Criticizing how other people raise their children is generally considered impolite. But Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicling her decision to raise her girls ''the Chinese way'' practically begs for debate. The Chinese way, according to Chua, is a form of tough love demonstrated through enforcement of strict and intense work habits. It also meant that her daughters, Sophia and Louisa, weren’t allowed to have playdates, sleepovers, or anything less than the top grades of their class and that they were expected to excel at the instruments Mom chose for them, the piano and violin, respectively. Things went according to plan with chua’s elder daughter, Sophia, an even-tempered girl and a piano prodigy who played Carnegie Hall as a teen. But her sister, Lulu, just as naturally gifted, was another story: She was willful, stubborn, and unafraid to challenge her mother at every step.
Chua (whose husband agreed to the Chinese rules of engagement as long as the kids were raised...Jewish) is a professor at Yale Law School and the author of two books on global economics. Her writing is smart and lively, but while she strives for self-deprecation, her fights with her children can be downright uncomfortable to read. There’s the time she rejected her daughters’ homemade birthday cards, and the time she threatened to burn their beloved stuffed animals if their music didn’t show improvement. We’re supposed to believe that Chua realized her mistakes along the way. Yet you get the sense that she’s secretly quite pleased and wouldn’t change a thing. We’ll just have to wait for her daughters’ memoirs. B
Literature is littered with bad mothers, both real and fictional. Here are some of our favorites, ranked from messed-up to murderous.
Anywhere But Here, Mona Simpson
Stage mom uproots daughter and moves to L.A. for kicks.
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
Literature's famous adulteress has a kid, but she's still all about moi, moi, moi.
Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs
Selfish mom fobs off son on wacko shrink.
Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford
Mom's a movie star! And a wire-hanger-hating psycho!
Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews
Neglect, abuse, and murder. No Mother's Day card for you.
She's pissed off at her husband, so she kills her kids. We have a winner!