The Jewishness of the ‘Chinese Mother’
Controversial author’s daughters are being raised in their father’s faith
Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an immediately controversial excerpt from Amy Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She describes forcing her two children to practice musical instruments several hours per day; insisting, but strictly, that they always finish at the top of their classes; forbidding sleepovers; and generally being a “Chinese mother,” in contrast with coddling “Western mothers.” “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it,” Chua wrote. “To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.”
The essay struck some readers (this one included) as cold and just plain shocking. (And the common defense that Chua’s book is much more nuanced than the Journal excerpt isn’t really exculpatory, since Chua presumably crafted and at the very least approved of the excerpt; those are her words, too.)
However, here are two notes that may be of interest to Tablet Magazine readers. First, the most eloquent response to the excerpt—and it is a rebuttal, but it cedes some interesting ground—was penned by Nextbook.org contributor Ayelet Waldman, and explicitly establishes the “Jewish mother” as the opposite of, or at least the prime alternative to, of the “Chinese mother.” And second, not only is Chua’s husband, Jed Rubenfeld, Jewish, but, reportedly, their two daughters—the objects of Chua’s parenting and the subjects of her book—are being raised Jewish. So maybe Chua is a “Chinese-Jewish mother”? I have a feeling that Jews who grew up in earlier generations might see plenty of their own mothers in her.