In 2011, Yale law professor Amy Chua published a best-selling memoir about raising her two girls under the strictest and harshest circumstances. As more and more people read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, the more “tiger mom” and “tiger parenting” became household phrases. The authoritarian parenting style — associated with driven Chinese mothers — centers on pushing your kids to excel via hours of study and practice, unwavering discipline, and threats of punishment if you fail.
Now, 12 years later, Chua’s two daughters, Sophia (30) and Lulu (27), are adults, and their mother has had a lot of time to reflect on her years of raising kids. Specifically, according to The New York Post, a serious illness and a brush with death caused her to think about what parenting rules she still stands by, and which ones she now regrets.
Five years ago, the now-60-year-old mom was diagnosed with diverticulitis (a blockage in the colon) that resulted in an extended stay in the hospital and a lot of uncertainty about her future.
“I lost control of one lung, had eight tubes inserted in me, including one in my heart valve, and I lost all my hair,” she told The Daily Mail in a recent interview. “Every organ was shutting down.”
Once she knew she would live, some of her perspectives changed. She had time “to think about what was really important in life.”
“I thought: Oh my God, if I had really died in the hospital, there were all these things I should have said to my daughters that I hadn’t,” she continued. “Things like: I’m so proud of you and I hope you realize that even though I tend to err on the side of criticism and finding fault, you are so much more talented and brilliant than I ever was. You exceeded my wildest expectations.”
“This is not the way that I talk at all,” she added.
Her kids are successes in every traditional way: Sophia is a high-up military lawyer working in the nation’s capital, married to a fellow attorney. And Lulu went to Harvard and has worked in several elite law firms.
But was it worth the parenting strategies that received so much flack — six hours of practicing an instrument each day, threats of burning stuffed animals, admitted verbal abuse, and little room for fun or relaxing?
“I still believe achieving excellence can bring a lot of benefits, and I’m glad I instilled a sense of grit in my kids,” she said in the interview. “But the things I regret more are the harsh things I said to them and losing my temper.”
“I do feel a little pang. I made a lot of mistakes and went to the brink,” she continues. “But I also feel most of it was worth it. I look around and see kids of 25, 28 and some of them still live at home and don’t have jobs.”
Lulu also spoke to The Daily Mail about what it was like being raised by the original tiger mom.
“There were happy moments and difficult moments and it was maybe a less carefree childhood than a lot of other people’s,” she said. “I lost that childhood innocence, that sense of joy and wonder, and I definitely felt a lot of stress. I think it’s important to be honest about the highs and lows of tiger parenting. No one would believe me if I said that everything was perfect all the time and I was constantly happy. I do think the good outweighs the bad and I’m proud of my parents and myself now. But I definitely think things could have been different.”
In 20126, Sophia spoke to The Telegraph about her own childhood experiences.
“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 The Telegraph. “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. It was always unequivocally clear in my mind that my parents were on my side, no matter what. They did have high expectations of me, but because they had the confidence that I could do amazing things.”
As for Amy Chua’s next project? Although she’s still teaching at Yale Law, her newest book isn’t a how-to or a memoir, it’s a novel. The Golden Gate is a mystery/thriller that takes place in 1940s Berkley, California, and explores idea of race, class, and belonging. It doesn’t seem to take a hard side on parenting topics — maybe the next one will.
Raising kids is so incredibly difficult — it feels impossible to do a great job, or even a good job, when you’re in the thick of it. And these days, it feels as if you have to subscribe to one parenting strategy or another just to feel a sense of direction. Looking back on the outcome of some of these parenting trends can help everyone see a bit more perspective, and focus on what’s really important.