I was  self-motivated. I was happy. I believe kids can be both. 

I also don’t buy that having a kid who plays Carnegie Hall, or goes to college when he’s eight or whatever, is ipso facto better than having a kid who doesn’t do those things– and that is where the Tiger Mothers and the rest of us will probably never see eye to eye. 

Ms. Chua has spent the last week furiously backpedaling on this essay, claiming that the excerpt is not the whole story of the book, and that some of it was meant to be a joke. I know too well what can happen when a news agency gives something you wrote a way-off, sensationalist title and throws you to the wolves. But when that happened to me, and I started getting the hate mail, I didn’t try to argue “you didn’t get it, I was just kidding.” For better or worse, I figured that I wrote what I wrote. I needed to let it stand as is and take the heat. Saying “I was only joking,” as the  inimitable Seth Godin has explained, is “an incredibly lame excuse for a failed interaction.” Plus, as Kate Zernike pointed out in her overview of this whole kerfuffle in the New York Times this past weekend, Ms. Chua’s writing doesn’t actually sound like she’s kidding, and in interviews, she has seemed “unresolved” at best. 

Part of me feels sorry for Ms. Chua, since she’s apparently getting death threats, and part of me thinks she is crazy like a fox, since her book is currently #5 on Amazon.  We’re all talking about it, clearly people are buying it, and that conversation would not have happened if she hadn’t thrown a grenade into the weekend section of the Wall Street Journal. Anyone who writes about parenting can tell you that such writing usually gets the eye roll.  It might get a nod in the family section, but it’s not going to be reviewed, and it’s certainly not going to be given such prominent real estate in our nation’s leading financial newspaper. The sad takeaway from this controversy, for authors, is that if you want to sell a book, you have to dial up your rhetoric, scorch the earth and point fingers, sensationalize and create controversy. The opposite of what all of us should want. If Chuck Schumer and Tom Coburn can sit together at the State of the Union, then mothers should be able to feel good about their parenting priorities without ripping down someone else’s to get there– or to get their book read.

(I must add a side note here to Ms. Zernike, should she read this: please acknowledge the authors of the blogs you quote in articles like this. Yes, they’re great punchlines. But someone worked hard to write them. They’re not anonymous scribblings, there for the taking. In fact, they’re probably copyrighted.)

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Mollie January 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm

She (Zernicke) could at least link to the blog posts she's quoting in the online version of her article.

I heard this morning that one of the NY tabs is running a response to the haters, written by…one of Tiger Mother's teenage daughters. This whole book-promotion project of hers is getting a little gross.


Ellen Painter Dollar January 18, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Ack! Thank you! I've followed this whole mess and, putting aside what I think of her actual parenting (not much), I'm completely put off by what she, the Wall Street Journal, and her publicists have done to sell books (intentionally? accidentally? can't figure that part out). I am tired of cultural discourse via firestorm. I am tired of black-and-white, "this is what I did and I don't give a damn what you think" articles about parenting and childbearing. I don't think what Chua did, to her kids OR in writing such an extreme book excerpt, then pretending it was really part of a balanced, introspective memoir, is right.

As someone who is trying to make a living, and make a mark, by writing about parenting and childbearing in a more nuanced, balanced way that invites discussion instead of provoking battling sound bites, though, it's hard to watch all the attention she's getting (and think about all the books she's selling). I think our world would be a nicer place if media outlets and book publishers invited more nuance and balance, and less bombast and combativeness. I'm going to keep writing with that ideal in mind. But I will never sell as many books as Chua, and I'll admit that I'm a little p.o.'d about that.


Amy Wilson January 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I agree Ellen- it is kind of infuriating that you can post this screed and then go on every national TV show to say I didn't mean it like that and sell a hundred bajillion books while you're at it.

Might not be worth the death threats though.

David Brooks had an interesting op-ed in the NYT over the wkd, just read it- he suggests in a sly way that parenting like Ms. Chua touts raises socially inadept people who do not "learn how to put themselves in others’ minds and anticipate others’ reactions."

But I'm still not sure she didn't start this fire on purpose.


Jocinda January 18, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Oh, who cares? We all like to compare our parenting skills and tactics to others', and we usually judge others' methods as inferior to our own. It's fun! Just do it privately, with your spouse. Because it's meaningless banter that reassures us we are doing OK. I have watched many parents do the opposite of what I would choose to do, and their kids turn out really great. We are only collaborating with our children; they are, in fact, their own human.


Amy Rodriguez January 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Ahhhh, so well-said! My favorite part is when you say, "I also don't buy that having a kid who plays Carnegie Hall, or goes to college when he's eight or whatever, is ipso facto better than having a kid who doesn't do those things." I always wonder what guarantee people are thinking they are going to get if their child goes to an Ivy league school or such. Even if that is the outcome, what does it mean? happiness and success can come from all different paths.


Courtney January 19, 2011 at 3:50 pm

She's kind of the Sarah Palin of parenting. Some people will come out of the woods saying of course she is right, while most people know she is a whack job. She may have some valid points about the overall health and well-being of a child, and how the parent CAN help shape smart and successful kids. But, she does it in such a polarizing way, which is not what this country needs more of.


okresowe szkolenia bhp January 19, 2011 at 10:39 pm

very interesting article, i always wanted to write my own blog, but i don't have much time


Anonymous January 20, 2011 at 2:15 am

As the commenter cited in this latest blog, I just have to say I think I'm seeing what I described previously:

a lot of sour grapes.

To Courtney, just because the world is "a nicer place" doesn't make it a better place. Writing about parenting under the theme, "As a parent, I'm okay, you're okay," is boring. "As a parent, I'm better than you, and here's why," is not boring.

Amy, I think any parent who can hand back their child's cheesy, hastily written birthday card, and tell them, "It's not good enough. Go back and make a good one," is a parent who is establishing the habit of excellence in their children, which likely will pay dividends down the line, even though, at that moment, the world may not be a nice place for them.

Challenging your children to operate consistently at the height of their talents and capabilities is good. I think those who have a "problem" with the author could spend their time more productively by examining "parents" who have kids addicted to drugs, are dropouts, and/or are now in prison. I think there are far more of those kinds of parents, than those who reflect the sensibilities of Ms. Chua.

Again, you choose to rail against her because she's a threat to you: she highlights your shortcomings. If you go after her, you don't have to pick up your own game. In fact, you fool yourselves into adopting a moral/ethical stance so you get another day of avoiding dealing with your kid, and his/her sony playstation–or yet another "happy meal."

Parenting is the hardest job there is. You all knew the job was dangerous when you took it. Stop whining like your kids.

Change your kids. Change your ways.


Anonymous January 20, 2011 at 5:41 am

Seriously Amy, I think the Tiger Mother herself is "Anonymously" posting! Wow! Or maybe it IS Sarah Palin! There is NOTHING easy about parenting. I choose; however, not to come across as a tiger.

Give peace a chance!


Courtney January 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm

It's all about tone and intention. If she said "I hate this card, make it better, it sucks", well, obviously, that is bad parenting. If she said "Wow, mommy loves it, can you do it again and make it even better!", then I don't see anything wrong with that. But it doesn't mean her child isn't going to resent her and end up doing drugs…so, there really is no argument. You could do everything "right" in the world for your child, and they still could end up in prison. You give them the tools, but then they must decide to use those tools.
On to the next topic, please…


Mollie January 21, 2011 at 2:06 am

"Stop whining," says the person anonymously insulting strangers on the internet, at random, for kicks. I know I am taking this very, very seriously.


Amy Wilson January 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Courtney, you hit the nail on the head when you said she was the Sarah Palin of parenting. It's the same modus operandi: say purposefully pot-stirring stuff, then sit back while the blogosphere, in its highly negative reaction, rockets your book to the top of the best-seller list and the cover of Time Magazine. Lee Siegel said it best in the New York Observer:

"Ms. Chua's book is a case study in how lack of self-knowledge, absence of empathy, and poor writing skills can be a blessing if you possess enough robotic ambition, callousness toward other people and lack of honesty about yourself and your subject….I like money, and I like big advances, but what I don't like is having to slog through an artificially fabricated book that has incited an artificial controversy tailor-made for the 'Most E-Mailed' list."

He's right. I think we were all used to sell her book, and for thanks, I get anonymous vitriol on my blog. It has coarsened the discourse for us all.

To quote Courtney again: on to the next topic, please.

(read the rest of the Observer article here:


Jessica B January 22, 2011 at 1:15 am
Anonymous January 22, 2011 at 8:12 am


"Actually, my 8-year-old can do 20 perfect pushups…"

So can most kids that age. Watch another example of a parent who works with their kid to be his best:

Again, I submit most of you dismiss excellence because it's foreign to you, or try to rationalize it away under some self-consrtued morality that keeps your kid in front of the TV. Either that or you find some way to blame Sarah Palin. No wonder too many of our nation's kids are underachieving whiners.
Thanks for demonstrating why chinese mothers are too often "better than you."


Anonymous January 31, 2011 at 4:43 am

Looks like someone else agrees with "anonymous'" assessment of some of the aspiring mothers and frustrated parenting posting here:

Here is what I love about the Tiger Mom:

Amy Chua knows what she values and lives those values. I may not agree with her values, but I respect that she's willing to "cowboy up" with her values. In my private practice, at speaking engagements around the country, and in my own community north of San Francisco, I see too many parents who either don't know what they value, don't have the courage of their convictions to live their values, or are just plain too lazy or selfish to raise their children in accordance with their values.


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