Maternal Ambivalence

Exploring Hidden and Uncomfortable Emotions Surrounding Motherhood

The Ambivalence of the Tiger Mother

Where is the ambivalence in the Tiger Mother?

Amy Chua's recently published book about her own maternal experiences, as a Chinese mother raising her two daughters in the US, has raised the back hairs of many American mothers. Chua views American child-rearing as soft and spineless, much too forgiving and supportive in comparison to the "Chinese way" which is tough and demanding. The book is both confessional and exhibitionistic, but in the end I thought, rather moving. Chua assigns her two daughters to the piano and violin (one each) and supervises their musical development obsessively and continuously. Many "normal" childhood activities are proscribed for these two girls--sports,sleep-overs and other extra-curricular activities.

Her first daughter accepts this treatment-which does, after all, involve a lot of maternal attention-but her second daughter starts raising hell when she reaches adolescence. Chua is very psychologically naïve about adolescent needs and behaviors, as well as differences in temperament between children. She does not really examine her own behaviors or motives, which are occasionally quite shocking but, rather, attributes them to "being a good Chinese mother."

She does not see her own ambivalence. I have a hunch that she harbors strong ambivalent feelings towards her own parents, who also were strict and exacting, but she does not see these feelings or how they contribute to what she will and won't allow her daughters in the way of personal freedom. If she could bear it, they should be able to, also. But she clearly loves her daughters and doesn't want to lose them. The moving part of this book is her struggle to preserve her relationship to them in the face of her deeply entrenched cultural beliefs.

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Barbara Almond is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in Palo Alto, CA.

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