The debate over Amy Chua's book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother“ continues on in newspaper articles and blog posts all over the web. Since I first posted my thoughts on this controversy, I have had a chance to read this book and discuss it with my book club. Here's a book summary for those of you who have missed the whole broo-ha-ha…
Ms. Chua and her husband Jed raised two daughters in New Haven, CT- and while both parents worked outside of the home, Ms. Chua assumed all of the decision making regarding child rearing, and her approach (in her own words) was to assume a traditional “Chinese style of parenting” her girls. Ms. Chua believes that achievement in academics and in musical pursuits (one daughter plays piano and the other plays the violin) comes from a deep commitment to long hours of practice, at the cost of other childhood pursuits such as hanging out with friends and attending sleepover parties. To say that Ms. Chua was strict and single-minded in her approach is an extreme understatement.
When I read the book there were many times that I was shaking my head and marveling at the absurdity of her demands on her girls, and at the appalling manner in which she forced them to continue to practice hour after hour and day after day. And when Ms. Chua shared her observations of the Western-style of parenting that she saw among others- it was sometimes hard not to bristle at her accusations of a Western mother's lower expectations and the way we blame our kids poor performance on their schools or teachers. But I will say that some of what she alleges rings true… and sometimes we, as parents, do not set the bar for achievement high enough. I would never go to her level of extreme, but I do think that it is good to see the truth in this remark and to learn from it.
The book was not without humor, especially when Ms. Chua tried to use the same parenting principals of demanding high achievement through rigorous practice- on her dog. And surprise, surprise… it didn't work. To assuage her disappointment, Ms. Chua spent hours searching the internet for answers- studying the characteristics of her dog's breed- searching for understanding from dog trainers of this breed that came before her…. and even researching “famous dogs” of this breed. Only once she decided that her dog's personality was such that it wouldn't lend itself to development from this demanding training style, did she eventually “give up” and settle for accepting the dog as he really was!
Last week the Wall Street Journal posted a blog article titled “Tiger Mom… Meet Panda Dad“, that features Alan Paul, an American father of three young children, who, along with his wife, is raising his family in Beijing. Mr. Paul has witnessed some of this “Chinese-style”of parenting (as portrayed in for himself in Beijing, observing kids who lead a lonely existence of hours of piano and violin practice without time for hanging out and playing with friends. And while he had the chance to hear the beauty of their hard-earned efforts at a local talent show, he certainly does not see this as the right way to parent his own children.
“…controlled chaos reigns in our house – and it works for us, even if this has befuddled some friends and family members and sent weak-kneed babysitters scurrying for the door. It has also been a plus for our children, giving them space to take on responsibilities, be independent and see their parents pursuing their own interests and careers while also being very involved in one another’s lives. And it introduced them to a simple fact early: Life itself is controlled chaos and success depends on navigating it, rather than waiting for things to be perfect.
It’s not the hyper-orderly household that Amy Chua portrays, but the kids are constantly learning to take responsibility for their own homework, play time and everything else. Doing so allows them to take genuine pride in their accomplishments. They need to succeed for their own benefit, not to prove that their parents are successful. It’s sheer narcissism to believe that your child’s every success and failure is a reflection of your worth. Get over yourself.”
If you ask me, Mr. Paul nailed this one. I feel that kids need to be able to find and then pursue their own passions… whether or not those passions actually lead to anything. I have a son who loves to play chess- but I don't have dreams and aspirations for him to become a chess champion or to find fame and fortune through his “brilliance” at the game…. I encourage him to play because he finds it to be fulfilling, not because it reflects on me (and truly, I can find better things to do with my Saturdays than sit around at a chess tournament!). When it comes to homework and being prepared for class and doing their best, my kids are aware of my expectations- that they give their best effort, that they double-check their work to look out for sloppy mistakes… but the responsibility to want to do their best needs to come from within. I can work to cultivate it, but they need to deliver it. And it is never going to come from having me drill flash cards and requiring hours of practice work when they come home with less than a perfect score. What does this teach them about adulthood anyway? That there is no room for failure? I thought experiencing failure was one of the ways that we learned!
“Forcing a child to constantly bend to your will can lead to docile mama’s boys or girls seeking approval for everything they do–or lead to constant rebellion and head-butting. Banning playing and sleeping at friends’ houses furthers a dangerous sense of isolation, denying them the ability to make the very social connections and interactions that they will need throughout life. These are the very skills that kids should be honing for success as a functioning adult, far more important than being able to play piano. Kids need more unstructured play, not less.
Aside from being a much cheaper option than babysitters, sleepovers also help children learn to sleep anywhere, in any bed, with any pillow. This is not an ability to be scoffed at. It is, in fact, one of three goals everyone should realistically set for raising their kids: get them to adulthood with no sleeping, eating or sexual hang-ups. Do that and you will have done your job, launching them off with the foundation needed to thrive.”
I stand up and applaud these words! Kids have to learn how to navigate friendships and social situations, unless they are planning an eventual career as a prison warden (in which case friendships with those around you just aren't quite as important!)… or a writer/blogger come to think of it (ha ha)…. anyway- prohibiting kids from sleepovers and hanging out with friends in an effort to sharpen their academic or musical skills is just plain sad.
So I guess that I am more of a panda Mom…. than a tiger Mom….. which are you?