I don't know whether it is because I am a mother or whether it's because I'm Asian (or perhaps both) that I felt instantly compelled to buy and read Amy Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". In reality I suspect it had more to do with the fact that it sparked so much controversy that I wanted to read it and form my own view. You see I am a tragic in some regards, I love watching pretty much every legal TV show because I am (or was) a lawyer and I pretty much read any book written by an Asian author because it gives me a bizarre sense of kin and I feel that somehow I am contributing (financially) to their success by buying their book (even if sometimes the book frankly isn't any good). It doesn't make any sense I know but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, my Asian friends.
So what's the fuss all about? In one word - parenting. An extremely touchy subject that instils fear in our eyes, love in our hearts, doubt in our minds and exhaustion and ache in our bodies. Whole sections of bookstores are dedicated to the subject matter and yet for all the texts and experts out there, none provide a fool-proof manual or any definitive conclusions. Sure, they provide some general guidance and advice but what you really learn is that parenting is not for the faint-hearted and is a tricky business - the stakes are so high and the Philip Larkin poem “This be the Verse” torments every parent to the core. As a parent you need to determine your own style - a bonder, a disciplinarian, child-centred or parent-centred and just as you get comfortable your style changes as you and your children evolve. Moreover, each of us carry within ourselves our own baggage from our upbringing (not to mention adding another layer of displacement migrating to a foreign country) that we are barely comfortable with our own identity let alone be in charge of any offspring.
Some of the methods adopted by Chua are questionable if not bordering on cruel but some of her ideals, albeit in diluted form are common in many Asian households (I refer to Asian because that's what I know from personal experience but I am sure it also applies in many other households). For as long as I can remember, it was drilled into us that education was paramount. Education being the key to escape poverty, achieve success and attain respectable social standing. And so on and so forth, you know how it goes. My parents were very strict on study but thankfully were not extremists. I did not fear study or the sitting of exams. The only thing I did fear was disappointing my parents. It scared the bejesus out of me and that alone was enough motivation. Anyhow, provided I maintained excellent grades then I was given some latitude with my interests outside of study. I participated in varied extra-curricular activities such as debating, mock trials, a handful of sports, athletics and community work and enjoyed myself immensely. Even now when I think back, the memories I hold dear and that are indelible are not those of my academic success, accolades or awards won, but of friendships formed, of games played and lost and of all the people who I was fortunate enough to cross paths with during my education who in some way shaped the person I am today.
So what lessons have I learnt and what wisdom do I have to apply in the parenting of my own children? Honestly – I don't really know. What I do know:
- children are a great antidote to self-absorption;
- I am not alone in my struggle to understand my own identity as an evolving adult and mother;
- I don’t want to be Amy Chua - I want to let my children be children; and
- my children are not my trophy, my project nor my masterpiece.