Update: Apparently Amy Chua has defended Brett Kavanaugh, as well as her own husband, whose behavior as a professor at Yale has been questioned for being inappropriate. Given this, I cannot support her or her book. However, the post below is really about my mom and my relationship with her, not Chua’s book, so I am going to leave it here for that reason.

If you haven’t heard about Amy Chua’s BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, then you’re probably living under a rock. (Also, you’re probably not Asian.) Regardless, the short version of this story goes: Chua wrote a memoir about her experiences as a parent, the Wall Street Journal printed excerpts from it under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” and teh interwebz exploded.

I am not here to debate the contents of Chua’s memoir or her parenting methods. I am not here to discuss how the WSJ presented said contents/methods, nor what effect that had on people’s impressions of Chua and her book. I am not here to call anyone or anything Good, Bad, Right, or Wrong. Because as I said earlier in my post on book reviews, those labels are not all that productive.

What I do want to do, though, is to reiterate what Jenny Zhang said in her excellent Jezebel piece “‘Tiger Mothers’ Aren’t the Whole Story”:

Somehow, despite the ridiculous tone of Chua’s essay, I can’t help but feel a kind of tenderness toward her, especially after learning that she didn’t choose the aggressively provocative article, and that the rest of her book from which the article is excerpted is a lot more self-disparaging and self-searching. But mostly, I feel sorry for her and anxious to see what sort of dialogue arises from this article because as Chimamanda Adichie says so beautifully in her TED speech, “The danger of a single story,” where she proposes, “The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

And I, and many, many more Asian and Asian American bloggers can assure you that Amy Chua’s story is just that: a single story.

I have read several bloggers’ “single stories,” and now I would like to share mine.

My relationship with my mother is way too complex to capture in a few hundred words. (Hence why I have a whole novel planned.) (Just kidding!) (Sort of…) Still, I’ll do my best.


I am an only child. My mom is the second youngest of six. She came to America in her late 20s, leaving behind everyone and everything she knew. She had me in her mid 30s, after years of not being sure she was ready, or even wanted, to be a mother.

She instantly loved me more than anything else in the whole world.

She put me in pre-school when I was two and a half. Starting with kindergarten, I went to summer school every year, not because I had failed a class but because my mom wanted me to learn more. (And because she worked.) She made me skip fourth grade, even though I cried about leaving all my friends, because she didn’t think I was being challenged enough. She put me in all the best, most competitive public schools, and she spanked me the first time I got a B.

She felt a little guilty about not giving me any brothers or sisters, so she made sure I had plenty of friends. She signed me up for piano and Chinese school (of course) as well as ballet, soccer, and computer classes. She made me earn every toy I wanted, either through good grades or helping out at her office, but she never said no to a book. Most importantly, she encouraged my love of writing.

As I got older, she was honest with me about things like love and sex. She didn’t hesitate to say if I looked pretty. Or fat. Sometimes she told me more than I probably should have known, about her life or her feelings, and it made me sad. But it also made me strong.

We have always fought, because I have a sassy mouth, and she subscribes to the belief that parents are right 100% of the time, even when they’re actually wrong. She wants me to be an independent woman, but she also thinks of me as her kid forever. She wants me to see the world, but she also wishes I would come home more often.

Was she a “regular” American parent? Sometimes. (I watched Disney movies. I played with Polly Pockets.) Was she a “crazy Asian mother”? Sometimes. (I got pork buns and lychee jello for lunch. I had a freaking curfew until I graduated from college.)

Whatever she was or wasn’t, she is my mother. She is, ironically, a Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac. But her story is not the same as Chua’s. It is not the same as anyone’s. It’s a single story. It’s ours.

22 responses to “Tiger mother vs. my mother”

  1. T.S. Bazelli Avatar

    You know, it made me happy to hear your story about your mother. I think the controversy was all blown up and out of context. I saw people responding to the excerpt, thinking the book was a parenting guide rather than a memoir – and yes, it’s just one story. I see similarities in my upbringing, and differences too. Hmm, I may have to post about it. We need more stories. :)

  2. Alex Avatar

    It’s amazing — your mom looks pretty much the same today as she does in that picture. You’ve got some good genes there! :-D

  3. Margot Avatar

    Love this post and the photo is amazing!

  4. Sonja Avatar

    Hey, I live under a rock! And I’m not Asian! Haven’t heard anything about this, but it sounds like quite a stir.

    I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but your mom is HOT in that picture. I was going to say that I hope I look that good when I’m the age she is in that picture, then I realized I AM that age. Crap.

  5. Juliann Wetz Avatar

    I hope you really do write a a book or memoir about your mother. It seems like you have a lot to say, and from the bit you wrote here, it would be very interesting to read.

  6. Angie Avatar

    Loved this post!

  7. Sarah Avatar

    I entirely love this. baby Kristan. aww, look at those cheeks!

  8. Erin Avatar

    I adore this post :)

    You restate the whole internets incident/controversy/thing with wonderful context and insight, and seeing your perspective from within your own mother/daughter relationship was lovely.

    And I adoooore the consequence of the single story quote!

  9. Jon Avatar

    It’s funny how one book can have such a ripple effect in our culture. Of course, maybe Amy Chua is just writing partly for shock value, because no parent can be that extreme, right? No play dates, ever? I hardly went on play dates either, but there were other reasons for that!

  10. Trisha Avatar


  11. Kristan Avatar

    Yes we do. :)

    Lol I sure hope so!

    LOL I’m sure she’d appreciate the thought.

    I don’t think she wrote it FOR shock value, but she does admit in an interview somewhere that she’s not a completely reliable narrator. For example, she claims they “never” went on play dates, but of course they had a few. And she claims she didn’t care if they hated her, but of course she did! That’s why she ended up changing her parenting style. So yeah.

  12. Les Avatar

    I honestly just loved the disparity between American and Chinese parents as described by… just about everyone, not only Amy Chua.

    Then again I also think most North American kids are ridiculously babied now.

  13. Mindi Anderson Avatar

    Thanks for clarifying this story that has been buzzing around all the news and parenting outlets. I appreciate your sharing insights from your own similar parenting.


  14. Cori Avatar

    I have a serious issue with people who hold parents on a pedestal, and therefor to higher standards. They’re just people with kids and they’re doing the best they can. And while it’s true that a lot of Asian Americans I know have parents who push them very hard, I admire that. In my opinion western cultures are setting the bar too low for their kids these days.

  15. MIss Rosemary Avatar

    That was absolutely beautiful and I think it would make a great book :)

  16. Sherrie Petersen Avatar

    I loved reading about you and your mother. That *will* make a great memoir.

  17. sarah (the SHU box) Avatar

    just wanted to also say – love this post! and i’ve found the whole debate interesting. while i never got spanked for a B, there was always an admonishing, “you have more potential than that”. and when i did bring home an A, my parents ALWAYS wanted to know what the other ‘smart’ kids got, because if they had A-plusses, then my A was no longer something to celebrate.

    i love them both + turned out all right in the end if i do say so myself so i think that a little tiger isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  18. Kristan Avatar

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    And yeah, Sarah, I think a little tiger isn’t so bad. :)

  19. Aisha Avatar

    I love your mom and that pic of the two of you!

  20. Meghan Ward Avatar

    Your mom is gorgeous! And your are too cute. My only complaint about this post is that it was too short. I’m ready to buy the whole book. When are you going to write it?

  21. Kristan Avatar

    It’s in the queue, lol. Probably not next, but probably after that. Also, it’s a novel, so it won’t be me and my mom exactly, but definitely inspired by/reminiscent of.

  22. Meghan Ward Avatar

    I can’t wait to read it!