She’s opinionated. She’s controversial. She’s a grizzly mama. And her outspoken comments about certain Americans are generating Twitter memes and death threats.
She’s not Sarah Palin; she’s Yale Law professor Amy Chua, author of the new book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a tell-all about her successful (and not-so-successful) use of “Chinese parenting” to raise her two daughters.
Released last week with an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, Mrs. Chua’s book has garnered the attention of parents, parenting experts and Asian-American culture observers thanks to her provocative assertions that Western parents are too concerned with our children’s happiness, compared to “Chinese mothers” who, in her view, are correctly obsessed with their children’s achievements and success.
Mrs. Chua uses the term “Chinese mothers” broadly to describe a stereotypically Asian style of authoritarian parenting. Compared to Western parents, she makes sweeping generalizations, such as that:
• Western parents are too soft and easily manipulated by our indolent, unmotivated children. “Chinese mothers” are driven, disciplined and self-sacrificial; consequently their children are more accomplished and successful.
• Western parents think our children’s social skills and psychic well-being are the measures of success. “Chinese mothers” measure their success by their children’s exceptionalism.
• Western parents underestimate our kids’ abilities and therefore rear mediocre children. “Chinese mothers” believe their children are always capable of being the best at everything, and are relentless in their quest to help children fulfill their untapped potential.
In practice, Mrs. Chua’s “Chinese mothering” seems extreme. Her daughters were required (not encouraged) to get all A’s in school and to play the piano and violin. They weren’t allowed to be involved in drama or sports, but instead practiced their instruments for hours every day. They didn’t go on playdates or sleepovers, didn’t watch TV or play video games. When they resisted or complained about their lives, Mrs. Chua employed traditional “Chinese mother” tactics like name-calling, screaming and public humiliation.
The result? Musical prodigies with superlative academic records, but also what could be a child’s garden of neuroses.
As the “tiger mom” reveals, even she questions her methods, thanks to her younger daughter Lulu’s teenage rebellion. (Of course, in this case rebellion is relative. Lulu fought ferociously for permission to trade the violin for a tennis racket. Oh, the shame!)
The reaction to Mrs. Chua’s parenting premise is as extreme as her methods. At last count, the WSJ story alone has generated more than 6,000 comments and the mommy-blogosphere is inundated with stories about the “tiger mom.” That’s because nothing ignites Internet fervor like criticism about parenting.
But most bloggers don’t realize that “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” isn’t a parenting book. It is one mother’s confession, and an embarrassing one at that. And unfortunately, Mrs. Chua’s parenting journey is stirring the wrong debate.
The question isn’t success versus happiness. In fact, both of those goals reflect selfish and self-absorbed parents whose shallow values are rooted in emotional immaturity.
Is it any wonder our kids — and our culture — seem to be floundering?
We need to stop asking easy questions like, “Are my kids happy?” or “Are my kids as successful as they could be?” and ask a more difficult one, “Are my children good?”
We need to be concerned with the condition of their hearts.
If we focus on raising children of authentic good character and well-developed consciences; if we instill a moral code that identifies good and evil and teaches right from wrong; if we promote the obligation of stewardship of the gifts and talents they are given; and if we frame these lessons in the context of a deep and abiding faith in God, we’re much more likely to raise human beings with the capacity for genuine happiness and unlimited success.
Who knows? They might even get into Harvard anyway.
Copyright 2011 Marybeth Hicks