Tiger Babies Strike Back by Kim Wong Keltner


Hear them tigers roar!

Synopsis of Tiger Babies Strike Back: How I Was Raised by a Tiger Mom but Could Not Be Turned to the Dark Side by Kim Wong Keltner: After Amy Chua's controversial parenting book became fodder for every morning talk show, Kim Wong Keltner wasn't surprised to be asked, Are you a Tiger Mother? Raised by a Tiger Mom herself, Kim wasn't fazed. Instead, she's striking back. Hard. Traversing the choppy seas of American and Chinese traditions, Keltner dives into the difficulties facing women today - Chinese-American and otherwise. At once deeply relevant and playfully honest, Keltner attempts to dispel Chua's myth that all Chinese women are Tiger Mothers and that all parents should rule with an iron fist.  

My two cents 

I'm going into disclaimer mode right at the beginning: I haven't read Amy Chua's book so I don't know a thing about Tiger Moms much less whether Tiger Babies Strikes Back is actually a good rebuttal. What did appeal to me is that I am an immigrant Asian mother with a child living in Canada. So did this resonate with me?

Yes! Discussing parenting styles is always a good thing. Discussing cultural differences in child rearing, however, is moreso relevant today with intermarriage, immigration and the blurring of ethnicities and cultures in today's global economy. Kim Wong Keltner is among the voices of second generation immigrants, a generation that is steeped in two cultures and two paradigms of child rearing.

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Let me backtrack a bit. Amy Chua's book claims that strict Chinese parenting is superior to the lax Western parenting. But Kim Wong Keltner, raised by a Tiger Mother, isn't having any of it. Now married to a Californian and with a young daughter, she is very clear: she doesn't want to be like her mother. She doesn't want someone who  demands much, shows very little affection, compares her with others' children (who tend to be high achievers, or just better), is a control freak, and generally screams at her.

I was raised by a Tiger Mom, and yet I choose to raise my own child with more tenderness and hugs than I ever received. I don't believe in threatening children, calling them names, or pushing their limits until they are screaming in tears.  (- p. 8, ARC, page may change)

Then:

As a child I never knew what dirt felt like on bare feet, and I never once ran through a sprinkler on a hot day. My parents, being Chinese, thought I might catch stupid that way. In contrast, in raising my own child, I want to focus her attention on having fun. I wanted her to play. And I don't mean piano at Carnegie Hall by the time she turns fourteen. I mean I want her to play. I'm not going to force her into nonstop curricular activities and academic supremacy at the cost of having no sleepovers, no friends, and no fun at all. I know that's not very Chinese of me. (- p. 9, ARC, page may change)

And this is only page 9, page 9! I sort of braced myself for some more stereotyping and some more bitching (doesn't she seem a tad bitter?). I was mentally starting to file all this Tiger Mom-ing vs. non-Tiger Mom-ing in the back of my mind but surprisingly after page 10, the comparing stopped. I settled down into memoir-reading mode.

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Treat this as a memoir and it's gold. It's a family story through three generations. It's about being Asian and a woman in a world rife with stereotypes about Asians and women. It's many tender moments of wifehood and mommy-hood.  

Overall, I enjoyed this because Kim Wong Keltner is an entertaining writer. She's downright hilarious and this book has a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. 

I envy that she is able to learn and write about her grandparent's history, how they struggled, and how their family put down their roots in the US. I enjoyed her descriptions of growing up in two cultures as she was often in Chinatown with her grandparents on weekends: "My brothers and I were American kids for the week, Chinese kids on Saturdays. We were Chinese Kids Lite." 

And even despite her many many rants about her mother, Irene, it is obvious that Kim gives her mom some credit for being the tough cookie that she was. Scarred as she was, Kim has somehow made peace with her mom by asserting her independence by moving out of her childhood city of San Francisco. And writing this book. 

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Now, treat this as a parenting book, and that's where I'm not so happy. Look at that title. It makes the presumption right off that being raised by a Tiger Mom is "bad" and will turn one to the "dark side." By default, it carries on Amy Chua's precedent and pits Tiger Moms against non-Tiger Moms, Asians against non-Asians. As if they were mutually exclusive groups. Or that one style is better than the other. Or that there is no happy medium.

Sure, I realize that sounds like a total cop-out or that I don't have an opinion. But I honestly think that the whole Tiger Mom thing is not only cultural but also generational ... and the obvious immigrant response to surviving and doing good. If you're a foreign country, don't know the language, with little or no money, with a whole lot to prove ... what else can you do but buckle up, be tough on yourself, and raise your kids to be equally tough? But the next generation is far removed from that reality, so naturally Tiger Babies like Kim do not see why they need to be so hard on their kids and thus devise their own ways of parenting.

Albeit not being Chinese, I can see, feel, and am dealing with the many dilemmas that besiege parents trying to raise their child in a culture not their own. Disclosure: I am a first generation immigrant Asian in Canada. So, how much of our Filipino culture do we bring with us into this "new" Canadian culture? How much of this new culture do I adopt? Or do I create our "own culture"? How does my child respond and how is she shaped by the melding of these two cultures? Is there a divide in her mind? Should there be a divide in her mind? (Goodness, I hope she doesn't become bitter like Kim.)

Kim describes her childhood memory of someone "fresh off the boat" vs. the second generation immigrant. I have witnessed many second-generation Asian immigrants speaking only English, shunning their local Asian language for English. Personally, heaven forbid that my child not speak her native language. But you may disagree with me!

But then, I am totally behind the so-called Tiger Mom philosophy of allowing my child to achieve and excel especially since the opportunities here abound if she puts her mind to it. If she wants to try things, and do great things, I can only support her to be the best she wants to be. But I don't think I am going to micromanage her life or push her to excel if she becomes unhappy. Does that make me a Tiger Mom? Or not?

As you see, the questions are difficult to answer. Stimulus, response. What's right? What's wrong. Different folks, different strokes.

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Lastly, I think that if the point of the book is as a rebuttal, than this book just fails. Kim is funny, yes, but she has a tendency to ramble. When I went into memoir-reading mode, I forgot the whole rebuttal purpose until I made it to the end. The epilogue tries to pull it all together but doesn't do it with as much aplomb as the book started out.

***

I personally could relate to many things in this book and I look forward to hearing what other parents, Asian or otherwise, have to say about this memoir. It's a great starting point for discussion. 

On an endnote, doesn't everyone not want to become their mother? Doesn't everyone dislike some aspect of how they were raised? Kim's epilogue isn't an entreaty to Tiger Moms, it's an entreaty for all parents: "Love your babies, and show your babies that you love them." I can only say amen to that.

Verdict: An engaging and humorous memoir of a second generation Chinese American that delves into cultural differences in parenting styles. A thought provoking read for parents, Asian or not.

Read this if:
  • You're an Asian mother and are curious to find out if you're one of those so-called "Tiger Moms"
  • You're an immigrant
  • You're a parent
  • You want to have a good laugh!

TLC book tours

Check out the rest of the tour here.

I received an uncorrected proof of this book from TLC Book Tours in order to participate in this tour.


4 comments

  1. Interesting review! I'm the daughter of a South Asian immigrant, who is more like an ocicat than a tiger. She may seem like a wild cat, but she's harmless. She was very strict with us, but like Chua. I've only read reviews of the book, though. What keeps me from buying it (which might be the case for this book, too) is that I'm wary of books that reinforce racial stereotypes and flame parenting wars. I hate the idea that one parenting style is better/worse than another style.

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  2. I'm not Asian but I can totally identify with this author. I too made a consciuos choice to parent my own child differently than I was parented, though for reasons other than those Kim shares. Still, I think I'd enjoy reading this one!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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  3. Excellent and balanced review. I've just posted my own thoughts about this book. My review is different from yours, although I think we agree on some of the issues.

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    1. Thanks doe commenting Suko, I'll go and pop over to check out your review!

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