By now you've probably heard the clanging of all the cages that Tiger Mom Amy Chu rattled when an excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was recently published as an essay in the WSJ, titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Not so surprisingly, parents everywhere are quick to criticize, accuse, and berate this mother for her perspective on parenting that's different than theirs.
While some of the Yale professor's methods in her push for her daughters' perfection are less than admirable, I can't help but think that perhaps a little of the backlash has come because many parents are lazy in their parenting and are perhaps defensive when they see someone who isn't.
We all want what's best for our children, but we're not always ready to fight the battles that get them there. It can be seen in little things like bribing a child out of a public tantrum with a toy rather than dealing with the matter at hand to agreeing to let them skip a soccer game on a Saturday morning because they're too tired ... and we're too tired to stick to parenting principles.
Turning on SpongeBob SquarePants is a lot easier than fighting the battle to make them read a book; letting them walk away from a challenge is less stressful than making them work through it. We often skip sending the right messages because it's easier, and we want to do what we can to minimize tears and frustration, and we want to protect their feelings. But sometimes those tears and frustration are necessary to grow and learn, and yes, succeed.
One of the examples of her outrageous parenting that's being cited involves birthday cards her children gave her. She said they didn't put enough effort into them and handed them back. Harsh? Yes, but you know what, my son has made some really crappy, hasty cards for friends and family because he wants to rush through and get on to something else. I've told him they're not good enough, that he didn't try hard enough, and made him do them over. Just because children are small doesn't mean they shouldn't do their best. I'm not looking for Hallmark-ready work, just his best work, and I'm not willing to ooh and ahh over any little scribbles he does. Sorry.
Another outrageous example cited is that she deemed anything less than an A from her children as unacceptable. Why is that so bad? If they have the ability, then why not insist they live up to it? My parents insisted on A's from my siblings and me when they knew we could do it (my brothers were excused in art and handwriting), and they didn't say, "Oh that's okay" when we brought home less. They didn't beat us because of it, but it wasn't okay, and it's not okay for my children either to not live up to their ability.
But children need help figuring out how to live up to their potential, so it's up to us as parents to figure out how to cultivate and motivate them to do so. Chua's methods are a lot stricter than mine. She banned things like playdates and sleepovers and dictated the activities in which her children could participate. But if my son's grades started to suffer, you better believe I'd start to pull some of those things.
I wish I had the dedication she describes when she sat with her daughter for hours upon hours teaching her a piano piece, but I all too often take the easy way out. I don't see it as torture; I see it as tenacity that most of us are too timid to embrace. And yes, I see the love in it, too. She's repeatedly been called a narcissist and self-absorbed, but I see many of her acts as self-sacrificing for the sake of her children.
In her book, she states, "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it." And as much as we want to believe otherwise, it's the truth. We tell our children, just go out and have fun, but they're not going to have fun if they suck. No pain, no gain, right? And it's time we really stop being so fragile with our children's feelings. We all want them to be self confident, but sometimes all the coddling we do is taking it away.
I love this quote from Chua: "... as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't."
She admits she made mistakes and learned a lot along the way. Don't we all? But I think there's a lot we can learn from Amy Chua.
Frankly, I think most of the backlash against Chua has come because it makes us take a look at our own parenting, and we feel guilty about the lazy approach we often take. We question if we're doing enough to ensure our children's success in life, and wonder if she's doing what we should be doing more of?
What do you think of Tiger Mom's parenting techniques?
Image via Dave Stokes/Flickr