read more: Boston Herald
Here are some things that neither my Puerto Rican grandmother nor my Jewish grandmother ever did:
Read a parenting manual or memoir;
Wring their hands over whether they were “good” mothers;
Employ a particular parenting “method” or “technique.”
My grandmothers didn’t spend a lot of time over-thinking motherhood. So they would have found our collective obsession with Amy Chua curious indeed.
You’ve probably heard about Chua, the Yale Law professor who set the parenting world on fire with her Wall Street Journal article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” an excerpt of her new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”
Tiger Mother is a memoir about parenting “the Chinese way.” And by now, many can recite by heart the list of things Chua’s daughters were never permitted to do: have playdates or sleepovers; watch TV; participate in a school play; or bring home any grade lower than A.
The book’s most extreme portions have become legendary: Chua locking her then-3-year-old old daughter outside in the cold for some act of disobedience; forcing her children to practice piano for hours at a time without water or breaks; returning a handmade birthday card because it wasn’t the child’s best effort; and calling her daughters “pathetic” and “lazy” when they failed to live up to her expectations.
Although she regrets sometimes being so harsh with her girls, Chua stands firm in her belief that strict “Chinese” parenting is preferable to the lax “Western” approach. And it is this spirited, albeit self-deprecating, defense of her methods that has generated the outpouring of parental angst and anger.
Some Western moms have responded by rushing their kids off to the Sylvan Learning Center, so as to catch them up to their Asian peers. Others have gone on the defensive, arguing that the goal of parenting should be to raise creative, confident children, not music prodigies or Ivy-educated robots. Tiger cubs, they claim, may be successful, but they are not happy.
Other responses have been downright vitriolic, even racist. Chua has been called everything from mentally ill to “Mommy Dearest,” has been told to “go back to China,” and has received death threats.
Why the fuss? Chua’s central point — that immigrant families (Asians, in particular) raise successful kids because they emphasize hard work and education — is hardly controversial. Her honest, and at times poignant, memoir merely fleshes out the details.
Yet, Chua has struck a nerve. Hell hath no fury like a Western mother scorned.
So, what would my Puerto Rican grandmother and my Jewish grandmother think of all this?
Like Chua, both would categorically reject the notion that high expectations create stressed-out unhappy children.
Moreover, they would chuckle at parents who think that their job is to create happy people in the first place. My grandmothers understood that, in life, happiness is often elusive, while disappointment is inevitable. Better, they would argue, to raise resilient children than to try to raise happy ones.
Unlike Chua, my grandmothers understood that children need friends, down time and creative outlets. And they accepted that children inevitably experience both success and failure. Yes, success was expected. And failure was never excused, but neither was it condemned as “pathetic.”
Mostly, my grandmothers would find amusing the self-indulgent, exhibitionist nature of the whole debate. Why, they would wonder, did Amy Chua open herself up to such scorn by revealing things best kept private? And why does anyone care how Chua has raised her children or how her critics have raised theirs?
Motherhood, they would argue, is not science, but art. So, don’t overthink it.