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'Tiger Mom' Amy Chua defends controversial parenting style, new book in Q&A

Published: Friday, Feb. 21 2014 8:00 a.m. MST

There’s something about success that’s irresistible. But actually figuring out what leads to it, or even how to define it, is tricky business. Just ask Amy Chua, a law professor at Yale University, who sparked a heated debate with her 2011 best-selling memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” about the driven approach she took to parenting her daughters Sophia and Lulu.

By the time Chua and her husband and fellow law professor Jed Rubenfeld co-wrote the newly released “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America,” critics were spoiling for a fight.

Her demanding parenting approach has been both blasted and praised. The couple’s assessment of the three cultural traits that lead to success — feeling superior, feeling insecure and having strong impulse control — has been praised by some and labeled racist by others.

The Deseret News interviewed Amy Chua last week and found her likeable, humorous and more than a little puzzled by the volatile reactions to her work. Following are excerpts of that conversation.

Deseret News: You have gotten both praise and criticism for your ideas on parenting. What do you think the attention has contributed to people who are trying to figure out how to be good parents?

Amy Chua: Now that it’s been about three years since "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" first came out, I feel that it’s actually overall been a very positive contribution; there’s been a real arc in the conversation. When the Wall Street Journal article that excerpted my book with a crazy, misleading title first came out, it was just all negative. It felt like I was going to be expelled from the country. As people started reading the book, there was an enormous shift in the emails and perceptions. Even people who disagreed with me, who finally read the book, said, “You know, this is really thought-provoking. I am definitely not going to do all the things that you do, but I respect your position and I might even go 30 percent.”

I actually feel that, ironically, it may not have had that much to do with me, even though it felt very personal. I feel like I accidentally hit this weird nerve where I just tapped into both tremendous anxiety about China and tremendous anxiety about parenting. I kind of hit that moment, and I feel like the country may have been wanting to have that conversation anyway and I provided the catalyst, because the reaction was so explosive. I feel like it can’t just have been my book, which was supposed to be a funny, half-satirical memoir.

DN: Was that part of the problem — the fact that some people tried to read it as a how-to, instead of reading it as a memoir?

AC: I think that was probably 90 percent of the problem, and my students helped me understand that. Some of my students said, “You know, when I first read it, I was pretty startled, but then I had you for a professor and I reread it, and I thought it was so funny and I got all the parts that were kind of hyperbole and jokes and satire.”

DN: I’m wondering how the way (you and Jed) were parented contributed to how you decided to raise your daughters.

AC: I think that it was actually of tremendous benefit, and that my daughters got the best of both worlds. You know, I had it straight one way — my parents were both Chinese immigrants, and all the things that were semi-satirical in my “Tiger Mother” book were applied to me literally. (Laughs.)

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