Tiger mum’s the word
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Tiger mum’s the word

She did not write a manifesto of parenting, but a book that actually celebrates rebellion. Bhavya Dore writes.

books Updated: Jan 21, 2012 18:29 IST
Bhavya Dore, bhavya.dore@hindustantimes.com

Amy Chua has a sense of humour. Amy Chua’s children love her. Amy Chua’s book supports rebellion. Everyone who read her 2011 bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and came away with the idea of Chua as a demonic, humourless tyrant wasn’t reading it carefully. And some didn’t read it at all, said Chua in her session, ‘Mothers and Children’ at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

The book, widely perceived as the mission statement for a certain kind of hard, rigorous parenting, is everything but that, Chua was at pains to explain the audience. “[It’s] the opposite of a parenting guide,” said Chua, who has a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old daughter. “Far from intending it to be a manifesto of Chinese parenting, I wrote it in a moment of crisis.”

Less manifesto, more memoir, the book has its lighter moments. “The book is supposed to be a funny, satirical memoir,” she said. “It actually celebrates rebellion if you read it carefully... It is deliberately self-incriminatory.”

Chua’s book, which documents her ‘tiger’ style of parenting — a mixture of strict rules, little praise and high standards — propelled the phrase ‘tiger mom’ into the popular lexicon. Explaining her definition of ‘tiger parenting’, she said, “[It’s] the belief in your child that they are capable of so much more and holding them to the highest standards in life… Combining the best of the east and the west, that for me was what tiger parenting was about.”

Raised by Chinese immigrants, Chua is a law professor at Yale as is her husband, who barely features in her book. “My husband has a very strong personality. He didn’t want to be a character in my book,” she said, explaining his limited presence in the book.

And the children fear him more. “My kids are so much more scared of their father,” said Chua. “They are terrified of his judgment.” She, on the other hand, is a quasi-funny figure with her incessant nagging, and “huffing and puffing and foaming at the mouth”.

And her elder daughter Sophia, one of the ‘cubs’ she tiger-parented was at the event on Saturday. “I think I’m going to be a tiger mom for sure,” said Sophia, amidst laughter, when moderator Madhu Trehan asked her what kind of mother she might be. “What is important for me is I love the relationship I have with my mom right now and that may come as a surprise to a lot of people. She is one of my best friends and one of the people I respect the most.”

Comparing the western, more liberal style of parenting with the Chinese style in terms of schooling practices, sleepover permissions and parental pushiness, Chua said telling six-year-olds to “pursue their passion” was hardly a victory for free will. “Western society parents do give their children too much choice,” she said. “If you tell a six-year-old follow to your passions, it’s going to be watching television all day and eating candy.”

First Published: Jan 21, 2012 18:29 IST