For this month's Readers' Review: "All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. The 2014 novel weaves together the stories of a blind French girl and a German orphan during World War II.
The story of a mother who sets out to raise her children in the strict Chinese way she was brought up in hopes of preparing them for the future. Though her methods are intended to arm her daughters with skills, strong work habits and inner confidence, she also finds herself in a bitter clash of cultures and having to adapt to the needs of a different generation.
- Amy Chua author and law professor at Yale University
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I’m Diane Rehm. The tiger, the living symbol of strength and power, generally inspires fear and respect. This is the description of the mother that Amy Chua intended to be. In her new book, ''Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother,'' Chua describes her strict upbringing and explains her attempt to raise high achieving children the Chinese way.
MS. DIANE REHMHer parenting philosophy was challenged when one of her daughters rebelled. Amy Chua joins us in the studio and the title of that book again, ''Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother.'' On the cover, here is the subtitle. It's about four sentences long, "This is the story about a mother, two daughters and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones, but instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory and how I was humbled by a 13-year-old.'' Welcome, Amy.
MS. AMY CHUAThanks so much for having me, Diane.
REHMWell, I'm glad to have you here. Tell me about your daughters. How old are they now?
CHUAMy oldest daughter is 18, a senior in high school, and my younger daughter Lulu, is 14, but about to be 15 next week.
REHMWell, we'll wish her an early happy birthday. Would you tell us what a Chinese mother believes? Can you read for us from the book? There is...
CHUAWell, you know, first, I want to say, Diane, because I -- on this first page of my book, I explained that I'm using this term "Chinese mother" in quotes and this is very important to me. I was talking to a guy from South Dakota and after discussing this book, he and I decided that his white, working-class Irish father had definitely been a Chinese mother, so I really think it's more of an immigrant thing. I know so many parents of, you know, Indian, Pakistan, Iranian, Irish, Korean backgrounds who have very similar mindsets.
CHUABut this is very important, I also know many Chinese people who do not parent this way. So what I put on the book, I mean, this partly tongue in cheek, I said, ''What a Chinese mother believes,'' and this is me, by the way, at the beginning of the book because the book is a journey and I do change.
CHUAYes, an evolution, but what I say, slightly tongue in cheek at the beginning is, ''Here is the list of what a Chinese mother believes. One, schoolwork always comes first. Two, an A minus is a bad grade. Three, your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math. Four, you must never compliment your children in public. Five, if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach you must always take the side of the teacher or coach. Six, the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal and seven, that medal must be gold."
REHMNow, you’re smiling as you say this, but at some point, did you believe very deeply in what you just said?
CHUAI would say not the last two (laugh). I definitely don’t think that the only activities my daughters could do was activities in which they could win a medal. I mean, part of this is just a little bit tongue in cheek, also talking to other people who was raised -- you know, it's partly I was the daughter of two Chinese immigrants, too. And, you know, in some ways, I remember my own childhood thinking that this is how my parents felt.
REHMWell, how were you raised?
CHUAI was raised by extremely strict, but also extremely loving, Chinese immigrant parents. They, my parents, came to the United States as graduate students with practically no money. They were so poor that they actually couldn't afford heat their first two winters in Boston and they wore blankets around to keep warm. And as parents, they demanded total respect from my three younger sisters and me. I mean, we could never talk back.
CHUAThey were very tough. We had to speak Chinese and we had to drill math. No sleepovers, no boyfriends. I got in trouble for A minuses, but the point is that the strategy worked with me. You know, I’m not saying it's good for everybody, but with me, it worked. Today, I'm not just very close to my parents, but I feel I owe them everything. I feel this kind of deep, deep love for them, so that's why even though my husband is not Jewish, I try to raise my own two daughters the same way.
REHMYour husband is Jewish.
CHUAI'm sorry, my husband is not Chinese.
CHUAYes, he's Jewish-American.
REHMNow, when you think about how you were raised, did you go into parenthood thinking, well, that's how I'm going to raise my kids?
CHUAI think so. I was a little bit different because I think I was actually socially always more liberal because I'm not an immigrant, so again, the book is a little bit poking fun at myself. But my parents were much stricter, actually, socially. You know, the no play dates and no sleepovers kind of comes from them. I actually did give my kids play dates when they were little.
CHUANot so much when they got to be closer to teen years, but I remember when I was little and I wanted sleepovers my parents would say, what's wrong with your own family? You know, why do you need to sleep at somebody else's house? So I did -- there were so many -- there are many, many strengths I see in that kind of parenting approach, so yeah, I think I was in some ways, consciously making that decision with some adjustments.
REHMAnd that's the real heart of the question. Do you believe that Western parents have become too lax in their approach to parenting?
CHUAI believe that there are many ways of being a good parent. You know, my own husband was raised in an extremely liberal, loving, permissive home, pretty much the opposite of mine and he came out great. You know, he just loves his parents, loves his family, self-motivated, but I think that I came out okay, too. So I feel like there are different ways to end up in a good spot. So this is something that's important for me to stress, my book is not a how-to guide.
CHUAIt's really not saying that the Chinese way is better. In fact, by the time you get to the end of the book, you realize that I -- in the end, I think that probably some hybrid is better. But to go back to your question, yeah, I don't want to shy away from that. I guess I don't think it's what everybody should do. I don't think that I have the recipe, but for myself, I really chose consciously not to raise my kids in as permissive a way, as many of their friend's households.
REHMAnd so what did that mean in practical terms?
CHUAWell, one, I guess I was trying to do what I saw as the best of what my parents gave me. First, I did have very high expectations for me. But for me, that was always coupled with love. You know, I think without love and understanding, you have nothing and that's where it's very universal. I think love and understanding and knowing your kid has to come first.
CHUABut for me, I think high expectations coupled with love and parental involvement. So yeah, my expectations were higher than other parents. I was the parent who, you know, when they brought home the, you know, 96 other people celebrated, I would say, you know, let's look at those four points you missed. And I took some heat from that. Secondly, hard work, obviously.
CHUAI made my kids practice violin and piano two hours a day, even longer on weekends. And I do believe in this, I believe in sticking with something. I read about something called the virtuous circle in my book. I say that, you know, what I learned from my parents is that most things are not fun until you're good at it. You know, I hate, I can't ski, so I hate it. And I know that it would be incredibly fun if I were good at it.
CHUABut to get good at something requires hard work. You know, it often requires an initial stage of just practice and kind of getting over the hump, so I do think that, you know, I don't want to favor rote repetition all the way through, but early on, I think you have to kind of clear a hurdle and it's just really the American adage, practice makes perfect.
REHMNow, did the two girls rebel at practicing, for example, two hours or more on weekends?
REHMWith my oldest daughter, and I've heard of this pattern before, things went very smoothly. You know, I really had no problem and she -- I was strict with her sometimes and she was just a generous, you know, incredibly talented girl. But at the end of my book, I noticed, she said, you know, mommy, people are going to think that I'm this sort of boring, obedient one, when that wasn't the case at all. It was my choice to go along with your style of parenting because I wanted to.'
CHUAI mean, she's a huge personality, so I didn't have any trouble with her, but my second daughter, yes. She was a real fireball from day one, actually pre-birth. She was kicking in-vitro and the funny thing is that she and I are very much alike in personality, very hot-tempered.
REHMWhich can make it very difficult to get along.
CHUAVery. Oh, my gosh, we're very hot-tempered, but fast forgiving, hold no grudges. So a lot of the book is supposed to be entertaining and comic. I hope other people can relate to it. We’re just -- I mean, she and I just locked horns from the beginning. I think I give my daughters all the best lines in my book, but she -- I actually find them tragi-comic. You know, we just -- we've had fights about practicing from the time that she was four.
CHUAAnd I was stuck to it all the way through and in a way, in the end, when she started, I mean, she became a concert master, she studied with a Juilliard teacher, she won a prodigy award, but she began saying, I hate violin. I don't want to do this. It's all about you. And I don't want to give away the punch line, but in the end, to my own heartbreak, I let her give it up.
REHMAnd she did give it up. Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School. She's the author of a new book, it's titled ''Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother.''
REHMIf you've just joined us, Amy Chua is with us. She's just written a book which lots of people are talking about, it's titled, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: A story about a mother, two daughters and two dogs." She talks about the kind of evolution she went through as a mother having been raised in a very strict Chinese household and beginning her own session of parenthood imitating those very same rules, but realizing ultimately that her children are their own people. Do join us, 800-433-8850. You write that you were worried about the generation in which your own children were born and that you were determined not to raise a soft, entitled child. Is that how you saw or indeed see many children being raised today?
CHUAYes, I think so. And it's something that I talk to my friends, Western and Chinese, about all the time. You know, it's really not their fault, actually. My children -- my parents were very -- didn't have much money. My father wore the same pair of shoes for six years. And in some ways, I saw that and it instilled certain values in me. And my daughters, through no fault of their own, they're growing up in a much more privileged context. We're not wealthy, but they have -- they live in a decent house, we have two cars, they have iPhones and all this stuff and I was worried. I didn't want to raise an entitled child who just kept saying, you know, buy me more, more, more. And all my friends have this. I just didn't want kind of shallow child who materialist and this is something that I know a lot of my friends worry about.
REHMSo how do you talk with your friends about your approach to child rearing when you see what they are doing?
CHUAI'm lucky to have very, very close friends, very supportive, even people who really do the opposite of what I do, so it's actually been a lifelong conversation. They were the first readers of this book. And as my daughter says -- I put all the dramatic moments in the book -- she said, people aren't gonna realize that we had normal lives and that we had so much fun. They're just -- but who wants to read about the boring moments?
REHMThere was one point where you used a particular kind of discipline to get your daughter to play the piano well.
CHUAThis is -- is this the (laugh) stuffed animal reference? Oh, I know. I've been hearing about this. Yep. Well, first of all, I want to point out that a lot of the book is kind of ironic and I've always loved books with unreliable narrators, so I think you have to read between the lines. But if you notice, I'm putting that line in my daughter's mouth. You know, she's reporting what I threatened, so she's a huge personality. But yes, I stand by that. There's some moments that I'm not so proud of and, you know, part of the book is making fun of these moments where I'm in a frenzy, hauling off my other daughter's dollhouse, threatening to donate it to the Salvation Army if she doesn't get this, you know, piano piece right.
REHMAnd threatening to burn stuffed animals.
CHUARight. I'm not sure I actually said those words, but I would've. What I said -- I think the other lines are -- this I definitely said, which is, oh, my God, you're just getting worse and worse. And, you know, Western people who don't know me, don't know the context of our family and love, I can understand why they would say, oh, my gosh, you must be damaging your child's self-esteem. But it just wasn't like that. We have this -- I think if you have a foundation of love and respect, then everything has to be put in context. You know, we kid around a lot in our family and my daughters knew exactly how highly I thought of them.
REHMBut, you know, Amy, I think on the one hand you've written this book because you believed in what you were writing. On the other hand, I think an article came out in The Wall Street Journal that was fairly provocative about your approach to parenting. And now I hear you backing away somewhat.
CHUAI don't think I'm backing away, actually. I mean, it's the arc of the book. I start off -- the person I start off with -- as at the beginning of the book, on page one, that is the person I was 18 years ago. Kind of overconfident, parenting is easy and especially 'cause I had an easy first kid. Hey, anybody could do this. Let's be firm. And that's actually the voice -- and it is my voice. I don't want to back away, but that's the voice that's kind of captured in The Wall Street Journal excerpt, which has been so inflammatory, but there's an arc to the book and I change, I get my comeupins, especially when some very dark things happen. I actually wrote this book in a moment of crisis.
CHUABut the person that I am at the end of the book is quite different. I've learned some lessons, I've become a much more Western parent than I ever thought, but I don't -- you know, I don't say that I have backed away because in the end, if I could do it all again -- you know, I have regrets, I wish I hadn't used such harsh words, I wish I hadn't lost my tempers, some of the moments I capture in the book are not moments I'm proud of, but I would do it all again with some adjustments.
REHMAnd I think all of us as parents have moments that we regret or periods that we regret. Do you feel that your daughters now are young women you are proud of, who are proud of you, with whom you can enjoy? Are you pleased?
CHUAOh, yeah, I am beyond pleased. I'm so proud of them. Maybe this is me bragging, but they are -- it's just -- it's not just that they're good students, that's really a minor point. They are kind, generous girls. They are happy, they're confident, they are -- they have strong personalities, they're funny, they're creative. They are -- they're just huge personalities. They're always putting me in my place and I think the book tries to convey that. You know, they have -- again, they just are constantly calling my bluff, getting the better of me. And most important to me, I think we have a great relationship that I’m really proud of.
CHUASo again, I'm not saying this is an approach that other people should follow. One of my friends said, you know, don't try this at home. I mean, it's very much just me and my daughters, but I'm very proud of them and our relationship.
REHMOne of the most moving parts in your book is when you describe how your mother raised your youngest sister, Cindy. Talk about that.
CHUAThis, I think, is one of my favorite stories about the "Chinese model." I really just mean this kind of immigrant tough love model. My youngest sister Cindy, 10 years younger than me, has Down syndrome and there was a lot wonderful about the West, too, actually, because my Asian relatives at first said, oh, my gosh, you can send her away. And at first my mother was very tearful about this, but she joined Western groups and got to understand Down syndrome.
CHUAAnd suddenly, she got very invested and she was absolutely determined. And this shows that in the end, I don't think that, you know, this kind of immigrant parenting, I don't think it's all about achievement and grades in the end. Those are just jokes about gold medals aside. I think in the end, it's about making your children -- helping your children to be the best they can be, which is usually better than they think and that other people think.
CHUASo I remember my mother teaching my sister to tie her shoe laces and to drill -- she was drilling multiplication tables with her. She taught her how to play the piano. She practiced piano two hours a day with her. And today, my sister, Cindy -- I mean, nobody expected her to get a PhD, but she is incredibly high self-esteemed, she works at Walmart, she has a boyfriend. She still plays the piano. Her favorite thing is to perform for her friends and she and my mom have a wonderful relationship.
REHMDoes she live at home? Does she live with your mother?
CHUAShe always did until about last year, when my mother decided that she needed, on advice of friends, to be more independent to prepare her for going out on her own some day. So she lives in an assisted facility -- assisted living facility. Loves it. Has learned to be more independent and actually, she is writing her own memoir. She called me and she said, you know what? I think I could do this, too. And it's really good.
REHMGood for her.
CHUAIt's really good.
REHMGood for her. Amy Chua and her new book is titled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Now, there are a great many people who'd like to talk with you and we have lots of e-mails, messages on Facebook. We'll open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Sheila who's in New York. Sheila, how do I pronounce the name of your city?
REHMDe Peyster, thank you. Go right ahead.
SHEILAI'm no slouch myself. I expect quite a lot from my kids. I expect them to practice, but I think the line that you have to be careful of is perfectionism. I see a lot in this society in general. I'm not just talking immigrant parents, but in general, toward perfectionism. And also the competitiveness that parents put on their kids because they think it reflects badly on themselves if their kids don't live up to a certain standard their parents have. My kids are great, you know, straight A students, they're in All State and all this stuff, but I have to be careful that I look at them and say, are they living for themselves or am I making them -- or am I living my dreams through them?
REHMGood point. Amy.
CHUASheila, I completely agree with you. I don't think I have anything to add. I mean, I agree with you. You know, in the end, I think whatever culture you're from, for me at least, I think honestly we just all want our kids to be happy, strong and self-reliant. I mean -- and that's sort of the bottom line.
REHMDo you think you were trying to live your life through them?
CHUAI actually don't feel that way, but -- this might be a little bit of a cultural thing. I mean, it's always been a -- it's always struck me as a little bit of a Western question, you know, are you doing this for yourself or your child? Because the way that my mother always thought about it was, you love your child so much, they're so precious to you, they're like -- they're almost like a part of you. They're like your lung and your heart and your right leg (laugh), so their joys are my joys and yes, I'll admit it. Maybe with more less shame than Sheila's suggesting, their accomplishments are my pride, their disappointments are my disappointments. So -- but I completely agree with Sheila's concerns.
REHMAll right. to Ky (sp?) in Miami, Fla. Good morning.
KYGood morning. And thank you for taking my call, Diane...
KY...and Ms. Chua. It's a pleasure to speak with you. And actually, my opinion of things have changed since I've been listening to the program because I initially called having read The Wall Street Journal article that my fully Chinese immigrant fiancé brought to me last night and I got to read through it. And she was actually kind of angry at the article. I'm half Chinese. My father is Chinese immigrant and my mom is a Jewish-American psychologist, so she's on the liberal end of things. And my father was very much on the conservative end of things and he would probably see more eye-to-eye with what you wrote in your Wall Street Journal article, though he has kind of toned down in recent years.
REHMKy, tell me why that article made you somewhat angry.
KYWell, it was more my fiancé that was angered by it because she feels like it kind of has to do with the previous caller, the kind of perfectionist mentality. And also that it kind of -- that -- the mentality that you illustrate in the article, which now from what I hear from listening to you is not actually what you're going for -- or it seems not to be the whole point that you're trying to make in the excerpt...
CHUANot at all.
KYYeah, I know, it seems that now. She was just reading it literally and I was kind of curious if it was tongue and cheek or if it was just kinda speaking out of context, like you said.
CHUAWell, I -- my parents also taught me never make excuses (laugh). You know, those are my words, I take responsibility. But yes, it's funny. The book is about a journey and my own transformation as a mother. It's -- I have to say, I don't want to back down all the way -- it's about many of the strengths that I see in that kind of parenting. But it's also about my mistakes and how I ultimately had to pull back. So Ky, I think you and I have actually more in common. I mean, our -- I think in the end, what we had in our family and what I think my daughters benefited from was more of a hybrid approach. I think that might be the ideal.
CHUAMy husband, he has to speak for himself. He's got a really strong personality, too, but he always supported me. I mean, he shared many of my values, but I think it's important to point out that he brought a certain kind of balance to our household. He was always the one that insisted, look, we're going to go out and we have to go scuba diving into water parks and I'm going to take them to Yankees games and -- he's a Red Sox fan, he's from Washington. And so that balance I benefited from. And in the end, I mean, oh, my gosh, I went very -- I changed a lot.
REHMAmy Chua, her book is titled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What do you think were your greatest mistakes as a parent?
CHUAI wish that I hadn't been so harsh. I wish I hadn't lost my temper so much. I wish that I had paid a little bit more attention to the individual personalities of my child -- my children. Maybe this is a weakness of the kind of immigrant approach. Because, as you say -- or this is universal, I think. I think there's just so much about our children that we can't control, much as we'd like to. And they just -- there are -- they have their own temperaments, their own personalities, their own needs. And finally, I think I would've given my children a little bit more choice. Not all the way. I think kids are given too much choice.
CHUANow, if you tell your 10-year-old, pursue your passions, you have your choice, I think that child is going to just go on the internet and do computer games for 10 hours, so I don't want to go all the way there. But part of the book, there are these lines that I'm getting in trouble for. Because there again, it's the snapshot from day one whereas the arc of the book is I changed by the end. But, you know, why did I just say it had to be the piano or violin? Why not the flute or the cello or -- so a little bit more choice.
CHUAI think I would've given them a little bit more room socially, but I did adjust. I mean, I pulled back and that was partly, I -- there's a -- the third of the book is about the rebellion of my youngest daughter. When she was 13 -- we had always been very close, but she rebelled and that's partly why I wrote the book.
REHMAnd we're going to hear more about that when we come back. The book is titled, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," by Amy Chua. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're back. I'll go right to the phones to Audrey who's in Annapolis, Md. Good morning, you're on the air.
AUDREYThanks for taking my call.
AUDREYI also am relieved to hear that Ms. Chua's position is different than The Wall Street Journal article that I also read with -- I'm also the daughter of Chinese immigrants. I went to a top school. In my day, I was a nationally competitive violinist. And everything -- when I read the article, it was as if my parents had written it. But I did not have the reaction that she did. And if anything, I feel tremendously scarred by it. And so I have questions for her, whether she's considered the fact that she might be doing some pretty extensive, you know, damage to them. You know, so how it is now I never touch the violin at all. I have friends who were what she would call mediocre musicians who survived with their love of music intact and continue playing to this day.
AUDREYAnd I really feel like had I any love of music, it was robbed of me by the coercion. I was forced to practice four hours a day, et cetera, et cetera. And, you know, I felt like before I was born my parents decided what I was gonna be. And they didn't know who I was. And to this day, I feel sort of that the only that I'm worthy or loveable is if I perform well and that I'm virtuous instead of just feeling like, hey, exactly who I am, that's good enough. And I just wonder about whether, Amy, you've considered that your daughters might have feelings like to that, too. I mean, do you think that they know that even if they were mediocre or even failures that you would still love and cherish them as you do now?
CHUAYeah, you know, this is just my story and I know -- I know how you feel. You actually might be very interested in this book because I had a real crisis when my daughter was 13. She just I think got to a certain point, very much like what you're describing, but I did something very different than your parents.
CHUAWhat I did is after one terrible blow up, I -- in which -- I won't give away the book, but it was a terrible blow up. I went and said, okay, we'll give it up. She wanted to do tennis instead of violin. It broke my heart because she had all these -- she was such a -- for me it wasn't the credentials, really. It was -- she was a beautiful player. I let her give it up. And you know what? She loves the violin now, so I think your 100 percent right. She was saying, I hate it. For me, I now know that she is a quote/unquote -- well, not mediocre, but she doesn't have the same skill level. You can't have the same skill level if you play 15 minutes a day instead of two hours, but she loves it.
CHUAShe was asked recently, what is your favorite thing? And I couldn't believe it. I thought she was gonna say Facebook. And she said, playing the violin. And she plays for her school orchestra. I'm not involved. And I have to be honest with you, it hurts me. You know, it hurts me. But in the end, my daughter, nothing is more important than my relationship with my daughter. And I know it was the right decision. And the book was born out of crisis, by the way. I have to tell you, after that instant, I got up to the computer the next day, you know, and I usually have writer's block. You know, I'm lucky if I can get a paragraph out a day with my academic work. The entire -- the words just poured out. I wrote the whole thing in two months.
CHUAI showed every page to my daughters and my husband. And it was like family therapy for us. So my situation is very different from yours and that's -- the book is more like what you're thinking than you expect I think.
REHMAudrey, I want to ask you.
AUDREYI'm so glad to hear you put your relationship with your daughter over your ideals. And, you know, I still have a very cold relationship with my parents. My sister -- my younger sister still has nightmares about disappointing my mom. When I was in college, I honestly wished that I was mentally disabled because I just wanted to be left alone.
AUDREYYou know, that's -- I mean, it's ironic hearing you talk about your sister. I mean, I wished for that.
REHMWell, each family is different in its own way, Audrey. I hope that at some point you'll be able to have your own evolutionary journey and perhaps see your parents in a different way, not just for their sakes, but for your own. Thanks for calling. And to Sandra in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, you're on the air.
SANDRAGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to comment and I wanted your guest, you know, how she felt about this. I hear -- I've heard of a lot of times, you know, children who are raised like that, a lot of times they end up committing suicide because they feel like, you know, if they can't be perfect, all the pressure. I mean, that's unimaginable pressure. I can't imagine that. Because nobody's perfect. And if you're bringing home a 96, my parents would've been thrilled with that. That's beautiful. And me, I'm not a parent, but I would've given my child all kind of praises. And I can't imagine, oh, because it's not 100, I'm gonna, you know, not -- I'm gonna put them down and say, oh, well, it could've been.
SANDRAI mean, just think of the ones that have committed suicide and all the horrible -- you know, how that makes them feel like your previous caller. It causes all kinds of problems and the destruction. It needs to be balanced. You know, children need to be able to play and be children. I mean, wasn't that what was wrong with Michael Jackson? He was robbed of his childhood and look at what it did to him. You know, it just needs to be balanced, you know what I'm saying? So I...
CHUAYeah, well, yeah, I completely -- listen, pressuring your kids so much that they can't take it and feel that kind of pain, that is not what I'm advocating. I mean, that's the opposite. You know, I -- of course, the first thing that comes first is you have to know your child. You have to listen. I think you shouldn't be so quick to judge other families. I mean, in other context, it just depends, right. It depends on -- everything depends on context. And I will say that I think at its best you don't wanna caricature the other side either. At its best, this is the way I experienced it, which is very different than the previous caller.
CHUAI experienced my parents having high expectations for me coupled with love and understanding. I thought that was the greatest gift they could give me. And the message I took from it was that they were saying to me, I believe in you so much that I know you can be excellent and I'm gonna be in there, in the trenches with you for however long it takes, and I won't let you give up, and I am your biggest fan. I mean, that's the message.
REHMBut Amy, let me ask you a question. What were your relationships with your own peers like when you were growing up? While they were going off to play or doing other things and...
CHUAYeah, I was -- I had an incredibly happy childhood. Maybe this is why I was a little bit rash with my own decisions. You know, yeah, I couldn't do all the things that other kids were doing, but I think maybe Americans have forgotten this. When you read about even America 60 years ago, I've played in the neighborhood, you know, played outside with my family. My sisters and I were really close. We did all kinds of fun things. I had muscular dystrophy fundraising events for McDonald's kids and we'd do roller skating and ping pong and so there are lots -- I feel I had a great childhood. And I think my daughters did, too, actually.
REHMDid they go to private or public schools?
CHUAI went to public schools, very, very public schools and my daughters now go to private schools.
REHMAnd have you ever wondered, Amy, having watched your mother, what your feeling might have been had you had a handicapped child?
CHUAWhat my feeling would've been?
REHMWhat your feeling would've been.
CHUAOh, I think I would've absolutely embraced it. Cindy, my sister, is all of our favorites. I mean, I have actually three sisters and she's the youngest. And we're -- you know, this is another thing. Every family's different. My family, that is my parents and my three sisters and I -- we're very close. We spend holidays together. And I think that I -- my own parents, my strict parents, we vacation with them. They come and spend all this time with us. They're great grandparents. They've changed, too. You know, I used to be mad at my parents all the time. And now I realize, oh, my God, they were so young when they -- when I was mad at them. They were 35. They were babies.
CHUAYou know, and I have to tell one story. I called my dad when I was in my 30s. I had been rejected from a job that I know he really wanted me to get in California, so I called him and I thought he was gonna be very disappointed in me. I knew he wanted me to get it. And I said, Dad, I got rejected. He said, Amy, we're going out to celebrate. You know, if these people can't see what they're missing, they are -- you know, that's tough luck for them. We're having a banquet.
REHMOn the other hand, you did rebel at one point.
CHUAI didn't rebel sort of -- not exactly rebel, but I disobeyed my father all the time. You know, no, that's not true.
REHMEven about the choice of college.
CHUARight. So yeah, my father said, no, you have to stay at home, yeah, and live in the house and go to Berkley. You know, and I forged his signature and I applied to one school only. I'd heard about the school called Harvard. But afterwards, like, his anger changed to pride, I mean, literally like in two days. You know, so parents have to learn, too. Parents have to change, too. My book is about me learning and changing.
CHUAMy father said, you'll marry a non-Chinese over my dead body. I mean, they use very harsh terms. And now, he and my Jewish husband are the best of friends. You know, so there's a lot -- yeah, he's -- so I didn't rebel in that sense. I mean, to this day, this is maybe another thing, I feel -- what I feel for my parents is deep, deep love and a sense of sort of gratitude and respect almost like at a depth that I can -- I'll never be able repay.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Peggy in Lapeer, Mich. She said, "Your guest clearly disagrees with the ridiculous bestowing of, good job for expected behavior. How can this practice be stopped?"
CHUA(laugh) That's consistent with the sort of the language, you know, that excerpt, which again, there's a little bit of irony there. But yes, I'll take that stand. I mean, I think there is an interesting question. Where does true self-esteem come from? And not in all cases. I mean, we've heard from previous callers, but in some cases, I think that the kind of strict immigrant approach may actually be better at creating self-esteem and ultimately happiness.
CHUAI mean, you could tell your child, you're great, you're perfect, all you want, but eventually, they're gonna have to go out into the real world and, you know, it's a tough world out there. I mean, so -- and when they -- you know, when their child doesn't do well at school or doesn't make the sports team they want, you know, or eventually can't -- people talk about pursuing passions. Well, what if you can't get the job you want so you can't pursue your passion? That's when you really start to lose self-esteem.
REHMSo are you suggesting parents tone down that, good job, son, or whatever for even the most mundane tasks?
CHUANo, Diane. I really don't wanna say that because I'm just not a parenting expert. You know, everything has to depend on your own child. You have to -- you have to know your child. Some children may need that. You have to be able to listen to your child. In my own case, both my own parents and my own children, this is the decision I made. And I see that for many of my own students that this has been a great formula, but I really don't wanna advocate it as the right way. You know, I just think it's all contextual.
REHMDid your parents say to you, good job, good job, good job?
CHUANot much, but I knew it. I mean, I knew -- this is why some of the harsher words in my book that are shocking people, I'm not gonna be able to persuade people. And I understand their reactions. They're outsiders. They don't know my family. You know, they -- everything depends on there being this kind of foundation of love and respect and belief. And I always knew that I was the apple of my dad's eye. You know, he conveyed that.
CHUASo words mean different things in different context.
REHMAmy Chua is professor at Yale Law School, she's also the author of the new book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Let's go back to the phones to Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Amanda.
AMANDAGood morning. Hi, Mrs. Chua. I just finished reading your book and really enjoyed it. I found it very moving.
AMANDAI'm a Canadian permanent resident who married an American and I'm currently raising three young boys in the United States. And my attitude towards parenting tends to be somewhat similar to, you know, what you described in your book. I feel like as a parent it's my responsibility to raise children who are independent, who will be able to support themselves and their priorities and things that go...
AMANDA...along with doing that, so I try to be balanced, but, you know, homework does come first. And there -- you know, there are priorities over other things, so I did appreciate that. The one thing that I really -- that really struck a chord with me that you mentioned towards the end of your book, you mentioned to your daughters, you quoted Benjamin Franklin as well as Thomas Jefferson. And that was something that really struck me because since I've been raising my children, here I've really become very obsessed with early American history and, you know, the revolution and...
AMANDA...idealism and, you know, American exceptionalism. And just you kind of referenced how you think that those people must've been Chinese mothers (laugh) as well. And I thought that was funny. And I've actually -- that's something I've noticed in my own child rearing compared to other parents around me and just kind of wanted to get more of your take on how you think kind of, you know, parenting in America has kind of progressed from what it was then to what it's become now, which, you know, I observe as being much permissive.
CHUAThat's a great question. I'm glad you picked that up because, you know, a lot has been lost in the kinda firestorm. Chinese versus, you know, Westerner immigrant because that's one of the points of the book, actually. I'm kinda spoofing at the end when I say, you know, I think the founding fathers, I don't think they had sleepovers and play dates. I think they had Chinese values. And my daughter, again, my smart, funny, oldest daughter gets the line. She says, but, Mommy, if they -- our founding fathers thought those things, then those are American values. And of course she's right.
CHUASo I think, yeah, I mean, I think -- I always thought that the values of hard work and don't make excuses and be self-reliant and strive for excellence, don't give up. I always thought those were American values. You know, this is an immigrant country and I just completely agree with you.
REHMAmy, one of our listeners, Tom in Baltimore, wants to know how your parents disciplined you. Did they ever use corporal punishment?
CHUAMy parents were different than me in that sense. They -- I got the chop sticks once in awhile, but it was never very serious. I have to say...
REHMChop sticks across your hands?
CHUAYeah, chop sticks across the hand, but I have to say, it was never very serious. That was very rare because I -- what's more interesting is how it wasn't needed. I was terrified of my parents, so this is something I couldn't do with my own kids. I think it's generational. You know, I don't -- sometimes I wonder why was I so afraid, you know, why did I respect them so much. I would never think of talking back to my parents, so I got punished corporally very, very rarely, you know, gosh, and very mildly. But I -- you know, I think in a previous generation that was quite common, so the more interesting question is why they didn't need to.
REHMAnd did you use corporal punishment on your own children?
CHUANo, not really. That wasn't the -- that wasn't my mode of -- you know, it was really much more sort of Western in that sense, but I was really much more of a verbal person. And, no, that wasn't...
REHMI think there are probably lots of people out there, Amy, who are going to agree with your approach of helping children be good stewards of themselves. And that's ultimately what we have to hope for each of our children, that they will take into account that they are responsible and must be. Amy Chua, thank you so much for joining us.
CHUAThank you so much. It was a pleasure, great questions.
REHMThe book is titled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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