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Irish Setter Dad

Whose children will succeed in life, Amy Chua’s or mine?

Apr 4, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 28 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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What’s all this bother about Chinese Tiger Moms? Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has America’s female parents in a swivet. You’d have to take Sarah Palin to a NOW convention to see so many ladies mad at a fellow woman. Practically a third of the Atlantic’s April issue is taken up with Caitlin Flanagan and Sandra Tsing Loh giving Amy Chua the dickens in terms strong enough for Hillary Clinton’s private thoughts on Monica Lewinsky. My wife put it more succinctly: “This person is factory farming her kids.”

I gather Ms. Chua is a total bitch with her children, making them finish homework before it’s assigned, practice violin and piano 25 hours a day, maintain a grade point average higher than Obama budget numbers, and forbidding them from doing anything they might enjoy, such as exhale.

But being a male parent with a typical dad-like involvement in my children’s lives​—​I know all of their names​—​I thought Battle Hymn was great. That is, I thought it made me look great. Not that I read the dreadful book, but I did buy each of my children a copy and inscribed it, “So you think you’ve got it bad?” What with three editions lying around because my kids would rather fool with the Wii than read, I admit I gave in to the temptation to skim.

Here are some of the things that “unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes.” (By the way, Amy Chua isn’t Chinese. Her parents are Filipinos of Chinese extraction and she was born in the United States and grew up in Indiana.)

• an A-minus is a bad grade

• your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math

• if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach

• the only activities your child should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal

• that medal must be gold

You might think that Amy Chua is a fascist pig. She wrote a previous book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, so she is. She also possesses the most unpleasant personality I’ve ever seen projected into print, and I’ve read Earth in the Balance. Some Amy Chua personality snippets:

“Sophia excelled in nursery school.”

“Sophia’s first three piano teachers were not good fits.”

“According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:

“1. Oh my God, you’re just getting worse and worse.

“2. I’m going to count to three then I want musicality!

“3. If the next time’s not PERFECT, I’m going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM!”

Sophia is Amy Chua’s older daughter, the obedient child, the one with whom she has a good relationship. Lulu is Chua’s younger daughter, the rebellious child, the one with whom she has a relationship that’s not so good. Here is an exchange between Amy and Lulu on vacation in Russia:

“We’re in Russia and you refuse to try caviar! You’re like a barbarian. And in case you think you’re a big rebel, you are completely ordinary. There is nothing more typical, more predictable, more common and low, than an American teenager who won’t try things. You’re boring, Lulu​—​boring.”

“Shut up,” said Lulu angrily.

“Don’t you dare say shut up to me. I’m your mother .  .  . ”

“I hate you! I HATE YOU. .  .  . I hate the violin. I HATE my life. I HATE you, and I HATE this family!”

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be feeling better about yourself as a parent after that.

I loved Battle Hymn. Of course I couldn’t bear much of it. The prose, like the author, belongs in hell. But what I did read really put the Freud in my schadenfreude, so to speak. Especially loathsome fun was Chua’s notorious Tiger Mother List, currently making the rounds on the Internet and getting more outraged hits than a YouTube video of a Justin Bieber head shave:

Here are some of the things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grades less than an A

• not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama 

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin

I just wasn’t cut out to be a Chinese Tiger Mom. I’m more of an Irish Setter Dad. Here are some of the things my daughters, Muffin and Poppet, and my son, Buster, were never allowed to do:

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