Dear Amy Chua: Thanks.

Amy Chua has been on my radar since I saw her speak at the 2003 Honors Colloquium at URI. When an excerpt from her new book was published in the Wall Street Journal, she got a lot of publicity, mainly negative, for it. It’s not a guide to parenting, nor is it simply a memoir. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother gets a bad rap, but I feel that it’s unjust, people take her too seriously, and that in many cases, the ends do justify the means. I just finished this book, and I am very lucky that I chose now to read it, and it came at a most important time.

I’ve been whining about everything for a while now. I give you all lots of credit if you read all my entries. Yes, I’m in a slump. But a slump didn’t stop the best of the best. Even after an 86-year one, the Sox still came back and won the World Series. Twice. Instead of being the Asian I’ve been striving to be, I’ve been the self-indulgent white girl. It would be foolish to think that this book is solely about parenting, of a parent-child relationship. It’s about relationships of all kinds, going beyond what you think is possible, and finding confidence and happiness in yourself. Amy Chua knocked some sense into me, when I needed it most.

“Nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work…Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.” Reading and rereading the section where she talks about this, I realized something. I was whining and complaining about being burned out, not having fun, not driving well….what was that? Not driving well? And PJ was a bad Tiger Mother: “So quit. I’ll sell the car.”Maybe if I changed my thinking a little bit–maybe if I were striving for first place, instead of “Just Not Last,” I’d push harder, and get faster.

All I need is more practice. Practice comes with a price, but that’s the only way you get good at something, and that’s the only way it’s fun. When I was easily and quickly improving by seconds every run, things were fun. Now that I’m struggling for tenths and thousandths of a second, it’s less fun. I need to keep practicing. When I get better at driving, when I have a particularly good run, I’m happy, and it’s fun again. How very simple!

“Everything valuable and worthwhile is difficult.” I think this works in two ways. Instead of feeling sorry for myself about my living situation, my job (and my coworkers), my sad financial state, and my lack of a wedding, I should be working hard and overcoming the obstacles that are being laid in my path. Conversely, once we buy a house, I get a permanent position, save some money, and get married, it will all be worth it, if not more, because we had to work so much harder for them. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t. But as long as you worked your hardest, and sometimes even harder than your hardest, at least you can say you tried. And at that, if you didn’t achieve said goal (like a big giant wedding), then perhaps it was not as valuable to you as you once thought.

“But just because you love something…doesn’t mean you’ll ever be great. Not if you don’t work. Most people stink at the things they love.” There’s the argument that if you end up turning something you love into a job, you end up hating it. There’s also the argument that if you get really good at what you love, you’ll love it more. The better you are at something, the more you want to do it, especially something you love. I love racing…I really do. And if I were better at it, and won more trophies, and was asked to be an instructor, I might enjoy it even more. And when you’re the best at it….well, that goes without saying. Winning that National Championship jacket would be my crowning achievement in the sport. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I never had a Tiger Mother. My mom is Portuguese Italian, and my father is Italian. While I ended up with a lot of “Chinese” qualities, I also quit a lot of things, had my self-esteem worried about, and was never told I had to finish what I started.

I look back and regret practicing piano only 30, and sometimes 15, minutes a day. If I had worked harder, I might have played at Carnegie Hall, or gotten a music scholarship. I regret playing computer games on weekends instead of studying for the AP exams. I might have gotten ahead with my college credits even more than I already did, which means I could have done engineering as well. And I really, really miss not having someone to push harder when I pushed back. Sure I had strict Catholic parents, and have turned out better than most of my peers, but I wonder where I’d be now if I had that typically Asian backing.

The loudest message in this book, to me at least, was that while these lessons are most easily learned in childhood, it’s not too late for me to be my own Tiger Mother and to push myself beyond what I think I am capable of, and to the heights that people like PJ know that I am capable of. I think then, I might really start to excel…and to live. I will start to really get the most out of everything I do. And who knows? Maybe I’ll even have a little fun.

 

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6 comments

  1. It’s one thing to be one’s own tiger mom or dad from within, and it’s another to receive it externally from someone else.There has to be a careful balance of tough and sweet love if you want to raise a healthy child. I know quite a few folks who were raised by tiger moms and dads and have become very successful and skilled in their fields. However, if you get to know them well, they reveal they are carrying deep psychological wounds from their childhood that leaves them feeling emotionally disabled. They also don’t feel they are in professions that were their true calling. So you have great doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, etc, that perform well, but aren’t really happy and feel trapped and disconnected from what they would have preferred doing.Yes, there are also successful people that are grateful for the tiger mom style of parenting but I’m pointing out that it doesn’t and shouldn’t apply to everyone- just like there are people who have flourished with over indulgent parents and others who were hurt by that.The danger with too much negative stimulus is that some folks may not be psychologically strong enough to bear that double attack from their parents and their own critical voice. If you go too far, there a risk in breaking someone’s spirit – which as a child can have a negative consequences that can last a lifetime.

  2. This brings up another point though.  For all the success that Asians have, how many do you see in leadership positions here in the US?  Not many.  It’s not for the lack of drive, but there’s a certain ceiling, if you will (similar to the glass variant, but people call this one bamboo – stereotypical bastards).  We’re slowly but surely breaking through it, but being a “Tiger mom” isn’t everything.  Drive hard and do everything you can, but don’t expect it to be enough.  We’re not at critical mass yet.

  3. A child pushed too hard is a broken child. You need a balance of firm discipline and a soft heart. You don’t want the child to grow up successful but a bitter man/woman.

  4. @whotakethmycoke – I’ve heard of the Bamboo barrier. Being a Tiger Mom doesn’t have too much to do with the bamboo barrier, because after a while your kid has to work on his/her own. The other part of that is….how many successful Asians WANT to be in leadership positions?@reckless_eagle – There are no children involved yet (unless you count me). I need to be my own Tiger Mother and stop settling for “good” and not “great.”@LegendaryPanda84 – I actually read a book about Bill Gates, called Outliers. His successes are detailed not by how smart or wonderful or awesome he was, but more how he was in the right place at the right time, and even though he worked hard, it was a lot of coincidence and luck.@SoullFire – It gets discouraging when someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself, and you fall short of even your own expectations. None of this was about parenting, or children. It’s about striving to be better than what you think “your best” is–most of the time because we tend to short change ourselves. We need that roaring Tiger Mother-Figure in the back of our heads to keep on trucking.

  5. @jdrop – yeah, seriously. hard work can only carry you so far. if you got the shittiest luck in the world, you’re fucked. but that’s not to say to just give up and not do anything. you gotta make the effort to connect with your luck to create your own success :]

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