I really didn’t want to write a post about Tiger Mom. I didn’t want to lend credit to her media bonanza. And truthfully, I’ve been intimidated by the exceptional writing in response to her words. At first, I didn’t think I had anything unique to add. I don’t like her message (tough/conditional love, tyranny and insults, achievement=happiness) but she probably doesn’t like mine, either. I have high expectations for myself, my friends, my family, and my co-workers. I expect my children to challenge themselves, to learn to communicate, to learn to love, and to work hard to make their conditions good enough so that they can enjoy their lives. I expect them to contribute. I may roar but I really don’t bite. I don’t hit, spank, grab, or insult either. I expect, at particular points in life, many people won’t meet my expectations just like I won’t meet theirs. I believe in forgiveness. My love and adoration doesn’t waver based on performance.
We don’t tolerate aggression in our children, why would we tolerate it in ourselves? Abuse is far more complicated than that which comes from the force of a fist. Just to be clear, I’ll never call my children, “Garbage.”
I’ve read somewhere over 40-50 reviews of the Tiger Mom. If for some reason you’ve not heard of her (who are you??? They’re looking for you to sit on a jury somewhere), Amy Chua is a self-declared Tiger Mom. She wrote a piece entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” in The Wall Street Journal, January 8th. It marks the beginning of the Amy-Chua era. Since then, buzz around her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, hasn’t diminished. A pulse on her perspectives remains one month later.
I don’t want to read her book. The more I read about her, the less I want to know about what she says. I’d rather read something by Peggy Orenstein. I do, however, remain drawn to read what other people think about what this Tiger says. There is an unequivocal sociology brewing. Clearly Amy Chua did more than strike a chord. What’s interesting is not Chua’s idea (that one privileged, hyper-educated, heavily-connected, wealthy, Chinese American mom believes her parenting is superior) but rather, the response of our nation. I mean, EVERYONE has something to say about this. Why would we care that some mom, in one corner of our country, thinks she is doing a better job raising her kids? Why would we care that she equates happiness with achievement or “Westerners” with weakness? Why would we care that she believes intellect is only captured in music capability/competitions and SAT scores? She misses so much about humanity. So much about what defines our connection to others. We care, I suspect, because she was strong enough to state she believed she was right. And that she’s better.
She’s a bully. And a lucky one. Her kids have the wealth of good health.
Read the most memorable response I’ve read, to keep any fascination with Amy Chua’s words in check:
Battle Hymn of A Bereaved Mother
Really, stop reading what I wrote. Go and read what Ben and Ryan’s mom wrote (above).
I’ll tell you, I won plenty of music competitions (oboe), I went to an Ivy league medical school, I have a good job and an innovative career, I married a fantastic partner, and have the fortune of raising two darling boys. I didn’t come anywhere close to perfecting the SATs, I made mistakes, I quit lots of things along the way. Clearly I don’t think my accomplishments (or failures) define my worth, my happiness, or my sense of purpose. I agree more with David Brooks when he said “Amy Chua is a Wimp.” Brooks points out that, “Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls.” Emotional intellect means something. We test for it, just not inside the classroom. And it’s far more difficult to measure than math.
I didn’t grow up with a Tiger Mom; my mom was more of a lion. There was a roar and an expectation, a sense of doing for myself, a sense of owning actions and responsibility. But no ultimate conditions, per se. No insults. My parents didn’t pay me (or punish me) for grades. I could get what I wanted out of school, they said. My family believed it should come from me. As a colleague wrote, “Self-discipline comes from within.” My Lion-mom had lines in the sand, yes. But she watched and listened for preferences and for explanations, too. It seemed to work.
As do a ba-gillion other parenting styles.
Tiger mom’s book feels calculated and corrupt, borrowing time and energy from nation who doubts itself. A parenting book gowned as a “memoir,” I believe her book was written in part to sell and to stir.
Ultimately it comes down to this:
Constant self-evaluation is an unfortunate part of parenthood for most of us. Thanks to the accessibility of information online, the mommy blogosphere, the rise of social media, ongoing traditional media, Aunt Jane and her opinions alongside mother-in-law Trudy, we know what everybody thinks about pacifiers and breastfeeding, antibiotics or BPA, our strategies for getting our baby to sleep, and our choice of sports for our children. Everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to raising our children. Everyone, at one time or another, feels they are right. They likely are. But within seconds online, we can get to places where others disagree with what we’re doing. Devoutly. We can immediately distrust our instincts and our choices.
What a lovely world in which to raise a child.
But we go looking. Don’t we? Late at night, between feedings, before work, or while pumping. Parents are online every day searching for health and parenting information, community and fellowship. I believe this search is defined in large part, by a quest for camaraderie, not fulfillment of any self-loathing. The big issue that makes us want to talk about Chua is that the results to our searches online may lead us astray. We may be left feeling deficient instead of steadied. After reading a blog post, a parenting manual, or a memoir, we often come to distrust.
THIS is why Chua stuck a Carnegie-Hall-type-chord.
Amy Chua has backtracked since the WSJ piece stating that her book isn’t a parenting book but a memoir. I’ve read that she didn’t have final say on the title of the piece in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve read she wouldn’t have entitled her methods, “Superior.” But that seems an odd rebuttal, particularly for someone who aims and excels in perfection.
Being socially connected is profoundly important to happiness. Enjoying our parenthood is too.
I think what we really need to ask ourselves, post-Tiger Mom, is when will we love the parent we are today?