Amy Chua's memoir, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, has recently been the subject of controversy, due in no small part to the strict parenting methods she describes. We sat down with Chua to see how she's handling the backlash.
It's been ten days since the book came out. How have you been doing personally?
It's easily been the most intense and surreal ten days of my life. Easily. I stepped into a book store and there were three giant camera crews following me around. It's weird. You turn on the TV and they're discussing the "Tiger Mother" on Hardball. And there are these cartoons about me and memes. There definitely are some very painful aspects of it, but mostly it's just kind of surreal.
Do you like being called "Tiger Mom"?
Not really. If you look at the title, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, "Battle Hymn" is kind of sad. It's not like War March of Tiger Mom; it's "Battle Hymn." I intended to be poignant about it.
What about becoming an online meme? How do you feel about that?
I can't tell. If it's kind of comic and done in good humor, then I used to always find those things incredibly very funny, but right now I'm very…[she hesitates, indecipherable.]
You were interviewed on the Joy Behar Show last week, and Joy was fairly antagonizing. Do you think she read the book?
I'm not sure. And that might have been part of the problem. Everyone's focusing on the incendiary cultural differences but for me, so much is universal. In the end, we all want our kids to be happy, and I care about my relationship with them, with Lulu, more than anything. It's the same as parents anywhere. And so the emails I get that say things like, "I was crying, it was heartbreaking the last third of the book." So I don't know if [Joy] read it or not because it's hard to be so callous [if you've read the book].
We read your daughter Sophia's letter in the New York Post-how do you think all of this has your relationship with your daughters and the rest of your family?
Well knock on wood, but my sister just said that this has brought the whole family together. And this sounds like a big cliché, but my daughters, they are holding up way better than I am. All of their friends are supporting them, their teachers are supporting them, they appear to lead normal lives at school, where a few students submitted nice things to the New York Times saying that Sophia's nice and easy to work with. As far as I can tell, they don't see any pressure at all.
[My daughters are] both kind, generous, brave, outspoken, and hilarious, with enormous wells of inner strength. I'm the one that feels that some days I'm going to crack. They go to the internet and they seem to find these few nice things that they can find; they text it to me and they send me notes that say, "I love you, you're doing great."
My mother is frankly furious. She just feels like I'm incredibly misunderstood. She's really upset at the way things have played out.
Why do you think this book has struck such a nerve, with parents especially?
We parents, including me, are all so anxious about whether we're doing the right thing. You can never know the results. It's this latent anxiety.
I've had some wonderful responses from people who do not agree with me, but who really have been very generous about the book. But the excerpt makes it seem like a manifesto, or like a taunting parenting guide has just been a nightmare, because people take it as a direct attack and they understandably attack back.
I think that people are relating to both the book and the excerpt as much a in terms of their own parents. So [I have] a lot of people writing, "I do wonder if I could have been more if my parents had pushed me more." And then most intensely, there are people who say, "I was raised by this method that you're advocating," which of course I'm not [advocating], "and I was scarred for life. I hate my parents. I'm in therapy. My sister committed suicide." You know those are the most terrible things and that is my greatest regret, that those people are exactly the people that would have really sympathized with the book.
A lot of the criticism from the past week has made the claim that you've been "backtracking" in interviews and responses. How do you feel about that?
I think it's ridiculous, just truly ridiculous. I've written a memoir and the memoir is about my own life, and I stand by every word of my memoir. How can I backtrack from my own life, as I both lived it and recorded it? The problem is a genre problem; I've written a book that doesn't purport to have answers. I do not think that Chinese parenting is better, it is precisely not a parenting book, and I do not have precepts I am advocating that I can backtrack on.
I guess that my greatest disappointment is that this book is entering the public dialogue as part of the mommy wars, even if something good comes of it. I — foolishly or not — wish people would review it as a memoir, for its literary merits. It's filled with contradictions and complexities and an unreliable narrator.
Noorain Khan is a third year student at Yale Law School; she has been a student of Chua.