Chinese Tiger Mother says: Everything you know about being a parent is wrong.
And she’s not the only one. Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Chinese Mother, which advocates inflexible strictness, may be “the most controversial book of the year,” as BBC radio calls it, but a whole series of new child-rearing books has British parents confused and frustrated, says the Guardian. Yanks can’t be far behind.
Chua, a Yale academic, is backing away somewhat after an except in The Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” drew an avalanche of outraged responses. For one thing, she didn’t write that headline, she says.
“My book is a memoir, not a parenting book!” Chua declared Sunday on ABC News. “I think there are many ways to raise great kids.”.
In fairness to Chua, she always made this distinction in connection with her book, if not perhaps in the WSJ excerpt. Much of the book is about her struggle with a rebellious middle daughter, leading her “to retreat from the strict ‘Chinese’ approach.”
What exactly did Chua do with her children to elicit such backlash? How about: Calling a daughter “garbage?” Threatening to take a 7-year-old’s dollhouse to the Salvation Army if she doesn’t master a piano piece by the next day? Not letting a child take a bathroom break until music lessons are over? Tearing up hand-made birthday cards and throwing them back at a child as not good enough?
Chua insists these strategies work. Her older daughter played piano at Carnegie Hall by the age of 14, and even the younger, rebellious daughter is a “gifted violinist.” Hard work enforced by unyielding parents results in excellence, Chua says, which results in satisfaction.
Among the responses to Chua is a humorous essay from novelist Ayelet Waldman called “In Defense of the Guilty, Preoccupied Western Mom,” in which she notes “that Asian-American girls aged 15 to 24 have above average rates of suicide.” She admits to berating a daughter for getting only five “A’s” on a report card, though unlike Chua she felt guilty about it.
Susie Bright, best known for writing about sex, is less forgiving, asserting the “Chinese Tiger Mother” strategy will result in social climbing, narcissism and – in a great coinage — “mother-daughter Stockholm Syndrome.”
So, short of turning to Philip Larkin for parenting advice (see his immortal poem “This Be The Verse,” where he suggests: “Get out as early as you can/ And don’t have any kids yourself”) what are we to do?
My three children are grown now, and I’m less confident of my parenting wisdom than I was when they were little. But I am absolutely certain I would never, ever do anything Chua advises. Call a kid “garbage?” What, are you crazy? Tear up a birthday card handmade just for me by a seven-year-old? Not in this space-time continuum.
Here’s what worked for me as an American father, as best as I remember: 1. Don’t do anything to your kid that would get you arrested if you did it to an adult; i.e., don’t hit them. 2. Always tell them they are beautiful. Always. Without fail. 3. Try not to lose your temper over things that aren’t their fault and don’t matter, like spilt milk. 4. Don’t berate yourself if you occasionally fail at No. 3.
5 .Hugs, lots and lots of hugs. 6. Songs, lots of songs. 7. Books and stories, lots — from your mouth to the ear of the child. 8. Figure out what really matters and be consistent in discipline: Consistency is better than severity. 9. Let children discover their own interests then encourage them. 10. Always remember time is more important than toys or achievement or anything else. Children have no concept of “quality time.” They want quantity. Give your kids as much of your time as you can.
That’s just me. My kids turned out okay, though I’ll admit not one of the ingrates has played at Carnegie Hall. Or written a bestselling book. Or cured cancer. But these children, who worshipped me when they were small, still seem to enjoy my company now that they know better.