Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother: Is It A Battle You Need To Fight?

Over the weekend the blogosphere exploded when the Wall Street Journal published an essay by Amy Chua, an author and professor of law at Yale, called, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Parents on Facebook went nuts: “OMFG” was the consensus.

The essay– which is largely excerpted from Chua’s new book Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother, outlines in a very clear, compelling way, the many practices and virtues of Chinese mothering. According to Chua, Chinese mothers do not accept anything below an A (except for in drama and art), they forbid play-dates, sleepovers, TV and participation in school theatrical productions. Children must play piano or violin and they must work hard it. Not just 30 minutes a day like us slacker Western folks but for two hours a day minimum. The guiding principal: “nothing is fun until you’re good at it.”

Children are not born with this wisdom  so you must bend their will until they get it. You must override their impulses with strict discipline, even if that means screaming, threats and heartless punishment. But the results are worth it.

After reading the essay, my husband turned to me and said, “Why don’t you be a Chinese mother?” I responded, “Why don’t you?”

But the fact is neither of us could be if we tried.

We don’t have the emotional infrastructure for this kind of parenting.

Chua is driven by her values and culture. She has to parent this way. This is how her life has been shaped and given value. You have to really believe in what you’re trying to accomplish to get a 6 year-old to practice the piano for two hours a day. REALLY BELIEVE. This is not something you can take on because you’ve been inspired by an essay in the Wall Street Journal about “tiger mothers.” Chua’s Jewish husband didn’t have the stomach for the kind of discipline she was doling out to their daughters. And I don’t either. But that’s not to say I think it sucks. Maybe there’s some value to what she’s doing.

But it turns out even Chua couldn’t hack it all the way through. Or at least the ending of her memoir reveals that she’s as conflicted as the rest of us. Apparently when one of her daughters rebels as a teenager and shuts her mother out, even this Tiger Mother wonders if she might have roared a little too loud. An excellent review by Elizabeth Chang in the Washington Post offers a sobering counterpoint to the flag-waving polemic in the Wall Street Journal. I recommend reading both pieces. First this. Then this. And I’m thinking I might read the book, too. This stuff may get the head spinning, but it’s provocative and fascinating, I think, to read well-written versions of the chaos that is raising a child.

But what does all this mean to you, dear pregnant reader? Maybe you have older kids so you know that taking on a pre-packaged parenting plan is not as easy or as effective as it sounds. But when we first have children, these plans hold a strong appeal. Especially those that promise a kid who derives happiness from straight As and virtuoso piano playing. But the thing is, your own messy personality is going to get in there and do things not according to PLAN. And your kid is going to bring some of his or her ideas to the parenting party, too. It may sound a little out-of-control, but the sooner you realize this the better.

Example: My husband and I have realized that our six year old is a risk-taker. This has meant some very interesting creative output and athletic prowess but it also means jumps from high places and the sticking of fingers into mysterious sockets. Our parenting style has evolved in part as a reaction to this temperament. Rather than clamp down on his wild ways, we more often say things like, “I don’t know, can you jump off that ledge?” This can be nerve-wracking, but the kid needs to learn how to make good judgments. All kids need to learn how to make good judgments, but especially those with a very high threshold for fear.

My point here is simply this: read about the tiger mother. Enter the world of clashing parenting cultures. Gather your influences, beef up on different approaches if you want to, but know that parenting– whether you like it or not–comes from you and the child you get. And that’s a good thing.

photo:juanluisgx/flickr

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