The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother might have better been coined "The Story of How Amy Chua Backpedaled Her Way Across America." After the explosive excerpt of her parenting book appeared in the Wall Street Journal under the title "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," her book has flown off shelves. And yet, everywhere we turn, there is Chua on the defensive.
The outcry against an antagonistic, condescending article in one of the nation's newspapers, followed up by a play-by-play in book form of her controversial (at best) parenting style is not fair, the now cowering Tiger Mom says. It was taken out of context. It was not read in the way she meant it.
Which begs the question of what is a Tiger Mother? Really? A woman who strikes out with her claws only to retreat at the first sign of trouble? That sounds more like a jackass to me.
I understood the anger so many American mothers felt bubbling inside them when they read Chua's violent takedown of what so many of us consider our greatest mark on this world. The way we parent is serious business. When someone attacks it, we react.
Yes, I understood it. But I did not agree. Because in reading Chua's essay (I haven't yet read the book -- repeated requests to Penguin Press from The Stir have been ignored), I saw not a Tiger Mom but a woman completely insecure in her choices. Where bloggers like Betty Ming Liu saw their own mothers' misdeeds and my friend Heather Murphy-Raines saw a cultural battleground emerging, I saw a mother desperate to find an absolution for her sins. I saw a mother whose cocksure attitude belied a troubled underbelly. She wanted someone to say they liked it. She wanted someone to say "way to go girl." That's why she wrote about it.
I am not a perfect parent. Some of the misgivings Chua has about Western parenting cover me to a T. And yet it's in knowing my foibles that I feel I'm the strongest, the most like a "tiger mother," if you will. As they say in AA, "the first step to recovery is in knowing you have a problem." I know I have to accept that I will and do make mistakes. Because I will never earn my child's respect by bluffing.
Which is Chua's real problem. She came out with a take no prisoners attitude, and now she's dropped it. She didn't get that "way to go" she sought, and so she doesn't want to prove a point anymore. She wants to be liked. She is, in essence, revealing that soft underbelly to the world and saying "hey, you, I'm insecure, feel bad for me."
Chua is proving the very point I took away from the first essay in the Wall Street Journal. A mother who thinks the world of herself is not so much a narcissist as afraid. Afraid of finding out she's wrong. Afraid no one will agree with her. That no one will like her.
As writers, we push our deepest, darkest thoughts outside of ourselves in hopes that they will touch someone, that just one person may be changed by what we say. We write because we believe in what we say. We write in hopes that our beliefs will spread. If we were true in our writing, the only way to retain the power of those hard truths is to let them stand on their own. She wrote it, and now she needs to stand behind it.
Ms. Chua, it worked. It did what it was supposed to. The book is selling. Like gangbusters. You're a household name. You're a Tiger Mother. Now you have to decide: do you believe in yourself? Because if you do, you don't have to defend yourself to anyone ... but yourself.
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