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A Memoir Of A 'Tiger Mother's' Quest For Perfection


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


Welcome to the program.

NORRIS: Thanks so much for having me, Michele.

NORRIS: Can you, in a few words, tell us what you were hoping to communicate with this book? What's the core message?

NORRIS: So the book is absolutely not a how-to book. I do not think the Chinese way is superior. It's a memoir. It's really a sort of - a story of my own journey and transformation as a mother, and it does explore these issues. You know, what's the right balance?

NORRIS: It's a journey that you're on. And you really do need to read the entire book, and not just the excerpt, because you do land in a very different place at the end of the book. But in the beginning of the book, you spell out some of the things that a Chinese mother believes. And if you don't mind, I'm just going to tick through a few of them because I do have...


NORRIS: Were these...


NORRIS: So Michele...

NORRIS: ...the touch points for your life when you were growing up?

NORRIS: You know, I hope people see, Michele, that that is a little tongue in cheek. I mean, come on. I - the one thing I can say is, I know that my kids grew up knowing that they were deeply, deeply loved. And it was hard, it was hard, you know? And I'm actually really proud of the relationship that we have.

NORRIS: I so appreciated your honesty in this book because parenting is something that, you know, despite all the manuals and all the discussions about it in public forums, is something that happens behind closed doors. And you are incredibly candid. You really lay bare, you know, what these experiences were like for you. And you write about how you handled your daughter Lulu when she was 3. What happened on that day?

NORRIS: She looked at me - and she's 3 years old - and she steps outside into the cold. And I start to panic, you know? The whole book is full of Lulu calling my bluff. I didn't think she would go out there. So I quickly said, OK, you're quiet now, come back in here. And she just shook her head, and she wouldn't come in. I had to bribe her back in with hot chocolate and brownies but I - that's how I set up the book.

NORRIS: Jed, did you know what you were getting into when you struck this arrangement?

NORRIS: You know, to me - maybe I'm wrong - but I always thought the way we were raising our kids was more of a traditional American way - you know, the values of hard work and perseverance, and being taught that you can overcome obstacles, and respect.

A: It's not the parenting style in which I was raised. My family really did have the more permissive emphasis on individuality, creativity, freedom. And those are great values. And we tried to give our kids those values, too. But it's really true that my parents - and a lot of parents, I think, in that generation - didn't, you know, put expectations on kids. And I'm one of those people who sort of wishes that their parents had made them learn an instrument, or something like that.

NORRIS: Did you ever clash over this at all? Were there ever any concerns? And Jed, when I ask you this question, I'm thinking about a moment in the book where you noticed these marks on the piano, and you realize that your very driven daughter was actually gnawing on the piano when her parents weren't looking.

NORRIS: But those marks, whatever they indicated, and I - assuming they indicated frustration and, you know, something was hard to do. And things are hard to do for children, and kids will typically give up if the parents don't push them. What kid wants to practice a musical instrument so much that they really get good at it, you know? If the parent doesn't make them, it's probably not going to happen.

NORRIS: Amy writes that the measure of Chinese parenting is how the children, in the end, wind up viewing their own mother and father. And you use your own father as a cautionary tale in that sense. He was very resentful of his own parents and in fact, he was estranged from them because of their outsized expectations. This is a tough question to ask, but I'm wondering what your daughters think of you.

NORRIS: I mean, I guess I'm proud of the parent that I've been. I know I'm being judged very harshly by people out there. You know, that does hurt. But in the end, it's just how my daughters feel and think about me that matters. They are outgoing, strong-willed girls with lots of friends. And you know, I think my odds are good, but I don't know. It's a work in progress. I can only hope, you know? We can only try to do our best.

NORRIS: Amy and Jed, thank you so much for being with us. This has been wonderful.

NORRIS: Thanks so much for having us.

NORRIS: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That's Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld. Amy's new book is "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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