What I Learned from Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”

The whole story broke when I was in Mexico, and since everyone else seems to have weighed in on Amy Chua’s childrearing practices, I’m thinking why not me?

My room in the Villa Condesa

As we all know by now I’m a terrible insomniac, so when I woke up at two or so in the morning in a room not unlike the one my character Lili in Palace of the Blue Butterfly would also wake up in, I grabbed my i pad and clicked on the New York Times. Well, not first thing. First, I lay there listening to the sounds of the city around me, feeling the winter cold in the high-ceilinged 19th century building. After I was pretty sure I’d gotten the setting right in my book, after I’d sort of experienced the veracity, shall we say, of my words, THEN I turned on my computer and checked the Times. There it was —all the brouhaha about Amy Chua.

Anyone in the United States not in a complete coma knows about this book, so you don’t need me to spill any more ink on the subject. Since— like everyone else it turned out—I was absolutely horrified by this story, I started to read the comments, wanting to make sure I was not alone. I wasn’t, and boy, were there comments! My personal favorite: “They don’t have Child Protective Services at Yale?”

There is a great review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Elizabeth Kolbert in this week’s New Yorker. I’m glad to see that a staff writer for the New Yorker is the same kind of Tiger Mother I was. Basically, the Tiger Cat kind of mother—you know the tabby variety with the stripes? And like such a creature, I was capable of withering looks when things were done I didn’t approve of, but that was about it. Okay, okay, so I strongly encouraged my daughter to go to Wesleyan instead of a theater conservatory, where, in spite of the fact that I had never threatened to burn her stuffed animals, had never locked her out of the house when she was barefoot and freezing (well, it doesn’t freeze in Berkeley, so that was never an option) she managed to get straight As.

But I learned a couple of cool things by following the comment threads on the Tiger Mother book.

One: There is an institute at the University of California at Berkeley—The Greater Good Science Center— that studies what makes people happy. Like scientifically studies. Seems that psychology has previously focused mostly on pathology—what was wrong and how to fix it. These folks at Berkeley now study what is right with some people and how to reproduce those results in others, especially in children.

Two: Guess what they’ve found out. Happiness doesn’t come from large amounts of money or great achievements. Happiness— and with it resilience, emotional intelligence, and optimism, all traits that may help you succeed—is fostered by gratitude, sense of community, and altruism.

The cool part is they’ve learned how to develop these qualities in people (like Amy Chua, I assume) in whom they are deficient.

Some things that work: Practicing gratitude, helping others, meditating.

Funny, that list sort of looks like my New Year’s Resolution list.

My Meditation Room
So how am I doing on that list anyway? Well . . . turns out I needed privacy, wasn’t Zen-like enough to meditate when I could hear Dave rattling around in the kitchen, so now I trot up the hill in the morning to the pool cabana. It has wonderful south facing doors that look out on a splendid vista. Plus, it’s warm in there from the sun.

The Greater Good Science Center has a blog called Half Full you might want to check out. Also, for all you mothers and grandmothers out there, I should mention a good childrearing book by Christine Carter, one of the research sociologists at the Greater Good Science Center. It’s called Raising Happiness, and it is a huge relief from the Tiger Mother, Helicopter Mother models we’re seeing. Shows you how you can develop all those good qualities like compassion, optimism, and resilience in your young ones. Sorry Amy. Kids don’t get medals for those things, so maybe you won’t be interested. For the rest of us—take a look.

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