The author, Amy Chua, and I have a lot in common. We are both Chinese-American women with respectable careers, married to American men, and born to parents who immigrated from China to America. Now that I am a parent, I am also able to relate that aspect of her life on a more personal level. Although I didn’t have tiger parents myself and don’t intend on strictly using the “Chinese” method of parenting for my children, I appreciate the way Amy Chua depicted the contrasting belief systems about parenting between Asian and Western cultures. This book depicts her parenting approach but also reveals how she was unexpectedly humbled by her daughters in the process.
When Amy described her parents’ experience of coming to America for the first time, I was also reminded of my parents’ story.
“With only their student scholarships to live on, they couldn’t afford heat their first two winters, and wore blankets around to keep warm. My father got his Ph.D. in less than two years and became an assistant professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.”
I stayed with my grandparents in China for two years while my parents got settled, before my dad came back to bring me to America. My dad told me recently that is one of his biggest regrets, and he still wonders if leaving me impacted me and made me feel abandoned on a subconscious level. My mom had to waitress without a work permit in order to make ends meet, and my dad completely switched majors in order to get a better paying job for our family. Even though we were poor for a long time, my parents made sure I never went without, and I had no idea.
“We started off as outsiders together, and we discovered America together, becoming Americans in the process.”
I acclimated to living in the United States much faster than my parents did, due to my young age. But I still felt like an outsider along with my family for a very long time. We looked different, ate different foods, and spoke a different language at home. At times, I resented my family for not being more American, eating pizza once a week or having a family beach house instead of traveling to China to visit relatives. I was embarrassed that my parents had an accent and often made grammar mistakes when speaking English. What I didn’t realize was that their accent, and all the accents of first generation immigrants, symbolizes the adversity they had to endure, and the obstacles they overcame through sheer determination and hard work to get to where they are now.
“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery. Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.”
Only now, as an adult, have I come to realize how unique and precious my childhood was and how hard my parents worked to give me everything I could ever want.
When it comes to marriage, I had always assumed I would marry another Chinese man, mostly because my friends were predominantly Chinese. However, my husband appeared suddenly in my life at precisely the right moment, and we both knew right away that our fates were sealed. Amy Chua expounds on her feelings toward marrying a non-Chinese person below.
“A tiny part of me regrets that I didn’t marry another Chinese person and worries that I am letting down four thousand years of civilization. But most of me feels tremendous gratitude for the freedom and creative opportunity that America has given me. My daughters don’t feel like outsiders in America. I sometimes still do. But for me, that is less a burden than a privilege.”
I have to say that I have similar sentiments as Amy. Even though I have no regrets about marrying my husband, the fact that he is from a different culture and doesn’t speak Mandarin creates more of a challenge to preserve my Chinese culture in our family and with our children. However, he brings an equally diverse background to our little family, and we are able to incorporate the best parts of both of our cultures into our lives. He is also working diligently to learn Mandarin since we are planning for our children to be bilingual.
Although the book details many of Amy’s seemingly harsh methods for parenting her daughters, it also includes a great deal of humor. She is quick to poke fun at and point out the absurdity of some of her own ideas when it comes to her children.
“I wanted her [Sophie] to be well rounded and to have hobbies and activities. Not just any activity, like “crafts,’ which can lead nowhere—or even worse, playing the drums, which leads to drugs—but rather a hobby that was meaningful and highly difficult with the potential for depth and virtuosity.”
Despite the fact that Western and Chinese parenting contrast in many ways, it is indisputable that in both cases, parents love their children more than anything and strive to give their children the best life possible. Even though the journey may be different, the end goal is the same.
“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”