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It's hard to argue against "Tiger Mom" Amy Chua's approach to child-rearing. After all, the daughters who were famously not allowed to attend sleepovers, schlepped all over the Northeast to take violin and/or tennis lessons from the very best, threatened with loss of toys/love/time to enjoy life turned out just fine, apparently. Both were admitted to Ivy League schools (the be-all, end-all metric for Chua). Both defend, to some degree, their mom's tactics—which dominated headlines for several years after her Wall Street Journal piece "Are Chinese Moms Superior" became the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother."
The Telegraph recently interviewed Tiger Mom's two girls—Sophia, 23, and Lulu, 20. Neither had a bad thing to say about their mom, only bad things to say about people who read their mom's book and took it too seriously.
During Lulu Chua-Rubenfeld's freshman year at Harvard, the art history major found out a prof would be teaching a seminar using her childhood as the subject. "They were holding an entire seminar on how my personality had responded to my mother's parenting style — and the professor had never even met me!"
Lulu was written as the rebel of the family, pushing back against her mom, who eventually relented and let her quit violin (instead steering her into tennis, which appears to be something she has not pursued past high school). Lulu is measured when she talks about her childhood as a tiger cub. Though not the miserable robot many predicted she and her sister would turn out to be, the youngest of the family is also not without criticisms.
"I think I had a tough childhood, but a happy one," she told the paper. "I was playing up to six hours of violin a day and it was too much. However, when I rebelled because it was putting too much of a strain on me, my mom could easily have given up on me. If I did poorly in a test, she did not let me lie in bed and wallow. She'd tell me I needed to get up and study to get a better mark so I would feel better. She pushed me when I needed it."
Photograph by Getty Images
Chua's book claimed that Chinese mothers have a particular kind of approach to raising kids that ensure they become serious and hard-workers, ready to fill the ranks of the Ivy Leagues and dominate the world of fine music and elite sports. In her book, she recounted stories of forcing the girls to sit and practice difficult piano pieces, day after day, of refusing to let them attend sleepovers, of threatening them as a way of encouraging them to stick to a music piece or a math problem until they've mastered it.
The eldest daughter, who graduated from Harvard, attends Yale law school and is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, defends her mom.
"Everyone talks about my mother threatening to throw my toys on the fire, but the funny thing is that was not a major memory. I remember my childhood as happy," Sophia told British newspaper. "I am not scared of my mom and never have been. It was my dad (law professor Jed Rubenfeld) who I was much more afraid of disappointing."
Chua's approach was so hands-on and involved that she tore up Sophia's homemade birthday card to her grandmother. Now that they're adults, the daughters both say she's completely hands-off. Their mom no longer dictates their schedule, activities and life—a contrast they say to their college friends' parents continued hovering. We assume they sleep wherever they want.
Sophia offers up some positive take-aways from her mom's approach, while stopping short of saying she'll repeat the strategies with her own kids.
"I don't think what we should take from tiger parenting that every kid needs to become a violin prodigy or get into Harvard," she said. "But when it comes to smaller issues like, 'You won't get every toy you want until your grades improve,' or 'You can't quit the team because you lost two games in a row,' then I believe tiger parenting does have its place."