London, Mummy stuff

Western parents don’t know how to raise their children

More tiger's mum than tiger mum

‘No playdates, no sleepovers, no complaining about the lack of the aforementioned.’ Long before I got hold of her controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua had managed to create a rather authoritarian (if not malicious) image of herself inside my head. When the author of the contentious article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior recently took to London to win over the audience in an Intelligence Squared debate, I claimed my seat in the auditorium, vowing to withstand all attempts to be won over. A glance at the opposing (or should I say fluffy?) corner underlined the promise of an interesting evening: Justine Roberts, co-founder and CEO of, was going to retaliate, claws out and all. Both of them were joined by a so-called parenting expert each – ornamental features if you ask me. Sorry, Anthony Daniels and Frank Furedi, but what we really wanted to see was a bit of catfight over a statement that sends every mother’s heartbeat into overdrive. A statement that aims at undermining your ability as an excellent parent. A statement that hurts, especially when voiced by another mother.


Gulp. And then: How dare she? The fellow (mainly female) audience seemed to agree and voted 100 votes for and 300 votes against it pre-debate. However, in the course of the evening, Chua managed to portray herself to be much more kitten than wild cat, with surprisingly moderate views on how strict exactly you had to be as a successful parent. And when even camp fluffy agreed in the inevitability of instilling a set of certain values into our children, the outcome of the post-debate count was decided upon: 300 votes for and less than 100 against the Amy Chua way.

Ok, so I have been won over, too. I might not agree with each and every measure that Mrs Chua deems appropriate (calling my daughter garbage would be one of them), but in general, I am no stranger to what others call a no-nonsense approach to parenting.

In the end, the questions that united the debating parties went far beyond the respective living rooms. Record unemployment, third-generation joblessness and a general lack of respect for others as well as little to no self-responsibility are the issues the current youth are facing – issues none of the experts seemed to have an answer to. Put into perspective, the decision over whether to raise our children with an abundance of praise or a daily drilling of maths and violin practice appears to be a privileged one.

For upcoming events, check Intelligence Squared’s website.


  1. what a great post. We need a balance and who wants a burnt out child/teen, but the idea that we need to shield our children from the spirit of wanting to excel and be competitive is to PC for me.

  2. I do not know the work of Amy Chua but I have to say I put a lot of thought into this new generation my son will belong to. The instant gratification generation. It will snowball and we need to put a stop to it. But can we?
    There is nothing wrong with telling our child to do better, that we are disappointed in their actions, that life is not fair. There is also nothing wrong with telling them we love them, that they are the most important person in our life, that we will love them even if they fail sometimes. Yes, I agree, balance is the key.

  3. A friend of mine was at the debate too and came away a touch more tiger than she expected. Sorry to do a ‘media’ line but I think the book, I have read no more than 50 pages, was made to be polemic, that expect was exaggerated by the media and two camps established. Balance, compromise, finding I suppose a third way seems to make sense. Having said that I haver friend with children now in their teens who realise in retrospect that they were caught up in the competitive madness and frankly wish they had been more relaxed when their children were small. We are lucky to be able to choose and it also depends on the nature of the individual child I suppose. Thanks for posting this.

  4. I’m not a parent (yet), but I do agree with a number of Amy Chua’s philosophies. I think the most important thing is to make sure that our children know that they are loved, and taken care of, but not coddled. And on top of that, I’ll go with the firm over the fluff.

  5. Ugh. I am too bohemian to be remotely tigerish. But then again, I do know that certain values and lessons (i.e. working harder usually means better results) are really important to development. Balance balance balance, always balance–but how to achieve that is an ever changing mark!

    Thought provoking post!

    PS love your little tiger 🙂

  6. Mevin says

    I agree that a happy compromise should be achieved. It reminds me of when I was growing up in the 80s and how fussy my English friends were about food as their parents would cook them a separate meal that the children ate by themselves rather than as a family. With my parents being Asian I was given food and expected to be grateful for it! Looking back I really appreciate it and I do think modern parents pander too much to their kids. Don’t frazzled mums and dads have enough to do?!

  7. Such a cute picture.

    Questions of parenting style are tough. It’s a bit of a waffle, but I aim for a mid-point on the spectrum between strict and relaxed – the ‘motivated hippie’ school of parenting.

    But perhaps Amy Chua would say that I don’t know how to be a hippie…

  8. As you well know there is no one size fits all to child rearing. A little of Ms Chua wouldn’t hurt anyone. By the way that youngin’ of yours is simply too cute!

  9. This is a tough decision, and I’m not good at choosing. I prefer to grab a bit of the best bits of everything and go from there. I also think my daughter is a little used to the attention from all the famiy around her who spoil her all the time to be super strict about it. I fear rebellion. And I don’t think sleepiness and playmates are detrimental to the upbringing of one’s child. In fact I think they strengthen social abilities.

  10. I remember seeing this woman on the BBC Breakfast sofa and I imagine it received a lot of emails and tweets! My personal opinion to this woman and her rather controversial parenting book is that no one is an expert at bringing up children. There isn’t one manual out that can teach any parent how to treat or bring up their child. Each child is an individual and each has different needs. What works for one, doesn’t for another. Ms Chua’s methods might work for her but they wouldn’t work for me. And I also think she’s just another dictator who tries to belittle parents and make mothers in particular feel like they’ve failed. I haven’t failed my daughter. And I’m sure Ms Chua hasn’t failed hers either. But we’re different. So be it.

    CJ xx

  11. Well there is a middle ground. I know so many priveleged children here whose every whim is indulged, who are whingy whiny and neurotic with no sense of personal responsibility whatsoever. I applaud the Tiger Mother who has the patience to make their kids practice violin for hours but I’m afraid I’m a tad too lazy for all that.

  12. How very annoying that people see the need to sit on a stage and even debate this – which parenting style is better; who’s the better parent. By all means give lectures on books you’ve written about parenting styles (and they do) but to state that any other methods don’t work etc. is just ridiculous, and, as has been mentioned just all part of the PR/marketing machine.

  13. I think I’m a bit too laid-back to be a tiger, but I think Amy Chua is almost like a Gina Ford; good in moderation but very hard to follow 100 per cent!

  14. Its interesting how people have reacted to her book, especially the middle class, who generally will go out of their way to ensure that their children suceed

    We were debating this at the weekend – finding a balance between sufficient praise, enough pushing them to achieve and installing a work ethic – its tough (and helps if your family and friends think the same so back you up with it)

  15. Hello MM,
    There are just too many ‘experts’ out there, I know we sometimes need a little bit of help, but I usually find we have an idea of what we want to do, we just look for someone to say ‘yes that’s ok,’ I gravitate towards attachment parenting, but I know lots of Mums who would never pick up a book on it because they would never parent in that style. Its interesting then, that you were open enough to go along and be open minded about it. Honestly though, how does the average (yeah yeah, I know there is no such thing as average), Mummy wade through all of the reams of advice.

  16. MM – your daughter and you are IDENTICAL! Although you are taller and can read and write. Apart from that, identical.

    Great post. I heard Amy Chua on the radio, and when you listened to what she actually said (as opposed to what the media reported her book as saying) I thought she spoke a lot of sense. Things like when she gave back a birthday card her daughters had made her and said it wasn’t good enough. Sounds horrific. But the entire story was that her daughters had sat down, done 2 scribbles, had clearly not concentrated or put any thought into the card. She gave the cards back and mentioned that she thought that her birthday card deserved a bit more thought and a bit more consideration. I have to say, having seen my boys do exactly the same thing, I think she was right. She was teaching them about doing a job properly. If they had tried and done their best there was no way that she’d have said it wasn’t good enough.

  17. I had the same initial reaction to Amy Chua’s book from hearing reports of it but have not read it myself. What you and others are saying about her “method” upon closer investigation just shows how powerful distortion is in the media. I’m of the view that no one approach is the expert approach or the way forward….like everything with parenting one size does not fit all, but it never hurts to gather various perspectives and ideas and then run with what works for you and your family.

  18. Love the picture, very sweet! I imagine that was a very interesting debate! I have to say that I try to seek the middle ground in my parenting. I know I am stricter on some issues than other parents, but not on others. One thing I am incredibly strict upon is manners and thinking about others first, in this “me me me” world, I think that it is important to teach that!… I don’t think anyone can say “this is the best way, everyone else is wrong” though! One of my friends is so laid back, she is practically horizontal when it comes to parenting, and her three girls are some of the sweetest, motiviated and well mannered teenagers you could ever meet!

  19. In my opinion the effect produced by the style of bringing up your children that Amy introduces in the book may have a damaging impact on your children. Everyone knows that children will automatically hate everything they have to do under pressure. Such an approach can only damage their later development.

  20. I find it outrageously big-headed of anyone to say they (out loud) that their method is better. None of us will know how good we’ve been as parents until long after our children have grown up and flown the nest. We’ll get an inkling when they themselves have children and we see our parenting style reappear through them, at which point we might get a big shock! With five children to experiment on I am learning to be tough about respecting others, pulling your own weight and generally being kind and thoughtful. Excelling at playing the violin would be a great personal achievement, but having good relationships with friends and family and a strong work ethic without needing to be “the best” at everything would lead to a more contented life. In my humble opinion of course!

  21. great post. i get what she’s saying to some extent. from what i’ve read of her book, she just seems to be really extreme. there has to be a happy medium.

  22. Love the photo!

    How does anyone measure how successful a parent they have been? Is it if their adult child is happy? healthy? rich? works for a worthy cause? decides to become a parent themselves? is good at sharing? cleans their teeth every night?

    I have a huge problem with the concept of “successful parenting”.

  23. On reflection, at the moment I feel my parenting will have been successful if I can train my sons to put their dirty socks in the laundry basket. I know that’s not exactly aiming high, but it’s something I’ve been working on for literally years and I still haven’t cracked it.

  24. Actually the western parents will give their children much more freedom to take care of themselves! They dont like the chinese mum they will put the food into their children,s mouth ,dress their children, wash the dirty clothes for their children,etc. According to me, i dont think its thats good of the chinese parenting ways, they put too many chains on their children.

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