Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fall-Out from ‘Tiger Mother’ Continues as Folks Seek the ‘Right’ Way to Parent

The new controversial book about “Chinese mothering” that I mentioned last weekBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua – which was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal under the title, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” continues to generate controversy. And responses. Loads of responses. Some of them are angry. (Chua has received death threats.) Some of them are defensive. Several are funny.

Here are a few of the responses:

Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, wrote a piece in the New York Times Magazine entitled “No More Mrs. Nice Mom” in which she placed Chua’s piece into context, as yet another reaction by parents who are sick of being told how to parent but are constantly searching for a new way to exert control and influence over their children:

“Despite the obvious limits of Chua’s appeal, her publisher is clearly banking on her message finding wide resonance among American moms worn out from trying to do everything right for kids who mimic Disney Channel-style disrespect for parents, spend hours a day on Facebook, pick at their lovingly prepared food and generally won’t get with the program. The gimmick of selling a program of Chinese parenting is a great one for a time when all the talk is of Chinese ascendancy and American decline. . . And there is true universality behind the message [Chua is] honest enough to own: that she is terrified of ‘family decline,’ that she fears that raising a ‘soft, entitled child’ will let ‘my family fail.’ Her deepest hope is that by insisting upon perfection from her children in all things, like violin playing, she will be able to achieve, in her words, control: ‘Over generational decline. Over birth order. Over one’s destiny. Over one’s children.’”

Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother, wrote a column the Wall Street Journal called, “Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom,” in which she satirized Chua’s list of what she wouldn’t allow her daughters to do:

"Here are some of the things that my four children of a Jewish mother were always allowed to do:

• Quit the piano and the violin, especially if their defeatist attitude coincided with a recital, thus saving me from the torture of listening to other people's precious children soldier through hackneyed pieces of the juvenile repertoire, plink after ever more unbearable plonk.

• Sleep over at their friends' houses, especially on New Year's Eve or our anniversary, thus saving us the cost of a babysitter.

• Play on the computer and surf the Internet, so long as they paid for their Neopet Usuki dolls and World of Warcraft abomination cleavers out of their own allowances.

• Participate in any extracurricular activity they wanted, so long as I was never required to drive farther than 10 minutes to get them there, or to sit on a field in a folding chair in anything but the balmiest weather for any longer than 60 minutes.

• Quit said extracurricular activities, especially if their quitting coincided with league finals that might have demanded participation on my part exceeding the requirements stated above."

A writer for a sarcastic blog which lampoons helicopter parenting, Let’s Panic About Babies, published a post, “Why Borderline Hysteric Southern Mothers are Superior,” written by “the ghost of Edwina Williams, mother of Tennessee Williams from her book, The Sunday-Service Hymn of the Bobcat Mother:”

"Raising a haunted, self-destructive play-wright is not the pretty little hobby it sounds like! Here’s a mere sampling of what my baby boy was protected from: 
  • Friends
  • Physical affection
  • Out-of-doors activities
  • Stability
  • A predictable daily schedule
  • Meals that did not somehow include bourbon in them
  • Unaccompanied bowel movements
  • The confidence that his mama would not crash into his room at 4 am, wearing only a negligee and yesterday’s mascara, tearfully accusing him of singlehandedly ruining her looks

You see, my angels? Successfully mothering a tortured playwright is work — constant, numbing, endless, drunken work. You must systematically tear down your child’s self-regard while at the same time dismantling your own sanity, while maintaining a veneer of respectability for the neighborfolk who might come sniffing around. All to fill your child with precious subject-material that will one day fuel his muse!”

What do all of them have in common, except perhaps Tennessee Williams' dead mother's post? The fact the no one – not even Chua – can say that they’ve figured out the one key to parenting, that elusive magical ingredient. And even if one way of child-rearing seems to be “working” with one child, there’s no guarantee it’ll work with any other kid.

We all want to be able to pick up an article and say, “Here, it is! THE answer! If I just follow what it says in this book, my kid will be smart, accomplished, athletic, funny, warm and a successful millionaire who will be well adjusted and always have a smile on her face.” But, sorry to break it to you, that’s not going to happen. There is no ONE article, no ONE way. We are all individuals with specific styles and sensitivities and baggage – Lord the baggage! – that all play into how we raise our children. Oh, and many of us have partners in parenting and we don’t all agree on how to do things either. Throw in individual, idiosyncratic children and you’ll soon learn that there is no answer, just questions, hope, crossed fingers and love.

1 comment:

  1. I read Chua's essay, and while I agree that some flack is undeserved--she didn't pick the title the WSJ gave the essay, and she admits that it's a ultimate solution to parenting--the whole tone of the essay really unsettled me. There was an overarching air of superiority in the text that made me think, "This...this is the person I never wanted to sit next to in high school." As I read, my entire reaction was one of squished nose revulsion; I felt like Regina George was telling me how to parent and apologizing for always being right (again, even as she demurely acknowledges that she doesn't have all the answers).

    But, as always, that's just two cents from someone without kids. :)