"Tiger Mother" Author Defends Harsh Parenting

Jackie Kennedy once said if you bungle raising your kids, nothing else you do really matters, so perhaps it's no surprise that a book about a Chinese-American mother's no-nonsense approach to parenting has become a best-seller and the topic of heated debate.

Consider this, Asians make up less than 5 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for nearly 13 percent of the students at Harvard and 34 percent at the University of California at Berkeley.

We have two perspectives on this debate.

China's Moms Don't All Fit Terrible Tiger Cast

BERKELEY, Calif. - On a chilly San Francisco street this week, people lined up to hear how a 4-foot-8 Yale Law professor imposed her iron will on her daughters, CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller reports.

(Scroll down to watch two videos on this report)

"This book is not a research project," "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" author Amy Chua said at a reading. "It's a memoir about a lot of my mistakes, you know? It's more like a 'don't try this at home' as opposed to a how-to guide."

Chua's Essay: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

But critics say Chua's memoir is a how-to guide to extreme parenting, that only the best is good enough. Three hours a day of piano practice. No play dates. Nothing less than an "A".

Chua said she didn't expect to strike such a nerve.

Reaction to this daughter of Chinese immigrants has lit up the blogosphere, calling her a "lunatic" and "heartless".

Death threats?

"I've had a few," Chua said.

She conceded she called her daughters names, such as garbage.

"I think that's harsh," Don Long said in a line to see Chua.

"Nothing abusive but they may judge me harshly," Chua said.

Mother of four Ayelet Waldman said the furor over so-called tiger moms reflects a deep maternal fear.

"We have this deep wellspring of anxiety that we're doing it wrong, that we're screwing up, that we're preventing our children from succeeding," said Waldman, who's also a writer.

When we see China succeeding economically, when we see the Asian American kids getting ahead in school, we worry.

"Because we're so afraid all the time we are looking for ways to make ourselves feel better, and the best way, the easiest way to feel better is to find the mother that you can identify as the bad mother," Waldman said.

"How mad can anybody be about somebody's memoir?" asked Chua. "It's just my life."

The answer is: plenty mad. But consider her kids' take on their mother's book.

"I'm amazed that my mom turned our totally boring life," said Chua's daughter Sophia, "into such a comedic, dramatic and meaningful story."

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.