Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

February 8, 2012

Reconsidering the Tiger Mother

Last year, I blogged in response to the media frenzy surrounding Amy Chua - the 'Tiger Mother' behind the controversial book 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother'. The excerpt from the book which appeared in the Wall Street Journal created an international outcry - and I pounced in to add my tuppence ha'penny worth (you can take the girl out of Yorkshire, but you can't take Yorkshire out of the girl!), giving my view on letting your children find their own way, rather than forcing things upon them.


Having just read Amy's book for the first time, I actually feel obliged to offer the author some sort of an apology. I judged her without fully understanding her. I stamped my feet about her dreadful, strict, cruel parenting methods, without having read about her motivations for doing this and without having heard her - or even her daughters's - side of the story.

If, like me, you think you have an opinion on the 'Tiger Mother' issue, but haven't actually read Amy's book, then I'd highly recommend that you do. I wrote the following review of the book for my blog on - while I still find the 'Tiger Mother' approach shocking and at times upsetting, I think I understand it more now.

When Amy Chau’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ was first published in 2011 and an excerpt appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a huge media backlash began, condemning Amy for her Chinese parenting techniques and seriously questioning the concept of the ‘Tiger Mother’.

I had my own opinion on the matter and wrote on my blog about how shocking it all was and why I would never be a ‘Tiger Mother’ myself. But I hadn’t read Amy’s book. Now, having read the paperback edition which is published by Bloomsbury, my opinion has changed slightly.

‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, apart from anything else, is an excellently written, humorous, intelligent and, at times, self-deprecating memoir. Amy’s writing is sharp, her account of family life is brutally honest and yet she isn’t afraid to laugh at herself and point out her own flaws.

From the outset, Amy paints a revealing picture of family life with her husband Jed, her daughters Sophia and Lulu (and the dogs who eventually join the family – Amy’s Chinese Mother approach to ‘parenting’ a dog is part insanity, part hilarious account of how she recognises she cannot always be in control).

Of course, Amy’s approach to raising her daughters is vastly – and sometimes shockingly – different to the approach taken by the majority of ‘Western’ parents. And yet, having read ‘Battle Hymn’, I’m not angry with Amy, as I expected to be. I don’t despise her, I don’t even condemn her. I actually applaud her unbelievable self-discipline and drive, even if I cannot understand it and certainly don’t feel that there would be a place for it in my own home.

Her continual, and often very dramatic, battles with her daughters over piano and violin practice may be extreme, but there is a part of me – the coaxing my children to eat their dinners part – which completely gets where Amy is coming from, as a mother, putting herself into an unpleasant situation in the belief that you are trying to do what you believe is best for your children.

There are some very painful low points between Amy and her daughters, but these always seem to be countered by the most amazing high points as they reach a seemingly unattainable goal and shine in their public performances, playing the piano or violin. Amy’s pride and absolute love for her girls, at these times, is hard to deny.

From the gasp-inducing episode of the ‘Birthday Card’, to the relentless pursuit of excellence which involves booking the grand ballroom of the hotel they are staying in while on holiday so the girls don’t miss out on any piano practice time, to dealing with two family illnesses, to the final showdown with her youngest daughter in a restaurant near Red Square, this is an account of family life which I couldn’t put down.

With the paperback edition comes a post script from Amy, which gives us an additional insight into her reaction to the media storm which followed the initial publication of the book. Her re-telling of just one of the many interviews she experienced is hilarious. We also have the letter written from Sophia which was posted in the New York Post: ‘Why I love my Tiger Mother’. This, perhaps above all else, tells the real story of ‘Battle Hymn’.

Perhaps all parents face their own battles when it comes to raising children. ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ certainly makes you think about your own parenting style. Ironically, I read the closing chapters of the book as I sat sipping a coffee, waving occasionally to my children as my husband played with them in the swimming pool. I could almost feel Amy breathing over my shoulder admonishing me for my shockingly lazy parenting techniques!

Amy Chua’s battle is definitely one to open your eyes – and one which you simply cannot offer an opinion on until you’ve read the book.

‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ is published by Bloomsbury.

Postscript: When the above review was posted on and I tweeted a link to it, Amy Chua, the author, replied with the tweet below. Check out her Facebook page - I think it gives more insight into the woman behind the words and that while she expects people to dislike her for her 'Tiger Mothering' she is delighted when someone takes the time to read the book and make an informed opinion.

Amy Chua
Thanks for giving me a chance, Hazel! Loved your review + posted it on Facebook



  1. I've not read the book but I did hear her being interviewed for R4 women's hour when the hardback book was released. She was talking about the birthday card episode, how her daughter made one and she handed it back saying it wasn't good enough. Sounds shocking. But she explained the context. Her daughter had sat down, waved a pen in a rough scribble over the page and had made no effort whatsoever. She asked her daughter to make her another card, one where some effort had been put it, because it was her birthday and she treasured the cards made for her, but she felt that her daughter hadn't treasured making the card for her mother's birthday.

    I thought she had a point. Teaching kids to make an effort over things is important.

    Anyway, one day I'll have a chance to read the book and I'm looking forward to it very much!

  2. I haven't read the book either but I do remember the controversy about it. I have to admit that I am one of the people who took umbrage! I must get round to reading it now that I have read your review. After I have read the other zillion books that are waiting for my attention, that is!

  3. My friend just bought it so I'm going to borrow it after - we're so tied of being ignore by our chidlren we've declared we going to become Tiger Mums! (as opposed to a Bear MUm which I am at the moment - like the bear with a sore head, not the cuddly variety)
    Can't wait to read

  4. Huge respect to you for writing this, will have to read the book.


  5. I'd like to read the book even though I know I could never be a Tiger Mother. I always think the key thing about parenting is to find the correct style for your own child - maybe her methods worked for her children (presumably because they have her genes)...but perhaps they would break other children.

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  7. Good review. Very balanced.

    Interesting to read Pants With Names comment. I think most parents err on the side of telling their kids their project is fantastic, even if they've spent one minute on it and probably don't care very much about it themselves. That's (maybe) appropriate for a one year old doing a first picture, scribbling with a biro on paper, but you have to modify as they get older. I think I see this in our 14 year old, who seems very pleased with ANY effort he makes on school work, however small, and is outraged when we talk of "doing your best". My guess is that some habits get ingrained very early. We were always so uber-affirming of every tiny thing he did and how marvellous it was. I don't think we allowed him to develop a sense of discerning that some things are worth putting effort into, and some not so much. (And I'm guessing this is where I would diverge from the Tiger Mother - not all things are worth 100% effort, or life is exhausting.)

    I also think that young children know, deep down, when they've tried hard and done well. It's crushing if they don't get recognition on those occasions (we all have those childhood memories), but they must wonder what is going on when they don't put any effort at all into something and get praise lavished on them.

  8. My kids are older now but growing up within the Di School of Hard Knocks (my mother would put Asian mums to shame) I see the benefits of old school parenting and have been both hard and lax on my kids. Lax when I couldn't bear it any longer, usually. I've never been the negotiating, super-patient parent I thought I should have been, because I was doing it on my own and I am quite a demanding person. What I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy, is that my kids have respect for my life choices, and for each other. I think the toughness pays off.


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