I have three questions about Amy Chua’s new book:

1. Where’s Dad?

By now, almost everyone knows that Chua followed what she calls the “Chinese way” of child-rearing. She and her husband, fellow Yale Law professor Jed Rubenfeld, agreed to it before the birth of their first daughter. Her book’s most unsettling vignettes demonstrate the technique: rejecting her four-year-old’s handmade “Happy Birthday Mummy” card as inadequate; refusing to allow bathroom breaks from piano practice; threatening to burn a child’s stuffed animals if she didn’t play a recital piece perfectly; calling her child “garbage.”

I was home for family dinners and coached all of my sons’ little league and daughter’s softball teams, so I wondered how Chua’s husband fit into this mess. In an interview with The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/15/amy-chua-tiger-mother-interview), Chua gave this hint:

“‘All the way through, Jed was bringing balance to the family, insisting that we were going to go on family bike rides and to Yankees games and apple-picking and water slides and bowling and mini-golfing, so we socialised a lot actually …’.”

But another passage suggests that he just checked out: “He said, ‘Look, this is your book. I supported you but you were the one that had a strong world-view about how to raise your kids. It’s your world-view, it’s your book.'”

Chua is a high-powered whirlwind who admitted to The Guardian that she loses her temper, is harsh, and yells — so much that she fears her daughters will follow her example. If that misbehavior broke Jed, too, then it explains his absence from the book’s subtitle: “This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs.”

2. Can Chua think outside her own box?

The mind is fragile. I think individuals at the high end of the standard normal intelligence curve feel most acutely life’s greatest psychological challenges — especially during adolescence. Both of Chua’s daughters are gifted. Like thoroughbred race horses, they merit special handling; not coddling — handling. For a long time, they didn’t get it.

Chua backed off her extreme approach after younger daughter Lulu, then 13, exploded publicly. She smashed a glass and screamed, “I’m not what you want – I’m not Chinese! I don’t want to be Chinese. Why can’t you get that through your head? I hate the violin. I hate my life. I hate you, and I hate this family!”

Now add this data. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic classification in that age group. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Asian-American women in that age range; family pressures to achieve are a contributor. (http://articles.cnn.com/2007-05-16/health/asian.suicides_1_asian-american-families-asian-women-asian-american-parents?_s=PM:HEALTH) Lulu’s outburst opened Chua’s eyes; it also might have saved Lulu’s own life.

Yet in a recent interview on NBC Nightly News, Chua said that she’d make only “small adjustments” in pursuing the same parenting strategy again. Admitting error isn’t her strong suit; maybe additional practice drills will help.

3. What’s ahead?

Chua has published an ongoing, uncontrolled, and incomplete experiment. Unfortunately, other parents might view her — a Harvard graduate teaching at Yale (where they don’t give grades, by the way) — as providing a template for others. Certainly, a parent shouldn’t indulge a child’s every whim, or mischaracterize mere participation as excellence.

But there’s something to be said for parenting, even in tough-love situations, that maintains fundamental respect for the child as a human being. Retrospective reassessment is difficult for anyone, but I hope someday Chua’s kids can revisit their mother’s definition of success to decide whether they want it to be theirs.

How will Chua’s children — now 18 and 14 — ultimately fare? No one will know the answer for decades. Regrettably, their mother has now made them a subject of continuing scrutiny. Chua said that every friend and family member who read her manuscript urged her not to publish it. She ignored that advice and has another achievement — a best-seller whose author embodies the difference between intelligence and wisdom.

2 thoughts on “ON AMY CHUA

  1. That is just shocking, how can a mother rejects a four-year-old her handmade Happy Birthday Mummy card as inadequate and not good enough? What sort of behaviour is she showing to her child? Man, this is wrong.

  2. Perhaps the answer to the question, “Where’s the dad?” is: He’s in his office, writing the sequel. If anything, Amy Chua has attracted a lot of media attention, both positive and negative, regardless she is most certainly well known and has marketed her family well. In her book, she mentions that her husband should tell his side of the story in his own words – that almost implies another Chua-Rubenfield family work in my opinion. Hey, who wouldn’t want to pump out a response to the controversy, especially when publishers are advancing $800,000+ for pages from the desk of Chua & Rubenfield.

    I was raised by a “tiger mom” and have conflicted opinions about the parenting style. While the book was an interesting read, it was less of a book about comparing parenting styles of immigrant families and Western parents than I expected. Honestly, I think it should have been more appropriately titled, “Battle Hymn of the Wealthy Tiger Mother: How Amy’s Kids are Superior to Your Kids because Amy can Afford to Pay for Stuff.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s