I will confess that I have not yet read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother . I’ve been too busy shuttling my 1-year-old to Spanish and trying to chart out how my 4- and 7-year-olds can play soccer, play lacrosse, and be on the swim team at the same time. (Kidding. But we did manage to get the kids haircuts this weekend!)
I did, however, read the response to the controversy in the New York Post by Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, Amy Chua’s daughter. In her open letter to her mother , Sophia thanks her for pushing her to be her best and even defends the time her mother rejected a handmade birthday card because it wasn’t good enough.
It occurred to me while reading Sophia’s letter that it probably wasn’t that hard for Amy Chua to get Sophia to excel, because she would have been a striver anyhow. Sophia writes: “So what does it really mean to live life to the fullest? … To me, it’s not about achievement or self-gratification. It’s about knowing that you’ve pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential.”
I identify with this somewhat. And I’m not bragging, because it was more years ago than I prefer to acknowledge. But when I was in eighth grade and high school was looming, I decided I wanted to graduate with a perfect GPA and to earn 12 varsity letters-three sports a year for four years. It wasn’t playing Carnegie Hall, but I did it, and my parents were supportive along the way and proud once I’d pulled it off. But it wasn’t their dream for me. It was my own. If they influenced my goals at all, it was by setting positive examples about working hard if you really wanted something. And, like Sophia, I did want to please them. Still, they didn’t stand over my desk and make me finish that history report or run another three miles after I got home from track practice.
Maybe there are some kids who can benefit from such strictness: students who are smart but settle for Cs, budding athletes who have talent but are lazy or who think that their skills mean they don’t need to study. But generally, I don’t believe that you can pull off what Chua did with her daughters unless you have willing subjects. And if your kids are in the position to be setting such lofty goals in the first place-if they are smart and driven and have talent or potential-you can help them along, but you probably don’t need to make them work round the clock. And you could probably even let them spend a day with their grandmother before it’s too late.
Tiger photo by Chip Somodevilla for Getty Images.