Many of you have heard about “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. This is a new book recently released about “Chinese parenting” wherein parents are demanding of extreme high achievement from their children, regardless of what they have to do to get there. The author, Amy Chua, has been under fire throughout the media for her parenting style and has been called abusive, among other things. She was interviewed on television and then came back for another after the onslaught of media attention and outrage. Time Magazine even came out with a cover article that asks, “Is she on to something?”
The good news is that she’s gotten people thinking and talking about parenting. I always love that! She’s raising two very accomplished daughters…who are we to argue with that? But at what cost?
First, I have to confess that I have not yet read her book. I am planning on it, but the buzz is now, so I thought I would chime in based upon the interviews I’ve heard and the articles I’ve read. So, I apologize in advance if some of my information is without context or misinformed.
Parents often tell me that the tools that I caution parents against actually work, so they’re not willing to stop using them. I always say, “I don’t argue with something that works for you. It’s just my opinion and everyone has to do what works for them.” However, there are sometimes unforeseen consequences of those choices that parents later come into my office and wonder how to remedy the aftermath. I wonder what those will be for Dr. Chua and her daughters.
Amy Chua has admitted to calling her children “trash” and other insulting things in an effort to make them strong and motivate them. From my perspective, that just creates anger, hurt, resentment and models very disrespectful treatment of another human. Especially one that she loves! I focus on modeling the kinds of behaviors we hope our kids will emulate when they become adults. Calling anyone anything unkind is not a behavior I would want my child to copy. Dr. Chua would probably argue that she hopes her daughters will raise their children in the same manner.
Dr. Chua (she’s a professor at Yale, along with her Jewish husband) has also chosen a very difficult path of parenting her children in a style that is common for Chinese families, but she is raising her children in America. Therefore, she doesn’t have the support of her community and the other parents around. This can potentially cause her children to feel “different” and socially outcasted.
Ok, rather than judging, let’s look at the aspects of Dr. Chua’s perspective that may have some merit. She says that “she is shocked and horrified at how much time Westerners allow their kids to waste – hours on Facebook and computer games – and in some ways, how poorly they prepare them for the future. It’s a tough world out there!” Herein lies the fear that motivates her. She’s afraid her own daughters will not be motivated nor equipped to handle life as adults. I get that! Many parents are over-indulging their kids and cushioning the blows that life hands out. Are we crippling our kids or loving them and trusting that they’ll figure it out when the time comes? In addition, she lives in a world of achievers – being a professor at Yale is no small feat, not to mention that she is surrounded by students who all got into Yale! She wants her own children to achieve on a similar level and this is how she has chosen to accomplish it.
There has to be a healthy place in the middle somewhere between coddling and playing taskmaster. Dr. Chua describes forcing her 7 year old daughter to play a song on the violin over and over, through dinner and into the night with no breaks for water or the bathroom until she mastered the piece. One could argue that this teaches perseverance and the understanding of pushing through the discomfort to achieve mastery. Again, at what cost? Will she grow to hate her mother? Will she grow to hate the violin? Will she become angry and bitter because she wasn’t given the love and compassion she really needed at that age? (At least in that situation) From my perspective, a child can learn the same lessons, but it doesn’t have to happen all in one night. The same lessons of commitment to an instrument and perseverance toward mastery can all be taught and learned without abusive words and/or actions.
I believe that this whole brouhaha could end up being a blessing. Why not swing the pendulum a little more toward higher expectations of our kids, rather than overindulging them on all levels? We can certainly learn from Dr. Chua’s perspectives, however, let’s keep things moderate by avoiding abusive tactics and unkindnesses toward our kids!
Wishing you balance,