A new parenting controversy is brewing. Recently several media outlets including The Press profiled a new book, "Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua. The book is an account of Chua's parenting style which focuses on rearing successful children with the use of strict parenting that evokes fear and respect (hence, she tells you, the use of the word "tiger").
Chua's "Chinese Mother" or "Tiger Mother" approach purports that ultra-strict parenting is necessary for children's success and that the permissiveness and mediocrity of Western parenting is wrong for children and will not guarantee success.
To Chua, success is achieved only with academic excellence. Apparently she requires it, and not just in the form of letter grades. Not only must her daughters achieve an A or an A plus in classes (an A minus is considered a failure), but they must be the number one student in every class; that is, with the exception of drama or gym. (Apparently the latter two classes do not equate with success to the Tiger Mother.) Chua further states that, "Academic achievement reflects successful parenting." Hmm. So maybe it's more about her perception of what defines her success (as a parent) that drives her than it is about the success of her daughters.
The parenting style of the Tiger Mother is further defined by strict rules on what her children are not permitted to do, including:
-attend a sleepover
-have a play date
-play computer games or watch television
-choose their extracurricular activities
In addition, Chua requires that her children play an instrument which must be violin or piano (I guess the drum set we bought for my son last year would be a no-no); and they must practice said instrument 1-3 hours per day while being supervised and listening to Tiger Mom's tirades:
- "You're just getting worse."
- "I'm going to count to 3 then I want musicality!" And, my favorite,
- "If next time's not perfect, I'm going to take all of your stuffed animals and burn them!"
The author also shares a story in which her young daughter gave her a homemade card for her birthday and she threw it back at her telling her, "I deserve better than this (for all that I do for you) ... I reject this!" (Chua's admissions caused some to describe her as sick, a monster, a "Mommy Dearest," and a dysfunctional mother.)
The book, Chua says, is less of a how-to (no kidding) and more of a personal story which chronicles her "relentless determination" to raise her daughters to be successful. She suggests that the Chinese Mom technique is not reserved for Asians, but for any parent who subscribes to her methods.
I get why Chua's writings have stirred controversy. She does become somewhat accusatory in her comments against what she implies is an inferior way of rearing children.
Chua, a Yale law professor, attributes her success to being raised in much the same way she advocates (she shared a story in which her father told her she disgraced him for inviting him to a ceremony for a history contest in which she placed second). She maintains she does not hate her parents; but rather appreciates and respects them for the way they raised her.
Not everyone raised similarly feels the same way, though. One person commented on Chua's story saying that, as an adult, she is full of resentment toward her mother for the way she was raised, so much so that she avoids any contact. Another woman commented that her father was pushed so hard to play the violin while growing up that he can no longer listen to music containing the sound of a violin.
There's no doubt that the tactics used by the Tiger Mom seem extreme; especially to us "westerners" who generally subscribe to a more emotional approach to child rearing. Tiger Mom will never compliment her children in public and suggests that westerners fail by "fussing over their children's self-esteem."
As I read excerpts of Tiger Mom's story, I found myself agreeing with her in some instances. Are kids spoiled today? Yes. Should kids focus more on education than they do on friends and having fun? Yes. In fact, I announced to my kids that I read about the "Chinese Mom" approach and I had decided that from this day forward, I was going to be one. After telling them what that meant, I saw fear in their eyes. My daughter told me she thought the woman was crazy and I'd be a terrible mother if I emulated her. My son said, "I don't even know you anymore."
The truth is I know I'm not perfect. And I'm not afraid to admit that I could stand to learn parenting techniques from others. Tiger Mom has some good points. But the suggestion that the only way to parent is to instill fear in your children and diminish the importance of helping them to build healthy self-esteem goes against all that we believe today as "westerners." Now maybe we take it a little far: Do we really need to make sure that every kid gets a trophy just for being on the losing soccer team? Perhaps our kids would be better served by teaching them how to lose gracefully.
Barring behavior that is neglectful or abusive, there is no right or wrong way to parent. There are cultural differences that often dictate how we might approach child rearing. No doubt that we are influenced by the way we were raised. With that said, I find the Tiger Mom approach to be too restrictive and emotionally void. I have no intention of becoming one, but it was fun letting my kids think so.
We all want our children to achieve success. I suppose one person's definition of success might be different from another's. When it comes to successful child rearing, perhaps we should all strive for a healthy balance between restrictive and permissive. For me, I want a relationship with my children that is built on trust and love, not fear. That's just the way I was raised.